I’ve had a lifelong love affair with the Cumbia. Cumbia feels like home to me. I’ve always thought of it like that real cool homegirl who is always there when you need someone to talk to or laugh with. She’s relatable but aspirational at the same time. She has travelled the world several times over, each trip changing her just a little, but not so much that she isn’t still as down to earth as the day you met her. Cumbia is a responsive rhythm that bends and morphs to the musician’s commands. Cumbia can be whatever you want it to be and that has led some of the greatest musicians to really push the limits of experimentation. The three men, Eblis Alvarez, Pedro Ojeda and Mario Galeano who make up Colombian band Los Pirañas have been innovating Cumbia for the last two decades. Under their guidance Cumbia has become once again subversive. Their Cumbia takes you by surprise creating entire worlds of colour and light. The frenzy in your feet created by the frenetic beats promises to leave you drenched in sweat. Galeano, Ojeda and Alvarez came together as teenagers and have become some of the most influential musicians in the neo Cumbia scene, putting out dozens of records in their own various bands and together under Los Pirañas. Their sound socializes the Cumbia with Champeta, psychedelic surf rock and just about everything in between.
Their latest release, Infame Golpazo en Keroxen, is a re-configuration of some of their more memorable sounds from their last three albums. They added another layer of experimentation by re-recording the songs live in a disused gasoline tank situated off of the Canary Islands. These songs have matured inside that gasoline tank yet they still manage to keep the youthful, playful energy of the originals, in fact, I would argue they’ve become more playful the second time around. They start us off with “Lambada de Oceania, Africa y America (eran un solo continente)” which just kind of creeps up on you, slinking up into your eardrums like a Jaguar in the jungle, slow and agile you never see it coming when it pounces. The song is constantly surprising you, taking unexpected turns and curves and just when you think you have it figured out it takes another. That’s what makes Los Pirañas so good, their music is intriguing, it keeps you hooked as you wait to see what comes next because even if you’ve heard it a hundred times, you’ll still find something new.
For this album they also worked with local brass players, Pablo Arocha on Trumpet, Pablo González on Trombone and Eduardo Martín on Tuba. This was a great decision. The way the brass mingles with the percussion in the breakdowns of “Dragones Chinos” is magical. “Dragones Chinos” is also a great example of their subversive style. What could just be a mass of sound is really the product of several incredible talents creating contortions with traditional tropical rhythms while also injecting a little bit of humour into the process.
There’s a tightness, a contained excitement to songs like “Infame golpazo” that must come from being confined to that tank. The frenetic merengue beat feels like some sort of psychedelic Carnival full of horns and drums and peculiar digital sounds. “Monstruo prometedor” is one of the more captivating songs on the album. If you listen closely it sounds like the brass instruments are in conversation, as if one is trying to convince the other to engage in some sort of forbidden activity. I get the impression that whatever the activity is, it will eventually become irresistible.
I think it would be easy to listen to this and just hear noise and maybe even a little confusion, there is a lot going on and your ears don’t always know what to pay attention to, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Infame Golpazo en Keroxen really illustrates the genius of Los Pirañas, it’s not just “noise”, it’s caricature, it’s humour, it’s tribute, and it’s spectacular.