This weekend is Cumbia Fest 2016 and in accordance, we have asked some of the heavy-hitters in the local scene where a rookie should begin; from the masters of yesterday to those just now picking up the cumbia beat, keeping it pulsing and alive.
But first, some history.
Cumbia's dance style and syncopated rhythms are said to stem from the sound of African slaves' chains dragging across the Colombian ground as they danced. Like Latin America and the Caribbean before us, the infectious beat has since planted its flag firmly into the dry Texas soil. Unfortunately, although you can hear the sounds of cumbia all around us in San Antonio, many might not be aware of not only the complex history of the genre but where to even begin. We talked to some local favorites get some insight into the genre, where it's happening in San Antonio, and who you should be listening to to get your cumbia on:
Joaquin Muerte, Los Nahuatlatos
Let's begin with Joaquin Muerte. The drummer for Chicano soul ensemble Los Nahuatlatos was emphatic about his passion for cumbia.
"I love cumbia!" However, no amateur himself, Muerte was quick to mention that he's very picky about cumbia style and my surroundings. His favorites being cumbia vallenata, cumbia sonidero and cumbia colombiana. He listed some of his favorite musicians as Aniceto Molina, Chicos Del Barrio, Tropa De Estrella, Mision Colombiana, Master.
As for where to find the old school masters playing, he broke it down. "You cant find any of this cumbia on the strip. You have to keep a look out for flyers and posters for places like Fiesta event center, Mi Mercado flea market (especially on sundays), Randys ballroom, Corona club and sometimes Arjons."
But make sure to check out anywhere Los Nahuatlatos are playing. Or jump over here to check out tracks off of Old School. In the words of Muerte, "We get down on some cumbias."
Roberto "El Robotico" Livar
No list of local cumbia aficionados would be complete without advice from a member of Bombasta, the Barrio Big Band. Frontman Roberto "El Robotico" Livar replied in a fashion typical to the radical consciousness of the group.
"My favorite places to hear the shuffling guacharaca and blazing accordion of cumbias, has to be in the passing sounds of my hood- cumbia bass lines booming out of open car windows as I drive down Culebra towards our studio downtown," Livar told us.
Livar detailed the resplendence of Aniceto Molina's accordion cutting through the summer heat, pulsing from the speakers of the sonideros at Mission Flea Market. He recounted watching the whole familia bouncing and moving, naturally forming a quinciñera cumbia circle. "This is where I appreciate the authentic sounds of cumbia the most- this is where I feel most at home," he said.
As for "those new school fools jumping on the cumbia bandwagon," Livar recommends doing your own research - delving into the history of resistance that is cumbia. Although they are the masters and teachers of cumbia, Andres Landero and Calixto Ochoa are just an introduction to a genre that is centuries old and still thriving. Livar also highlighted the resistance inherent in a music that "connects so many Americanos across invisible/ irrelevant borders," and never stops. Cumbia continues to grow and evolve in the sounds of Systema Solar, El Dusty and hometown homies, Bombasta.
Puro Pepe, Grupo Frackaso
We also reached out to some new school advocates of cumbia, whose syncretic blending of rock 'n' roll, punk rock and latin styles perfectly mirrors the cultural mixing and meshing of our city. Thrash-cumbia ensemble Grupo Frackaso's Puro Pepe responded, giving us a list of some of his favorite cumbia standards, as well as a little shameless self-promotion. Rep your chit, mang!
"Since we're heavy into punk I usually hit the Strip. Mainly Hi-Tones and La Botánica. They tend to have cumbia nights often."
His suggestions for cumbia classics included Los Angeles Azules' "Liston de tu Pelo;" Sonido Mazter's "Este Dolor;" Pibes Chorros' "Mabel" and, of course, Grupo Frackaso's "Pasa La Botella."
Last, but certainly not least, another SA group holding it down for cumbia lovers while mixing in modern influences is Nag Champa. They showed some love to their hermanos in Grupo Frackaso as well as repping the old school mastery of Andres Landero.
"We go anywhere Grupo Frackaso plays. As for cumbia standards, you can never go wrong with the godfather of cumbia, Andres Landero. Any song by him is killer."
Cumbia Fest 2016, Saturday, June 18, at 7 p.m featuring Celso Piño, Fito Olivares and Massore, $18.00. Tickets can be purchased here.