On ‘IRÉ,’ Combo Chimbita Capture the Sacred & the Profane

Photo by Camila Falquez

The music of Combo Chimbita is intense. From their loudest moments to their most serene, their songs titillate with a vibe that’s both sacred and profane — a friction that sparks into an almost religious experience. Nowhere is it more palpable than on IRÉ, an album that pushes the band to a whole new level. “It’s almost a rebirth,” Prince of Queens, the band’s bass and synth player, tells Remezcla. 

The New York quartet formed in the early 2010s by Carolina Oliveros (vocals, guacharaca), Prince of Queens, Niño Lento es Fuego (guitar), and Dilemastronauta (drums); who bonded over their shared love of improvisation and an eclectic taste in music, with preferred styles ranging from salsa to metal. They made their official debut in 2016 with El Corredor Del Jaguar followed by the full-length Abya Yala, both of which garnered them a lot of positive attention. In 2019, their second album, Ahomale, was released by ANTI — the subsidiary of legendary indie label Epitaph — to critical and popular acclaim. 

The COVID-19 pandemic began hitting just as their Ahomale cycle was winding down; they spent the following months apart for the first time in years. Ten months later, they decided to regroup and work on new music. Unlike their previous works, which were written and developed in their practice space in New York, they decided to move together to Puerto Rico to create their new material. “We were very hungry in terms of expressing ourselves artistically,” Oliveros explains. According to her, the change in scenario helped them invoke the right vibe to take their art to the next level. “The whole environment provided this peaceful element,” she says. “It was something we were looking for but couldn’t find in a city like New York. [We found] calmness, a chance to breathe and let ourselves feel things, to think without feeling like we had to write and turn in songs right away in the fastest manner possible.”

As the pandemic raged around the world, el Combo converged in a small beach house with the mission to write eight songs in three weeks; soon after expanding the challenge to 12 songs that make the IRÉ tracklist. “I feel very fortunate that we could go to a house in the Puerto Rican countryside where we spent our time cooking, eating, living together, and writing music for almost four weeks,” says Prince of Queens. “After all the chaos and commotion, we felt very privileged to make music together.”

“I think this positive vibe affected the album,” he continues. The members of the band felt in their element, especially Oliveros. “I’m from Barranquilla, so the Caribbean feels like home: the ocean, the breeze, the sand.”

“We all have our problems & conflicts, & we try to make sense of them through music. When we listen to our music, we like it and I think that’s the most important thing. I think people can connect with that feeling because it’s made from the gut. I feel pride and hope.”

Said vibe allowed Combo Chimbita to indulge in their spiritual side. From their earliest songs forward, religious imagery and soul searching have been an integral part of their art. But according to them, to call Combo Chimbita a spiritual or religious band is far from the truth. “We never plan ahead when it comes to our inspiration,” Oliveros says. “We never really intend to explore religion. It’s more of a personal observation; the different connections we have to things and our surroundings. Individually, each one of us is in a constant search to become a better person. And when you make art, every aspect of yourself is manifested in it.”

“Personally, I was in a pretty deep depression due to the pandemic,” she continues. “When we got together and talked, we found out all of us felt fear and uncertainty, and you feel like you need to search for ways to feel better. When I get into that state of mind, names and words come to me  — this cosmovision of the Yoruba faith. We don’t practice Osha, none of us do. But Niño Lento and I have been studying it closely. Most of my lyrics have been revealed to me in dreams, things that have manifested themselves in my life.”

For Combo Chimbita, music creation and life’s ups and downs are par for the course. IRÉ represents an opportunity for healing. “It’s always been about exploring the connection we have with one another, as well as the music we create. It’s something we don’t fully understand yet,” says Prince of Queens. “It’s a process of exploration and healing. We all have our problems and conflicts, and we try to make sense of them through music,” Oliveros continues. “When we listen to our music, we like it and I think that’s the most important thing. I think people can connect with that feeling because it’s made from the gut. I feel pride and hope.”

Listen to IRÉ below.