Straight out of the streets of Bogotá, Colombia, a band known as Bomba Estéreo have an electro-dance, tropical cumbia-rock sound. They infuse 1980s synth-based molds with traditional Colombian music. Singer Liliana Saumet chant-raps in South American tones that are pinched from the back of her throat. You see her and think Molly Ringwald or a young Madonna in her New York heyday. But you hear her and think Andean matriarch of the rainforest guava, a charmer of pythons. Bomba Estéreo flair out dance-floor tempos that nod with dub and reggae. Live guitar and bass are paired with digitally based tracks and traditional Colombian drumming. Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía spoke from Chile, where they had just played Lollapalooza.
Hola, cómo estás? Me llamo Trent. Estoy en Seattle, Washington.
Cool, cool. I love Seattle.
And Seattle loves Bomba Estéreo. Dónde estás ahora? Where are you right now?
Estoy en Valparaíso, Chile. In the sand dunes over the sea.
What other bands played Lollapalooza in Chile? Did you have some alone time with Perry Farrell in the snack tent?
Jane's Addiction did play. But I did not have alone time with Perry Farrell. I did have snacks. Crackers and broccoli and can beer. Next time, we can maybe have alone time. Kanye West played.
I've heard Kanye hogs the snacks in the hospitality tent—is this true?
It is a possibility. He seems like a man who could eat many snacks. The Killers also played. There were like 50 bands that played. Deftones, 30 Seconds to Mars, the Flaming Lips. I love the Flaming Lips. I got to see Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and I really liked them. They were really good.
Bomba Estéreo play a cover of the Technotronic song "Pump Up the Jam." How did you guys decide to do that song?
It was part of a Levi's compilation album that came out last year. They chose a bunch of American bands to be on it, and they asked us to be part of it. We were the only band on it from Latin America. We chose that song because it was a very powerful song in Colombia in the 1980s. For me, it was really the first electronic music I ever heard. It was the beginning of electronic music for me. The song had a big effect on me, and the people in Colombia. There's actually a Colombian version of the song in Spanish.
What are some of your favorite Colombian bands and DJs?
Systema Solar, Monareta, Danny Boom, and DJ Fresh, to name a few.
What is some kick-ass Colombian candy?
Bocadillo and Chocolate Santander.
Do Bomba Estéreo ever have problems with US Customs?
One time, we were coming though Miami and we encountered a very angry police guy in the airport who thought we were carrying drugs. He went through my suitcase and found some sleeping pills and thought it was ecstasy. He wanted to send me back to Colombia. I told him, "They are sleeping pills." He took the pills to this machine and had them all examined. There were like 30 pills. I almost missed my next flight. He wanted to deport me, but he couldn't.
It's true, some of the border officers can be assholes.
Yes. They are mainly assholes.
How do you say asshole in your language? I need to sharpen up my Spanish profanity.
Asshole is "guayon."
How do you say fucking asshole?
What's another bad word I should learn?
Gonorrhea. That's a very bad word.
Do Bomba Estéreo have gonorrhea?
No. But you never can be too careful.
How would describe the sound of Bomba Estéreo?
I'd say it's a mixture of traditional sound from the Caribbean, with Ajiaco, which is a traditional sound from the mountains, and a cup of aguardiente, which is a local drink that everyone in Colombia drinks.
Bomba Estéreo played in China not too long ago. How was that?
It was an all-ages show. Old people, young people, and strange people. During the concert, there was a moment when the crowd surged at the stage. People became crazy. They were out of their heads getting violent. Security had to be called.
Where in China were you playing?
In Shanghai. There's a world's fair that they do every year. We were playing in the Colombian pavilion.
They serve exotic, weird food in China. Did you eat octopus testicle?
They eat everything. Everything. I prefer to stay ignorant about it. Maybe I ate octopus testicle. I wouldn't be able to tell you.
How do you say octopus testicle?
Testiculo de pulpo.
Where did you record the Technotronic cover?
Polen Record Studio. That's our label. They have their own studio. I did basic tracks in my home studio on Ableton Live, and then when it came time for drums and everything else, we went to that studio. All of us in Bomba Estéreo have smaller home studios. We start at home and then end up in a bigger studio.
When Bomba Estéreo play live, what's your setup?
We use digital sequencing, electronic bass we run in Live. I use a MicroKorg and a Moog synthesizer. And I play bass guitar. Our guitar player also plays an Akai sampler, and two very cool, small German synthesizers. The drummer plays an acoustic kit and Roland electronic drum pads, and triggers for all the drums. And we also use a Colombian drum that is similar to a djembe. Liliana uses just her voice and a little bit of effects, mainly delays.
Where in Colombia are you guys from?
We're all from different places. I'm from Bogotá. Liliana is from Santa Marta, which is on the Caribbean coast. Kike [Egurrola], the drummer, is also from Santa Marta. Julián [Salazar] is from a small town near Bogotá, in the mountains.
How would you describe Colombia to the people of Seattle?
I think it's a special and unique country because of all the different types of weather present there. We have the mountains of the Andes. We have the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. And we have a rich tradition in music and culture. A mixture of African, indigenous, and white people. We try to represent some of our traditional sound in the kind of music that Bomba Estéreo bring forward. It's a beautiful country. Sometimes the news portrays us unfairly—that's all bullshit.
Is there really that much cocaine in Colombia? Or is that just how the US media portrays it?
Cocaine is prevalent, yes. But I think that the problem with it is that it is illegal. When the United States decides to make it legal, the whole problem will be solved. The United States is the biggest cocaine consumer in the world.
How illegal is cocaine in Colombia? Does the government punish harshly for possession?
Yes. It is illegal. It is a big crime. The difference is that cocaine is very cheap in Colombia. You can get it for a very low price and very good quality.
I think you should run for president of Colombia.
Yes. If I win, I will make drugs legal. And everyone will get a solid education. All people will also have health insurance.
And all beaches will be nude beaches. The Colombian beaches will be full of educated, insured, nude people. Bomba Estéreo will have a national holiday. Bomba Estéreo Day. How do you say nudity?
You're naked right now.
Yes. Thinking of you.
What's next for Bomba Estéreo?
A new album coming out in September. And drinking more aguardiente.
And staying away from gonorrhea.
Do you know what the album is going to be called?
I think it's going to be called Gonorrhea.