Being able to travel is one of the countless things that’s been hugely impacted in 2020. The global pandemic has meant for almost everyone, holidaying doesn’t quite make sense in these challenging times. For those of us that value music as part of those experiences, sonic adventures in radically new places has not happened this year. Whether that’s clubbing in Chiang Mai, a huge late-night pilgrimage to find rhiz in Vienna, or stumbling over a superb garage rock bar down a dusty alley in a Catalonian village, it’s always great to find places that feel like new versions of home. Whilst all these experiences, and more, have some shred of familiarity, it’s more about the way they reveal shiny new connections into the seemingly bottomless pit of amazing music.
So, Cumbia Siglo XXI by Meridan Brothers immediately transports to that overlooked club at the far end of town or that place all the local folks gather away from the tourist district. Played, constructed, sung and invented by Eblis Alvarez, it grows out of a sprawling high-altitude music scene of the Columbian capital city – Bogotá.
We’ll admit freely, much of what Cumbia Siglo XXI grows out from, comments on, and grooves around is new to our ears. In short, we have no real frame of reference or local guide for this music at all. But what’s immediately appealing is a dynamic electronic mayhem roughly squeezed though a distinctive South American filter.
It takes just over 10 seconds for Los Golpeadores De La Cumbia to plot its bulbous rhythms that transform our little pocket of Scottish greenery into a thumping equatorial nightclub. Cumbia Del Pichaman is a deranged revisit of Son of a Preacher Man with unhinged drum pads and dry disco patterns.
Twisted fragments of the 80’s rise in the insistent Puya Del Empresario around handclaps whilst Cumbia De La Igualdad dances around fragments of dub. Whatever is going on so far, it’s impossible not to be swept up in the albums blossoming madcap fun. As well as a form of 4-dimensional electronic pop, there’s a rough overlaid imperfection that throws up an inexhaustible stream of afrobeat, techno, and even kraut rock flashes.
Spacey light beams dance around Cumbia De La Fuente before the wobbly guitar lines appear out of nowhere boldly separated in the stereo image. Bassy funk drives Cumbia De La Amistad before it settles into tight percussive shapes.
Cumbia Del Relicario builds of amazing woozy electronic bubbles, like dialing tones, giving the impression the music is made of rubber. Next up, Cumbia Totalitarian zones in on more off-centre electronics with clipped metallic grooves and organ lines. The penultimate track Cumbia De La Soledad birthing atoms of the Police’s Roxanne before building and breaking down in maniacal segments. The final track blasts itself sideways through Johnathan Richman’s Egyptian Reggae before gathering itself into odd reflections.
10 songs in 41 minutes zip past all underpinned with Alvarez’s superbly whacked vocal delivery. For our non-Spanish ears, his delivery makes little sense beyond it sitting centrally in this hugely intoxicating pop hybrid. Cumbia Siglo XXI is the Meridan Brothers 7th album and a little digging, plots a stylistic shift from their previous, more rock-based, if similarly, skewed work. Whilst the studio work is always just Alvarez, when they perform live, they morph into a full on 5-piece. We can, for now, only dream how joyously messy this new music will be live.
Whilst this album literally dances along the razors edge between pop and dance music, there is something at its heart that just knows how to keep things from ever settling into anything predictable or neat. It’s been an album we’ve played loud and repeatedly.
Wherever on the planet, you decide to tune in, you’ll get beamed straight into the coolest bar in Bogotá. Go with it, let this fun drenched music wash over your mind and body.
Cumbia Siglo XXI by Meridian Brothers is released on Vinyl, CD, and digital on 21st August on Les Disques Bongo Joe.