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Tune into any Colombian radio station right now, and there’s a good chance that it won’t be long until you hear an undulating, hypnotic groove, played on a flauta de millo – an indigenous Colombian woodwind instrument – snaking out of the speakers. The song is ‘Duele’, the latest single from the band Bomba Estéreo, and it’s arguably the hottest track in the country right now. Founded back in 2005 by guitarist Simón Mejía, Bomba Estéreo’s first album, Vol. 1, was released the following year. One of the guest vocalists on that recording was the Santa Marta-born rapper and singer Liliana ‘Li’ Saumet. Mejía was so impressed by her vocals – and her penchant for flamboyant, colourful outfits, which have become a hallmark of the band as well – that he started collaborating with her further and the modern incarnation of Bomba Estéreo was born.
The band’s music has since proven tricky to categorise: as ‘Duele’, with its Eastern European-inspired melodic line, shows that the band has always had a unique talent for effortlessly fusing global musical influences and creating something fresh and exciting at the same time. The most accurate description would probably be ‘electro tropical’ or ‘psychedelic cumbia’. What is certain is that the band took Colombia by storm with their albums Estalla, Elegancia Tropical, and Amanecer. They even had some global impact: their most well-known single ‘Fuego’ is a familiar sound for gamers worldwide, having featured prominently in the sports video game ‘Fifa 10’, and it was so popular that in 2016, their smash hit ‘Soy Yo’ made it onto the ‘Fifa 16’ soundtrack.
So how did The Fresh Prince of Bel Air get involved in the Bomba Estéreo story? In 2014, Smith visited Colombia with his friend, the legendary salsa singer (and ex. Mr J. Lo) Marc Anthony. They came to watch the World Cup, but Will got an unexpected surprise aside from the Colombian team’s sterling performances in Brazil! He describes the moment in a making-of video for ‘Fiesta’: ‘I was in Colombia with Marc Anthony. He was listening to music, and I heard the ‘Fuego, fuego’, and I was like, “Yo, that joint is crazy.”’ As it often happens in Hollywood, Smith was friends with people from the band’s record label, and when they played him the upcoming single ‘Fiesta’, his response was unequivocal: ‘I said, “That is crazy, I need to be on that.”’
While some eyebrows were raised at Will’s rapping prowess on the song (‘Hola Mamacita, go get me a beer-a’?!), the endorsement was unquestionably a huge moment for Bomba Estéreo. Suddenly they were ‘Will Smith’s favourite’ band, and his live appearance with them at the 2015 Latin Grammy Awards – at which the band was nominated for both ‘Record of the Year’ and ‘Best Alternative Music Album’ – further cemented their burgeoning reputation.
Bomba Estéreo seems to get bigger with each record they release, so Ayo, which came out in early August 2017, seems almost certain to take them to the next level once again. And the best news for those of you just hearing about this excellent band? You now have five diverse and incredible albums to work your way through. And you’ll be doing so knowing that the music you’re hearing comes with a huge endorsement from The Fresh Prince himself, Mr Will Smith!