Seattle is almost 7,000 miles from Buenos Aires, but our city is finding a niche for the hypnotically irresistible sound of cumbia. For the uninitiated, cumbia is a pan–Latin American folkloric genre that originated in Colombia. It has a trademark guitar style and an unmistakable steady beat from the güiro, a shaker-like percussion instrument. Like a slower cousin of salsa, it's also a popular partner dance.
Argentine producers have been experimenting with cumbia electronically for a decade. Many of those "cumbia digital" pioneers passed through the groundbreaking ZZK Records. The Argentine label's most recent Seattle stop was in June at Barboza, where they found the perfect local opener: Terror/Cactus.
Terror/Cactus is the bridge between these two otherwise disparate cities, the brainchild of 31-year-old Martín Selasco, who was born in Buenos Aires, was raised in Miami, and moved to Seattle as a teenager. His grandfather ran popular Argentine record label Music Hall, and his father continued the imprint's distribution from Florida, where the young Martín was initiated into the family business.
"As a kid, I'd hang out in the warehouse, help him box up CDs, and put labels on packages," Selasco said in an interview. "I discovered a lot of Latin American folk that way."
As an adolescent, Selasco went from a nearly all-Latinx school environment in Miami to being the odd one out here, where he was ignorantly teased for being "Mexican," even though Seattle is closer to Mexico City than Buenos Aires is.
Music helped him cope. "I have been making music my whole life—electronic tango, indie pop with Argentine folklore mixed in, some cumbia, spazzy garage pop," he recounted.
And despite the harassment at school, the Emerald City provided some advantages. "Seattle has this amazing music scene that is especially accessible to younger people with all-ages shows," he said. "Miami felt like a more adult city."
Taking a cue from the ZZK sound, Selasco's Terror/Cactus project is of a more recent vintage, inspired by current events.
"I started making cumbia right after Trump got elected. Because he misrepresented Latin Americans and immigrants so terribly, I wanted not only to celebrate my Latin American roots but also the pan-Latin unifying experience of cumbia," Selasco said.
Terror/Cactus's second album, Impulsos, drops on December 1 with a release party at Timbre Room, where Selasco (on guitar) will be joined by David Plell (of garage rockers Powerbleeder) on timbales and güiro, while free-jazz outfit the Sky Is a Suitcase's Mike Gebhart handles percussion.
The eight tracks on Impulsos alternate from the brooding, atmospheric melancholy of "Serpiente Nocturna" and "Voces de Barro" to bouncy, eight-bit beats on "Danza de las Pirañas." Selasco's semi-psychedelic, semi-surf-rock guitar shines throughout, most notably on "La Quebrada."
All that instrumentation stands for itself, as Terror/Cactus eschew lyrics and perform in masks.
"I don't want to be singing about me and my personal experience," Selasco said. "I'm fascinated by the idea of embodying something else and playing around with identity, how other people might see you and how you might see yourself differently with a mask."
"I've always liked to make masks," he added. "They represent otherworldly things."