Follow the Global Rise of Digital Cumbia With ZZK Records’ New Documentary

La Yegros. Photo credit: Juan Maglione/Lautaro Isern

In the documentary A Musical Journey, Argentine singer-songwriter La Yegros criss-crosses Europe with her band, bringing their cumbia-infused dance music and the distinctly Argentine rhythm known as chamamé to fans across the continent. They crash in chic boho apartments, shoot a video, make new friends and generally spread the electro-cumbia gospel. The year is 2013 and Europe is falling in love with them, in particular with the infectious slice of pop cumbia titled “Viene de Mi.”

A Musical Journey is produced by ZZK Films, the fledgling documentarian wing of Argentina’s pioneering electro-folkloric label ZZK Records, which La Yegros was signed to at the time. The film is a great calling card for the cumbia songstress and will be a treat for her fans, but it’s more than a simple tour doc; it also documents the growing interest in digital cumbia in Europe and marks a turning point in the life of ZZK Records, and the digital-roots movement that its artists have been at the forefront of for eight years.

The film ends with an ecstatic show at a club in Paris. Mariana Yegros, known to the stage as La Yegros, remembers that night as a watershed event in her life. She compares it to the first time she ever took the stage, which was as a performer in the Argentine theatrical production De la Guarda. Speaking through a translator over Skype, she remembers, “The importance of that moment felt similar to that first moment, where, not only was it a dream come true for me, but – to be able to bring the music that I grew up with from so far away, to come and sing those songs in Paris for the first time and to hear the people in Paris sing it back to me, I felt was like my grain of sand that I could contribute to the world, a seed I felt I could sow. I felt that if I at least came to this world for this reason, I’m happy.”

“I consider this to be the future of roots music or of folklore music.”

In hindsight, the concert was every bit as momentous as it felt. The film’s climax was, in reality, the beginning of an adventure for the group. Following the unexpected success of “Viene de Mi,” EMI France helped release their debut album in Europe, and La Yegros has spent much of the time since then touring the world and making appearances at major festivals, something that previously didn’t seem possible for the Buenos Aires-based act. Looking back on Paris, Yegros describes the experience as being “like a door opening. Everything started from that moment. I always remember it fondly as the day that door opened and we were able to start traveling,” she reflects. The band is now preparing to release a second album, Magnetismo, out March 11 on Soundway Records/Waxploitation.

La Yegros is still riding a wave of enthusiasm in Europe for Latin American rhythms, particularly the digitized kind that are their stock in trade. It’s a wave the group helped spark when radio DJs at stations like Germany’s internationally minded Funkhaus Europa honed in on “Viene de Mi” when it was included on the ZZK compilation Future Sounds of Buenos Aires. The charismatic voice and energetic heart behind the song couldn’t be happier. “Rhythms like cumbia, chamamé, music from the Latin American continent are sort of in a revival right now. It’s being much more valued, but what I still continue to feel is most important in the movement right now is that Europe is actually the market where people are the most interested in this music, for the first time. The musical culture of Latin America is very rich. It makes me happy to be able to share it and that it’s growing,” says Yegros. She was surprised at first, but also delighted.

She calls it a revolution. If it is, it’s one that has been a long time coming. In ZZK’s case, what started as a group of DJs and producers exploring an interesting idea through underground parties in Buenos Aires has slowly grown into a record label, with artists such as Frikstailers, Chancha via Circuito, and Nicola Cruz touring internationally and playing major festivals around the world. As the label has grown, the trippy, neon electro-tropical (and electro-Andean) music they champion has grown with it. The excitement around global bass that existed in the late 2000s may have died down a bit (even Diplo is making largely denatured festival trap now), but there are global bass parties all over the world today, particularly in Europe, that help support a thriving culture of DJs, producers and other artists exploring the possibilities of electronic beats and folklore.

“The musical culture of Latin America is very rich. It makes me happy to be able to share it.”

Grant Dull, ZZK’s American ex-pat founder and a DJ in his own right, also appears in the documentary. In his view, if one phase in the life of nu-cumbia and its sibling subgenres is winding down, it’s because another one is taking shape. “Maybe the trend cycle has died down a little bit and the hype is not as big as it was in the past, but the music is still coming out and it’s still good. It’s still great. And there’s a whole new generation of producers that kind of grew up on our scene, which is ridiculous to think about, but super cool as well, that are now making tracks that are really good,” says Dull. In fact, as far as he’s concerned this is only the beginning for the movement as a whole. “I consider this to be the future of roots music or of folklore music: People using the sounds of their land and modernizing them with electronic music. I think that’s where we’re headed,” he asserts.

When you consider that we’re talking about music with the centuries-long staying power of styles like cumbia behind it, tied to the universal language that is electronic dance music, this seems more than reasonable. Put simply, the music has been good and isn’t going anywhere. The rest of the world has to only open its ears. For now at least, Europe is tuning in to La Yegros as a region that’s moving onward and upward to a South American beat.