Bomba Estereo just finished the European leg of their tour and played at Lollapalooza over the weekend. They are a band of Colombians, making a blend of electronic and cumbia music. As they progress as artists, each new project serves as an opportunity to expand and explore, sonically and visually. For their latest video, for the song “Amar Asi” off of the 2017 album Ayo, the band decided to work with Colombian filmmaker Ivan Wild. (Wild describes the video as a testament to “The power of nostalgia for a kiss and warm embraces. Memories of a love that puts you in a spell, 'un amar asi.’")
They chose to release the love song on the day that the new Colombian President, Ivan Duque, is being sworn in. The election of Duque serves as a glaring indicator of how divided the country is, and the musicians feel that the next four years will be a battle of ideas between conservative and progressive ideologies. Their contribution is through their art: the videos they produce and the music they create. Shot on an island off the Colombian coast, “Amar Asi” tells the slow, subtle, love story of two soldiers on an unnamed mission.
The FADER spoke with Simon Mejia, the founder of Bomba Estereo, just before the band’s show in Detroit, to talk about the inspiration behind the video, choosing when to be political, and the ideological polarization that is consuming Colombia, and the world.
The music video for Amar Asi carries political undertones, especially now that a conservative right-wing president just got elected into office. How did the election of Iván Duque influence your decision to make this video?
We were thinking like, Okay “Amar Asi” is a love song, a really classic love song. So how can we push the boundaries of making a love video? [Ivan Wild] came up with this idea of the video that was this island with this group of soldiers that are on an island for an unknown reason. And it's kind of a temporality – you know you don't know if it's today or if it's in the past. A generic concept of some soldiers doing some mission or doing some weird soldier stuff on an island in the middle of the sea. And then he came with the idea of the soldiers in the middle of this solitude and whatever, they start falling in love. We loved the idea. We started working around the idea and everything, and casually at the same time, there were the [presidential] elections in Colombia. We were passing through all these very radical stages because the country now is really divided. I think it's not only Colombia. I think the world is really divided now into the extreme right and extreme left. Here in the States, and Colombia is the same.
So we were in kind of, state of you don't know what's going to happen. People were real extreme in their ideas, in their thoughts. We thought OK this video can be kind of a reaction towards all that the radicalization that we're living. And we thought it was cool to wait a little bit and release it with that decision [of the election]. Then, Duque, that is the extreme right candidate, he won the elections. So we are entering into these really extreme right era in Colombia, as in the world. So we thought okay, it can be cool if we release the video the day of the procession as a way of saying, ‘okay we're entering a very radical era, a four year period of radical thinking but we as artists and as musicians can still make the opposite voice and try to level all that radical thinking and all that radicalization that people have come into, we can level that through music and through messages of open thinking, of free thinking. We have to change our way of thinking. If politics are orientated through that the only solution is for people to change their way of thinking.
Do you think that releasing this video as a right-wing president is being sworn into office in Colombia might create some backlash?
It’s not like it’s the first video about homosexuality. But we were aware that people are going to react in particular ways, I think people will react in very radical ways to these videos because it's so crazy, everything Colombia, that even young people, and even people that are fans of Bomba Estereo, are with these radical thoughts in their minds. And that's what's concerns us. You know is not only of a generational thing. It's really concerning because young people are thinking this way, and young people are radical and young people are supporting the extreme right. So I don't know. We hope it does what it has to do, the video, and hopefully helps some people like rethink about all this radicalization and rethink about how are they approaching these issues. I think the problem in the world right now is that people are not being open-minded to difference and to a different way of thinking about different races and different religions and to different sexual orientations. It is the seed of the problem.
You spoke of this intolerance and polarization that is happening in the world right now, and how as an artist you try to push against that with what you create. In the United States, I think we are having this moment where Latino culture is becoming more widely appreciated while people from Latin America are being criminalized. What are your thoughts on this dual existence?
I think it's amazing. I mean I think the best way of resistance. You know, President Trump is building walls to separate the States from Mexico and Latin America. He can build as many walls as he can, but the culture and the music and everything will come in harder. I love that idea. I love that idea because its music is a way of resistance. Music is a way of telling politicians, Okay you can do whatever you or make whatever fucking policies you want against Latinos, against immigrants, and against everything, but the music is getting there.
And I love the idea that Latin music, with all the power that it has, is coming from a very strong and difficult continent. Especially from Colombia, a country that has been in war for more than 50 years or more but, it is still making the most amazing music in the world today. And it's crossing all the old language boundaries. It doesn't matter if you don't speak Spanish, you can dance to Latin music. That never happened before, before it was always like English speaking music. And for us, for Latin America, or for Colombia, that is a huge achievement. We love it that can be done through art, through music, and not through politics.
Do you feel that every piece of art you create has to be attached to a larger message? How do you decide when you say will speak on an issue?
We don’t want to become this ‘speech’ band, giving political speeches all the time. But if you can, in an artistic way, touch sensibility of the people, that is stronger. But in the next four years, we're trying to push even harder. Right now, there are a lot of ecological issues in Colombia, and there are right-wing policies that will leave all the mountains and jungles unprotected, to be mined. And if we don't we don't protect that we basically we won't have anything. We won't have – a lot of what the governments want to do is like to exploit the land until the last drop of oil, until the last drop of gold, until the last drop of water. You don't have to go make speeches. Just showing something that moves people.
Bomba Estereo will reusume their US tour starting in December. Dates are below.
12/5 - Seattle, WA - Showbox SoDo
12/7 - Oakland, CA - The Fox Theatre
12/8 - Los Angeles, CA - The Novo
12/11 - Boston, MA - Paradise Rock Club
12/12 - New York, NY - Terminal 5
12/13 - Silver Spring, MD - The Fillmore
12/15 - Chicago, IL - Thalia Hall