The poor know how to get down. In yet another case of the impoverished and downtrodden leading the way, digital cumbia is one of the latest musical forms to bubble up from the ghettos, this time from the shantytowns of Argentina. Brought to the world by way of Buenos Aires's Zizek crew, the originally Colombian folk music is now being integrated with modern club music and techniques, resulting in a sound that's distinctly Argentine but acutely world-wise.
Cumbia itself is already a mélange of world influences, with African, Amerindian, and Spanish roots. While traditional Argentine cumbia maintained popularity in rural areas, cumbia villera urbanized the form, with faster beats and darker lyrical themes, as both the genre and its fans were becoming more ghettoized in the wake of Argentina's economic missteps. (Short version: The banking system collapsed, leading to the expected state of civil unrest, which was then described in the music, which the upper class then denounced). Electronic music and hiphop joined the pot of influences. Digital cumbia (or neo-cumbia) takes that to more extreme ends as even more of a catchall, capturing reggaeton, dubstep, and whatever else works to get the dance floor moving.
Zizek Urban Beats Club is one of the premier club nights for this updated take on cumbia. The weekly pulls from a rotating roster of DJs and draws a crowd of thousands, understandably getting the seal of approval from Philadelphia's Diplo, who's already helped to bring Brazil's baile funk to American audiences. While focused on their own events and touring schedule, the Zizek crew members also run their own label, ZZK Records, putting their productions, collaborations, and mixtapes out for the world's consumption.
It's in those mixtapes that you get the best sense of Zizek's approach. Villa Diamante (perhaps the most famous of the crew) starts out his latest mixtape with heavy 808 hits of American hiphop before dropping the cumbia backbeat, then dipping into reggaeton and dancehall, along with some M.I.A. and Jay-Z. Styles constantly switch places, with familiar American beats sometimes backing cumbia lyrics, sometimes the other way around. Chancha Vía Circuito on the other hand, keeps things more minimal, stripping away vocals entirely for the bulk of his mixtape, instead focusing on melding cumbia with IDM and dub textures. Ironically, it's the crew's American that sticks the closest to Argentina, as San Francisco's Oro11 mostly avoids layering American music into his mixtape. Other than the inclusion of Crime Mob, his edition instead sounds very traditional—danceable without the need for much embellishment.
It's that diversity that places the Zizek crew in such high demand. The members may take influences from everywhere, but in the end, they're just going above and beyond in liberating their music from the ghetto.