Mexico’s Son Rompe Pera bang the marimba on the crossroads of cumbia and punk : NPR

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As soon as considered an incorruptible pillar of custom, the marimba turns into a revolutionary rock ‘n’ roll instrument for band Son Rompe Pera.

Pedro Nekoi for NPR


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Pedro Nekoi for NPR


As soon as considered an incorruptible pillar of custom, the marimba turns into a revolutionary rock ‘n’ roll instrument for band Son Rompe Pera.

Pedro Nekoi for NPR

In celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, NPR Music is spotlighting a sequence of artists throughout Latin America who’re participating with their musical heritage in distinctive methods. From transforming conservative genres for brand new eras, to teasing out fashionable sounds from old-school devices, these artists characterize the wide selection of experimentation that makes up up to date Latin music.

Earlier this yr, within the blazing Mexico Metropolis solar, plucky cumbia band Son Rompe Pera was tasked with opening the principle stage of the gargantuan Vive Latino Competition. Regardless of the notoriously thankless slot the place many a band has floundered, the psychobilly marimberos from Naucalpan, Mexico, convened a large crowd that handled them like headliners. Dance circles fashioned all through the sector, throbbing to the punkified cumbia blaring from the audio system. By the top of the set, hundreds of elated dancers clapped and cheered, anointing Son Rompe Pera into the pantheon of hometown heroes.

“It was a really emotional expertise,” remembers Kacho Gama, who wields the marimba mallets in Son Rompe Pera alongside his brother Mongo. “We performed Vive Latino earlier than with [cumbia band] Chico Trujillo, however this was our flip so it was nerve-wracking. Seeing so many acquainted faces was superb. Individuals who got here to our reveals earlier than, who purchased our merch and dropped just a few cash in our hat after we have been performing in parks in the course of the pandemic. Everybody dancing, yelling, moshing … it was insane. And so lovely.”

After all Mexico Metropolis rallied behind Son Rompe Pera. In any case, its members first minimize their tooth as musicians within the streets, alongside neighbors and mates. They started performing practically 20 years in the past as a standard marimba band led by their father José Gama Sr., who enlisted sons Kacho, Mongo and Kilos to flesh out the ensemble. Son Rompe Pera would often carry out at weddings and personal events, operating by means of cumbia, danzón and cha-cha-chá classics, and even just a few pop-rock favorites by Timbiriche and El Tri.

As they grew up, the boys veered off into rock ‘n’ roll, taking part in in punk bands round Mexico Metropolis and Mexico State’s gritty underground. They continued performing with their father, but in addition bought into skateboarding and psych music, absorbing experiences that expanded their worldview to reframe rock and cumbia as allied genres as a substitute of foes. Custom and modernity coexist peacefully inside Son Rompe Pera, and cumbia continues to be very a lot its spine. Even because the brothers’ love of punk and rockabilly started poking by means of their crisp guayaberas with colourful tattoos and coiffed, greaser hair, cumbia has all the time guided them again house.

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“We have been into punk and rockabilly since we have been children nevertheless it by no means crossed our minds to fuse that keenness with marimba,” displays Mongo Gama. “Embracing your roots is that this actually cool factor these days, however generally it is laborious doing that at house. We began leaning into it extra as we traveled, ensuring we always remember the place we come from, taking part in within the streets, with household.”

The turning level for Son Rompe Pera got here in 2013, on an informal time out with mates at Mexico Metropolis’s Lagunilla tianguis — a sprawling flea market stuffed with oddball antiques and greasy meals stands favored amongst locals and vacationers nursing a pounding weekend hangover. “This was again after we used to drink,” remembers Mongo with a chuckle. “We have been strolling round and noticed a room the place some older of us have been taking part in marimba. Our mates dared us to leap on however we have been sort of embarrassed about folks discovering out we performed marimba. We finally began taking part in and a crowd gathered. In that crowd was our now supervisor, Timo [Timothy Bisig]. We stayed in touch however did not actually know what he was attempting to get at. Then he related us with Chico Trujillo and that is the place every little thing modified.”

Son Rompe Pera traveled to Chile in 2017, creating a decent friendship with bandleader Macha (Aldo Asenjo) of Chico Trujillo — an establishment of streetwise, rule-breaking Chilean cumbia. He orchestrated a sequence of studio classes that might change into the group’s 2020 debut album, Batuco. The musicians took cuts from the band’s intensive requirements repertoire and recorded them with a now signature punk gusto — tackling Los Cadetes de Linares’ mournful corrido “No Hay Novedad,” and giving Laurel Aitken’s ska ballad “Mi Vida Sin Tu Amor” a pleasant cumbia facelift. Additionally included was the triumphant “Cumbia Algarrobera,” recorded with José Gama Sr. in 2015 earlier than his loss of life the next yr.

Trying again on the years lengthy manufacturing course of, the Gama brothers additionally acknowledge a basic shift of their relationship to the marimba; as soon as considered an incorruptible pillar of custom, it now looks like a revolutionary rock ‘n’ roll instrument. “Rising up in punk and rockabilly circles, folks would offer you a tough time in the event that they discovered you additionally preferred cumbia,” says Kacho. “We used to play at this punk bar known as El Gato Calavera and have been among the many first bands to open these areas to cumbia and different tropical music. Once we performed in psychobilly bands we thought that was going to take us around the globe, however no. The marimba has all the time been with us, taking us locations we by no means imagined.”

“Son Rompe Pera is in the midst of every little thing,” he provides. “We’re a rock mestizo band that performs cumbia.”

It has been a steep climb for Son Rompe Pera, fielding criticism from cumbia purists and circumventing rock bookers who straight up do not perceive the undertaking. However the streets that raised them have the members’ backs. “Cumbia is the brand new punk,” the tagline emblazoned throughout the band’s merch, has change into a succinct ethos for the band. It not solely highlights the of the folks legacy of each genres, nevertheless it synthesizes how proudly exulting your heritage within the face of conformist trade traits is among the punkest issues you are able to do.

Targeted on the highway forward, and at the moment on tour, the Gama brothers converse excitedly about upcoming performances, together with appearances at WOMEX in Portugal and the theatrical Competition Cervantino in Guanajuato, Mexico. Son Rompe Pera are additionally midway by means of recording a brand new album, jetting off to Bogotá, Colombia earlier this yr and organising store at Mambo Negro Studios with mad cumbia scientists Mario Galeano of Frente Cumbiero and La Boa’s Daniel Michel. This time across the band is crafting authentic materials somewhat than reimagining requirements, flourishing within the studio with better confidence than earlier than.

“Once we recorded Batuco we did not actually know what to do within the studio,” says Mongo. “It was a very new expertise for us, however now we wish to seize the vitality of the stage on the file. This new album sounds actually completely different although cumbia continues to be very a lot the bottom. It is gonna be loopy.”

It is applicable that bands like Son Rompe Pera have intersected with cumbia artists from throughout the continent. The band carries a percussive custom connecting communities in Southern Mexico with Central America and the Pacific Coasts of Ecuador and Colombia. Marimba is a cornerstone of musical traditions in Mexican states resembling Chiapas and Veracruz, the latter house to a port of utmost significance all through centuries of trans-Atlantic commerce and mestizaje, in addition to the birthplace of the Gama brothers’ father. Son Rompe Pera are conscious about these generational connections, of how cumbia is the lingua franca of Latin America — from the sonideros of Mexico to the villas of Argentina. The band is loving and protecting of its roots, whereas additionally letting the branches develop freely into new instructions.

“We do not play issues the best way they’re often performed,” provides Kacho. “I feel what’s most essential is that you simply as a performer have enjoyable and check out new issues, and hopefully the viewers is open sufficient to hitch you for the journey.”

Richard Villegas is a Mexico Metropolis-based music journalist placing a highlight on Latin American unbiased music. He’s additionally the host and producer of the Songmess Podcast.

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