The Colombian duo, Bomba Estéreo, is back with a new album after four years, Deja. Beatmaster/composer Simon and vocalist/lyricist Li Saumen were pioneers of the alternative/Caribbeat/dance scene since the early 2000s. Several hits like “Fuego”, "El alma y el Cuerpo" and more, in addition to their multiple nominations to the Latin Grammys, have put them at the forefront of a global music movement that fuses traditional rhythms with electronic music.
In this exclusive track-by-track and video playlist for KEXP, Bomba Estéreo reviews the most important moments of their career, the process of composing Deja, and how the environmental and humanitarian crisis has had a profound impact on this new album. Going back to the roots to find yourself again would be the motto explained in tracks created to enjoy the four elements that keep us alive.
KEXP: If you have visited our YouTube channel and discovered any band, I’m pretty sure you watched the session — one of the two we have recorded — with Bomba Estereo, who are here with us sharing this time of conversation to talk about Deja, their new album. Welcome Li Saumet and Simón Mejía to KEXP. How are you?
Li Saumet: Hello! What a joy! You won’t believe me but last night I watched the session after many, many years and it’s truly something that moves me. It’s very, very nice, very nice. I know there are two of them. Both times we’ve been (to Seattle) we weren’t expecting… Really, we didn’t even know where we were going. It happened and it truly has been fundamental in our career. I think that it’s been something really beautiful ‘cause both times have been something crucial. So, thank you very much for always inviting us.
For me, it’s a pleasure to have this conversation. You can watch both live sessions — one from 2009 and the other from 2013 — recorded here from our studio before it even had all the little lights and so on. So, we were talking about this connection. I’d like to also include your point of view, Simón, about that connection with Seattle’s audience who loves you and welcomes you every time you’re in town. You sell out and people get crazy. I was at your latest concert at Showbox. We were doing the math and it was around 2018, if I’m not mistaken. There’s a strong connection, isn’t there?
Simón Mejía: Yeah, a lot. As I was mentioning earlier, it has been very strange because Seattle is not commonly a Latinx city like other cities in the U.S. where there are, for example, a lot of Colombians. The process in other cities has been kind of normal for a Colombian artist that at the beginning has a Colombian audience, later half Colombians, half Americans, and then it begins to get mixed. Our Seattle audience has been very local-based since the first time, people that love music. I feel that it’s a very musical city, that appreciates music, and loves different music, alternative music. It has been very crazy to travel all the way up there. The first few times we played at small venues and the energy was always incredible. Always. And what I say nowadays is that every time we tour the U.S. it is now a must-visit stop. Shows there are almost always incredible, kind of unbeatable. Then the live session, the live sessions that we recorded with your friends, have been very beautiful. They began growing and growing, to this day people still talk about it, that they listen and play them at parties. I’ve been to parties where people play the session to listen to the music and that’s amazing, it’s beautiful.
It has happened to me too, being with friends and suddenly Bomba Estéreo’s session pops up in the speakers, how great! You are at different locations in Colombia right now, aren't you? I’d like to know where you are, Li, next to that amazing plant by your side.
Li: I am at Santa Marta, Colombia, by the north coast. It’s a beautiful place, it has mountains, sea, jungle, it has everything. It is super nice.
And you Simón, where are you right now?
Simón: I’m in Bogotá but I live in the suburbs, not inside the city, it’s more like the outskirts. It’s also very green. We are nowadays more into the idea of living around green. We like it better, we’re not into cities anymore. We like to be surrounded by nature.
And when you find the X and exchange the concrete for green, it’s really because you’re doing something right. It doesn't matter what comes next. We are going to be talking about Deja. This record that we’ve been waiting for since 2017, 4 years. I’d like to start after this geolocation of where you’re at, talking about the context when the recording of this album started. Where you recorded it, but also what was happening. If my numbers aren’t wrong, you’ve been through a pandemic and also a very deep process of social change in Colombia, and I believe, if I’m not wrong, that this recording marks more or less this situation. I mean in that temporal context.
Li: Yes, yes. A lot of things have really happened. Especially a pandemic which is really something. And then, about Colombia, this situation is constant, it has been happening since I was born. So it’s not like a new thing, but it is a strong thing. About the pandemic, yes, it’s something new to all of us. I believe that it’s the before and after of an era. Well, that brought a lot of positive things, a lot of negative things also, but it makes us learn, right? I think that these are things that make us learn, but also have definitely been some hard years. I don't really know what to say, but it has been hard for everyone, the whole planet in general. And it was during this context when the album was made, Deja.
When you started to write these songs, how was the process? Because honestly when you listen to this record you find another musical moment for Bomba Estéreo, another exploration as well. And I'd like to know from your side how this musical moment was reflected and which would it be. It’s a concept album. I mean, it’s not a casualty that the four of you are here as the guiding principle of the message and the music, but I’d like you to tell me where it comes from or from what message these songs started to form, these 13 new songs from Bomba Estéreo.
Simón: Well, it was like deferred over time. We could say that in the last stage of it when we all got together, it was very nice to finally reunite to finish the record before the pandemic before we all split up. But it was even before that when we started to make the album’s music, during the last Bomba Europe tour. It must have been like three years ago, more or less. That’s when we started making demos and music. Then Liliana grabbed these songs and had a full working set up, also remotely at her home and then with Lido Pimienta in Canada, then everyone at our homes. And what I was telling you, it was like a come and go during that period of time before we all got together to finish it, around January 2020. 2020? I’m almost completely lost in time.
Simón: I don’t know when is when anymore, but yeah, before the lockdown hit hard, we were almost finishing the record at Liliana’s place. We brought a mobile studio to the Costa Caribe from Colombia, below the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. A spectacular place and that’s where we went to finish it. It was very nice ‘cause it was like an experience of unity before the disunity of the whole world.
Wow, how powerful that encounter must have been. I’m dying to know more about it. We are going to watch, along with Bomba Estereo, a super powerful music video. What's up with “Agua” which is precisely the opener of this record? I’d like to talk a little bit about your recording and the visual concept so well achieved in, not only what the album artwork is, but also in every part of its process, every one of its music videos.
Li: Well, “Agua” is like the intro, the start, the beginning, what cleanses, what heals. We wanted to start with this track because, well, it’s a whole intro. Everything is very soft, but also blunt. It’s a bullerengue, which is a kind of Colombian typical cumbia song, from the Colombian singers, women. So it’s a very feminine song, with this creator energy, mother earth energy, this nature energy. It is this song that opens or gives birth to this record, it is the song that says “here we are” and that is also a little bit sore. It’s like we mistreated it but at the same time, it loves us. It’s like the mother. So it’s very nice, there is a lot of participation from a lot of incredible women. Lido Pimienta, my friend, well she’s spectacular and she doesn’t need an introduction here; the Okan ladies as well. There are a lot of feminine voices, lots of feminine energy too, like from Mother Earth invoked into the song that gives overture and welcomes to this record.
I’d like to talk a little about the voice presence, how was the selection process, what was the role that the voices played as the presence of collaborations throughout the album?
Li: I believe that for us, it was very important to go back to what moves us as artists. I feel that Latinx music in general and the moment that we are going through is showing that a lot, right? Like, what is art and what’s the industry? I believe that we were going through that on the recent records, like finding us. And between [their 2017 album] Ayo and Deja that happened, what we wanted to do and fulfills us and what makes us happy, what we want to communicate exactly. I was feeling, at an artistic level, a little stuck in feelings and I was like “I need someone that inspires me”, and for me, the only person that does that to me, to feel identified is Lido Pimienta. So I talked to her, I told Simón and he agreed with me so we started working and well, Lido is a genius. She has a very strong musical sensibility and artistic vision, very blunt, and that was what I needed at the moment to get inspired, and it was perfect. Not only she inspired me and we inspired each other, but we created a very strong friendship that is evident on this record, in all the music we are now writing. I think that it’s a union, that power, beyond a collaboration of simple melodies or voices, it’s a fraternity and I think that’s wonderful.
Yeah, and it’s noticeable in this exploration. Like it has been heard and reflected on the new variants of the Bomba Estéreo sound. It has helped, it has incorporated new things. This is a concept album, completely conceptual, that has the environment as the protagonist. In fact, it was presented that way with the whole set of EPs and its elements. I’d like to ask you, how has the process been, for you as human beings and how have you brought that to the art and reflect it? Because it always has been noticeable in this formula of fusing traditional sounds with electronica, this message sometimes left in the shadows that come from the healing power of the ancestrality of music and that in this record it seems better accomplished or less overlooked. That’s my appreciation. I’d like to know, from your point of view, your own process that made the environment the centerpiece of the record.
Simón: Well, I feel like the music and art are a reflection of your life, right? What you are living, what you are feeling. And we have been connecting a lot with all these themes of nature and earth because we live in it and we live in a very powerful place in the world, where nature plays a fundamental part in our lives. Here in Colombia you are surrounded by nature and you see all the good and beautiful things that it has, but also see the bad things that are happening and all the effects that humans are going through because of that. This is what we are living and I think that, not only us, but all humanity nowadays is more connected to it, because Earth is sending us messages that if we don’t begin to change the way we address and relate to her, this is not going to last much longer. That’s already noticeable and people talk about it, young people and children are already more connected to that. We as artists and the way to reflect it, it’s natural that it comes from our art because of what’s happening in our lives and we think it as a very nice way to do it because music is very connected as well with nature and especially here in Colombia. Folk music and all the ancestral music that comes from these places. So for us, it is simply a natural process that we have been through for years, let’s say, but that we also make it more consciously every time.
Li: It's as if it has always been there. Bomba always has had a message. It’s always been different but we always had it since album number one, a message. Apart from the fact that it was a band to dance, we always spoke about the soul and the body, about connecting, being there, just as Simón says, every time more consciously. Nature has always been present since the first record, the second, it always had nature, because it’s our essence as beings and I have always liked it, but I feel that it simply is an evolution of that message to a more conscious way. To that art that is a reflection of what’s happening or your experiences and what you suffer and what makes you happy, about your society, your environment, your country, and your life.
You are preparing, I imagine, or waiting to prepare for what is going to be a tour. I know it’s really hard to talk about the future and plans in this context, but I would like to know what you are thinking at the moment of going out to play. Have you played a concert yet?
Li: We recently had one in Greece, more like a couple. Obviously, everything is still very weird because let’s say that nothing is like the way it was before, and that’s part of Deja. That message of letting go, release. So I think that we don’t have it exactly defined yet, but what we already have defined and what we know for sure is that the next time we get up on stage, everything is gonna be different and we all are going to be very different. Both the people that we are and the ones out there, so it has to be a full experience more than a simple exchange of energy. I feel that it's definitely going to be a stronger experience than before.
I’d also like to talk about that connection with Yemi Alade and other collaborators like Leonel García.
Simón: Considering that let’s say, all collaborations apart from Lido (that was more extensive and that is almost like part of the album because she’s been like another producer, musician and singer) have been very organic in general, they have arrived unexpectedly. Even the one with Will Smith that was, let’s say, the biggest we’ve done, was totally organic. They weren’t planned, but they happen, they come to us. This one, for example, was a link made by Paul Dryden, a person that’s been working with us for a while now and we love him. He’s in charge of our press over there in the U.S.
We love him. All the music community loves Paul.
Simón: Because he knows a lot of music, he really knows, he always has done an amazing job with us and he heard the song without Yemi and said to us “check out this Nigerian artist, you’re gonna love her.” I didn’t know Yemi’s work, I checked it out, listened to it, and loved it and well, you can imagine, we love everything that’s related to Africa, African artists are always amazing, incredible. They’re always blowing your mind at a musical level. So this came up like that, it was all remotely, let’s say, we haven’t met her in person yet, but everything was like that, remotely. Really nice, she sang spectacularly. And then Leonel, also, was in the process in the middle of the song. Liliana looked for him too, we already knew him, he’s friends with the band, with Liliana especially, he showed up in the middle of the process of the song to work at the side of Liliana and it’s a very beautiful lyric, it was very special.
Li: To me the lyrics flow easily, and this time, I was struggling a lot with it. It was this incredible track made by Trooko which is also a great producer, and from the very beginning I was like “wow, this track”, the chorus immediately flowed through me, as well as the intro, and then I got stuck there, for years. I mean, I heard the track and kept saying “what should I do, what should I do?”. Then, we had spoken about this collaboration for years with Leonel and I said, it would be incredible to make a more romantic experiment and it turned out perfect. I sent him the song and the day after he sent me an incredible lyric. He kept saying, “if you want you can sing a part of it and then I can sing the other one”. And I said, “you sing it all and i’ll just take the rap part”, the rest of the song was him. One of my favorites from the album, wonderful and super profound, one that you can dance to, but you can contemplate at the same time. It turned out so great, as the one with Yemi too, another super important contribution, but that’s the story about “Como lo pedí”.
I’d like to talk a little bit about the actual music scene. We already talked about how the industry has been transforming, the different scenes, what’s known as Latinx music, what’s known as genre and scene. I see a lot of synchrony with projects like, for example, Ghetto Cumbia or Lido Pimienta also, or like Frente Cumbiero, I mean like Colombian artists that are going for a different kind of search, that are also putting as a priority the sounds of the indigenous communities of their country, aspects that maybe haven’t been shown in that way before. So I wanted to ask you what’s your point of view regarding the Colombian scene, taking into account that you have a lot of famous artistic figures, also very talented. How do you see this Colombian scene and this Latin American scene? Do you see any fraternity, more fraternity?
Li: There are a lot of talented people and not talented people as well.
Well, I didn’t want to say it, we kinda said it between lines.
Li: Colombia is a very region-rich country and because of that its population… we’re all mixed. I mean, no one here is white, or black. We are all black, we are all white, we are all indigenous, we are all mixed. So that’s in part like how it has always been music made, always. What happens is that, of course, Colombia was in a dark shadow for a long period of time, and then it began to approach into the light but it has always had incredible music, from all the regions, both folk music and that has already started to merge because there are all kinds of beautiful music, the ones from el llano, from the Pacific, the ones from the Atlantic, from everywhere, every region has beautiful music. So it has always had music, especially the last 15 to 20 years, obviously before that as well but as you know before the internet, there has always been people making cumbia very ahead of its time but it was not discovered through social media, it wasn’t as visible back then. There has always been an evolution, now I see, from 15 - 20 years to nowadays, it started to emerge a lot more combinations between electronic music and Colombian cumbias and is very rich the quantity of bands doing this, the quantity of representation we have. Very good quality, a lot of good messages too. It is like that part of Colombia that is represented in our own music.
I think that culture can be represented also at a worldwide level, at a planet level, at an international level. How do you get to know a country for its music, its folklore, for where it comes from, right? I mean, they don’t try to copy things from outside or what we think it’s cool but to make a mixture with what you have, and that’s what we’ve done like other bands as well. and I think this provides a lot to the country at a cultural level. There are a lot of things happening and there is a lot of business too. It's also very mixed, what’s art and what’s a product and we are in the middle of that. For that reason, I think that what we attempted on this record was getting out of there and doing something more natural and at our own pace, our own time, more of nature and less of industry, not like this weekend we put out a hit and the next weekend another hit, or a song, or whatever. No, we are going to make four stages, which are the stages of earth, water, air, and water, and we are going to reinvent ourselves in a process that’s not forced and that is not a product, something that we feel and that we want to show to people through the music.
Totally. Thank you so much for this, because sometimes, I don’t know, you are a widely and internationally recognized band, part of the music industry and I find very interesting, and also very smart and natural, to bring this to the industry also because as you’ve seen when this reaches the industry the concepts begin to get like diluted, like hyper produced and it ends lacking of naturalness. So it’s very good that Bomba Estéreo is pushing this concept, I believe it’s going to bring only good things. And to finish, I’d like to talk about the production. This record was self-produced, right? How was that process? And if you enjoyed doing it.
Simón: We enjoy it a lot, you can imagine. We came from a period, almost two albums already — because the first records all the music was almost always written by us, right? — the last two records we’ve been working with people outside the band, it was interesting and a nice process, and we learned lots of things, you know what I mean? And especially because it was non-Colombian people, we learned things but also walked away from our essence. Sometimes music, the richest of music, is to find yourself, with the most profound things within you. So it was incredible. We all contributed. I think this is an album of a lot of people. It’s almost like it’s not only Bomba Estéreo. There are a lot of feminine energies involved, masculine, without genre, like the nature gods. All of this is very nice. I think that the best music is always constructed with a team of several people. In this case, we were the band and the people we were involved and invited to collaborate. Each one put their part, but everyone towards making the sound of Bomba and our roots and towards the place we were born and raised, which is here in Colombia. A place so musically strong.
Well, I’m just going to ask you, before closing, about the song “Se acabó”, which is a super powerful song and to find out what’s to say about this message and this song in particular.
Li: Well, in this album, I practiced a lot of meditation and also a lot of intention to be that channel for the thoughts to come and be able to bring them to the people. One of them was, like several songs that came to me, that one goes through things like I’ve gone through, others sometimes don’t, but they were speaking about it. Because of being a woman, I’ve also lived things and I feel that I was a lot of that. Even if that’s very general and could happen to anyone, I felt it more like an “enough”. Like when they abused you, when you’ve been mistreated, when you felt that difference that, obviously, also any man can feel, any woman, any genre, but I live it from who I am. It’s like saying “no more”, or saying “I’m done with this situation”, “I don’t want to do something like this”, like living this, feeling like this, and putting an end to it. And I felt that if at least one person listened to this song and left home, or left her husband because he beat her up or he left her woman because she beat him up, or whatever is happening, that for me was like I would finally feel happy. And that’s it, I believe that what makes me happy is all this process. It's like when sometimes I read the comments by the audience, it’s like, knowing that it works for people in a positive way and that it’s changing them. “It’s enough”, it is that, to let go, release, it’s a “no more”, I’m done and now here it starts this flight that no one can stop. That comes from way back, from “this is me”, from all the songs about freeing yourself. And I’m that way, I accept myself, love myself, and I’ve had enough of this that you are doing to me. Whatever it is that they are doing to me and whoever it is that is doing it. So that's “Se acabó”.
In this special edition of Add to Cart, KEXP spotlights merch from women artists or women-fronted bands in honor of International Women's Month, like Bomba Estéreo, Japanese Breakfast, Valerie June, and more.
Also, check out the video for the track "Agua," featuring guest vocals from Lido Pimienta and OKAN.
Colombian musician Simón Mejía of Monte and Bomba Estéreo weaves through hypnotic, organic, and global grooves on his guest DJ mix for Midnight In A Perfect World.