Welcome to Sound Atlas, a weekly series showcasing LessThan3’s desire to scan the world for the most exciting sounds in global electronic music. This week, we turn our attention to cumbia.
From 19th century Afro-Latino courtship dance to one of the key building blocks of EDM’s 21st century evolution, cumbia has had an intriguing 200-plus-year journey. From mating to moombahton, telling some stories of cumbia’s past explains its present, and quite possibly its future, too.
Cumbia’s roots are not in Central and South America, but instead back in Africa and the Yoruba tribe of what is now Benin and Nigeria in West Africa. Spanish colonizers brought African slaves along with them after stopping at African ports on their way to Central America, with those slaves bringing their native sounds. Landing in what became Guinea, the sound mixed with traditional Guinean tribal elements including flutes and stringed instruments to add melodies to the African drums. This musical miscegenation created a sound that thumps and sweeps on the bottom end, while on the top end is best when filled with the most plaintive and simple of melodies. The tempo being slow is an homage to it needing to be easily accessible for all to dance to the rhythms for the purposes of courtship.
Prior to Dave Nada inventing moombahton and incorporating cumbia’s feel into his new sound, the style was already well-established worldwide. Rock, soul, dancehall, rap and yes, EDM were already well aware of the sound. Labels like Bersa Discos Records were based in both America and South America and already starting the slow development of the sound’s underground-to-mainstream awareness. Also, key producers like Mexico’s Toy Selectah were making waves with the style, weaving it into traditional Mexican sounds as well. Thus, the boom in cumbia’s influence wasn’t so much an accident, but moreso the tail end of a consistent process.
With moombahton’s spread now moving wider and deeper moreso than zooming to the top of the American pop charts like a bullet, cumbia still has the space to grow. Intriguingly, it’s likely on the cusp of larger influence insofar as guiding a new generation of American producers who started their professional careers during the moombahton boom. Plus, Mexican acts like 3BALL MTY created tribal guarachero, a sound that owes much of its low-end sweep to cumbia’s style. As well, once Dillon Francis’ long-awaited moombahton EP drops, the sounds from that EP that will likely create the biggest buzz will be those that combine dembow’s pounding thump with cumbia’s melodies and sweeps.
Here’s five tracks that best define the past, present, and future of cumbia and it’s influence.
Lil Wayne – A Milli (Toy Selectah Remix)
Here’s a little-known remix of Lil Wayne’s 2006 classic A Milli by pioneering Mexican producer Toy Selectah. The architect of architects, he’s credited with being one of the early proponents of fusing techno and electro with organically Latin sounds. If you want to know the exact person who was most likely in the ear of Mad Decent as Latin sounds began to percolate in Diplo’s sets as early as 2007-2008, then you need look no further than the multi-talented DJ, producer, and man currently working with 3BALLMTY and a key piece of the A&R team at Universal Latin Music.
Sabo & Cassady – La Curura
When Dave Nada needed early cues on how to best mold his not-yet-named digital cumbia/dembow beast, NYC duo DJ Sabo and Cassady’s Bersa Discos #6 release aided him immensely, especially this track that takes the flute melody from Michel Cleis’ 2009 global Latin-tech house smash La Mezcla and wraps it around the thump and sweep that later evolved into what became moombahton. Soulful, heavy, and powerful, it’s an instant underground classic. Buy this track via Beatport here.
El Remolon feat. Lido Pimienta – Vestido
Argentina’s El Remolon is a pioneer of digital cumbia. He blends an awareness of the organic and progressive into a unique sound that weaves between both influences with respect for the soulful vibes apparent in both styles. From his 2014 album Selva, he collabs with Colombian-born vocalist Lido Pimienta for a track that initially bears a classic cumbia style, but devolves into wild, bass-driven techno-cumbia madness. Download this track here.
3BALLMTY feat. America Sierra & El Dusty – Intentalo
Tribal guarachero is the sound of Monterrey, Mexico’s answer to Swedish House Mafia, 3BALLYMTY. Producers Erick Rincon, DJ Otto, and Shelco Garcia make tracks that blend elements of electro, techno, trance, Mexican tribal sounds, and cumbia into tracks like this, 2013’s Intentalo, which also happens to be the trio’s biggest crossover hit. If you want a sense of what cumbia could sound like as American pop when not at 108-112 BPM, this is the best example yet. Purchase this track here.
Bomba Estereo x Nadastrom – Move Your Body
Red Bull paired moombahton pioneers Nadastrom, aka Dave Nada and Matt Nordstrom, with similarly pioneering Colombian digital cumbia crew Bomba Estereo, and the result is a grooving, booming, and sweeping track that feels ready for peak-hour drops and festival madness. Nadastrom’s Central and South American forays of late have slid under the press radar, but look something like this. Amazed? As moombahton heads from the root to the fruit and back “underground” again, it’s growth in cumbia’s traditional strongholds will be most entertaining to observe. Grab your free download here.