Listening to Bomba Estéreo is like remembering what it feels like to be alive and actually enjoying it. Hailing from Bogotá, Colombia, the electro tropical Latinx band has been starting parties everywhere they go ever since they formed back in 2005. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given their name, which translates literally into “stereo bomb,” is a Colombian term for a supremely badass party.
Last year, the group released their soaring fifth studio album, Ayo. On it, Bomba Estéreo sprinkle in a little more dance and Spanglish than their past records, perhaps the result of the biggest change of all: choosing to record both in their homeland near the Sierra Nevada mountain range as well as in California.
“We created it in very opposite places, like in Colombia in the middle of the jungle. It was a special studio. A place in the Carribean sea. It was the only place on Earth that has snow so close to the tip there. It’s a strong place environmentally,” explains Simón Mejía. “So we did half of the album there and the other half in L.A., which is the total opposite: a city here in the States. The album has both energies on it, and it goes from one energy to the other. It was a challenge for us to work that way. The tracks have been surprising us for two years now, tracks we didn’t expect to be strong are ones that people sing along very loudly to. It makes us wonder what songs could have been singles. It’s like music opening its path with no marketing or labels to make it happen. Music is just talking for itself in that way. It’s nice for [listeners] to perceive that.”
To get to know Bomba Estéreo, we interviewed Simón Mejía for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Ayo as the prompt, his answers are full of passion and hope—qualities that will pepper the band’s music when they headline the Paradise this Tuesday.
DIGBOSTON: Looking at the phrase “You reap what you sow,” what do you plan on sowing next year?
MEJIA: Literally, we’re sowing trees because in Columbia there is this critical situation with the Amazon jungle. There’s this crazy crazy deforestation. It comes from very deep social problems. We’re encountering them now and it’s really really serious. We have to protect the Amazon jungle. So we’re running this campaign that will be a big one for the columbian tour happening in January and February of next year. The campaign is basically about having awareness and doing summer projects around to plant trees and do projects with communities in those forests. We want to help planting trees throughout all of 2019. So that one is literal. The situation is really difficult all around the world, but in Colombia everything feels more visceral, especially with the Amazon jungle. Everything happening there is reflected in the world because it impacts the whole world. We have to be on top of it all, from the trees to the water ot the air breathe.
DIGBOSTON: If you could teach a class in any nontraditional subject, which would you choose to teach?
MEJIA: Well, I’m not an expert, but I think I would love to teach in schools about yoga. I want to teach yoga to small kids. It should be a subject we teach in school. I think the problem with education is that people are not aware of themselves. They aren’t accepting of themselves, of their bodies, of their emotions, of their minds, of their souls. They aren’t aware that everything is in side. That lack of awareness causes a lot of problems, from all the bullying in schools to wars. I think that would be a nice way to teach young small kids things they need to be aware of about themselves.
3) “Química (Dance with Me)”
DIGBOSTON: Who is the person you’ve danced with the most this year?
MEJIA: Wow. I think probably my kids. I have two small kids and they love it. They love dancing to music. So we do our small crazy dancing in the house. It’s like everyone jumping around like crazy. [laughs] They are three and four years old.
DIGBOSTON: Did you injure yourself at all this year?
MEJIA: Ohhh yes. It may not have been this year, but maybe last year: I hurt my back lifting the cases for all our equipment in the airport. I tried to lift one really heavy case with one hand and blew out my back. It may also be my age. I had to do stretches and more yoga and some psychical therapy. But it wasn’t too bad. It just hurt whenever I was playing shows. But now I’m cool and okay, fortunately. Now I go all the way down and use my legs to pick things up. [laughs]
5) “Amar Así”
DIGBOSTON: How do you like to express your love to someone in a subtle or small way?
MEJIA: Well I think the giving of small gifts or hugging someone are ways. Like if you’re quiet but just give someone a hug, that’s a great way to express love, no? Especially when you aren’t waiting for the hug and you’re surprised. It comes from love.
6) “Money Money Money…”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the most expensive thing you purchased this year and was it worth it?
MEJIA: [laughs] I bought a car. It was a used car, so it wasn’t so expensive, but it’s the most expensive thing I bought this year. It’s a big car. I have a family and a dog so we needed a big car. It’s cool. It’s totally worth it. It’s our vehicle for all of our journeys, our weekend journeys. Over the holidays, I’m planning to drive it pretty far, but so far it’s been small trips.
DIGBOSTON: What’s one common misconception about Colombia or people from Colombia?
MEJIA: That we’re all drug dealers. It’s kind of a reality. There are drug dealers, but not as many. It’s a good place to visit. Now Mexico has more drug dealers than us. [laughs] They’re taking the credit now. It’s a cliche of our country, though. The country has changed a lot and there’s much more than that. You go to places when you’re Colombian and make jokes about cocaine, and it’s kind of weird because we don’t take it seriously in that way. But when you go outside of Colombia and hear people making those jokes, it’s not so fun anymore. Especially because it’s been a really tough conflict in Colombia. Now it’s much more controlled. It’s still a difficult subject for us though. The good thing is that now Colombia is known more now for it’s music. We have music all over the world now, from big mainstream names to more alternative names. I think Colombia is speaking more through music now than drug dealing.
8) “Flower Power”
DIGBOSTON: Are you for or against non-violent protest?
MEJIA: I’m for non-violence. I support the non-violent protests because I think if you are going to protest for something, you gotta be careful. When people beat cops or throw homemade bombs at them? You’re doing a project using violence and it goes against the whole message of your project. I think violence cannot be a means of communicating, at least at first, while asking for things. Especially in a place like Colombia which is already violent. If you use violence to protest, you’re creating the same model for violence. I think protests should happen, but without violence.
DIGBOSTON: Where should someone go when visiting Taganga?
MEJIA: When they visit that city, they have to get there and rent a boat, like a fishing boat, and go visit the nearby beaches. They are beautiful beaches. You can only enter these beaches by boat, so it’s all very natural beautiful beaches, some of the prettiest in all of Columbia. In Taganga, there used to be a small fisherman town, but now it has become bigger with more stores and everything. But many years ago it was a very beautiful, small, fisherman town. It’s very emblematic to the culture in the caribbean of Columbia. So go to the beaches! They’re beautiful.
DIGBOSTON: When do you next plan to return to the town you grew up in as a child?
MEJIA: Ah, well, I live in the town I grew up in. But when I was a small kid, we went to Buenos Aires in Argentina. We played there two weeks ago actually, so I just visited! But I’ve been living in Bogata all of my life, and I live there now. Only those years where we were little did we live in Argentina. It was like three or four years that we were there. But then we came right back.
It’s a love-hate relationship I have with my city. It’s a very chaotic city, polluted, full of traffic, expensive, dangerous, cold, and all of those things. But all of my friends and family live there! There are beautiful mountains! It’s a lot. I wouldn’t recommend an outsider comes and lives here. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been here so long that I would suggest somewhere else. [laughs]