Ghetto Kumbé didn’t expect much after finishing their first EP Kumbé back in 2015. The project had been a straightforward experiment — a chance for members El Guajiro, Chongo, and Doctor Keyta to mix and match colorful swatches of cumbia, son palenquero, bullerengue, lamban, makru, and more with flashy, frenzied electronic beats.
“It was a surprise for everyone, really. This album was something we made in my house, at my tiny home studio,” El Guajiro told Remezcla. “It started with just a question of what we could do with rhythms and visuals, and it ended with a full EP.”
Kumbé gobsmacked listeners like a shock in the nervous system. Driven by the relentless throb of djembe, dundun, and alegre drums, the sounds on the EP were as monochromatic and detonative as exploding cans of glow paint. Each song came dripping with influences from Afro-Colombian regions like the Guajira Peninsula, but the band also traced the roots of the music back to ritual West African rhythms, such as lamban, a storytelling tradition of the Malinke people, and kassa, a harvest dance with origins Guinea.
It helps that the music was crafted at the hands of three seasoned musicians who independently boast expansive resumes. El Guajiro (Edgardo Garcés) and Chongo (Juan Carlos Puello) were both part of electro-cumbia vanguards Sidestepper. Doctor Keyta (Andrés Mercado) has studied African music intensively and worked as a percussionist for dance companies Zarabanda and L’arpeggiata. Together, the three toured throughout Colombia and Europe with their incandescent live show, which often sees the trio donning neon masks and colors to celebrate their tribal roots.
Now, Ghetto Kumbé is back with its second EP, Soy Selva, out now. El Guajiro calls the new album an evolution of Kumbé that delves deeper into African and Colombian sonic histories. But the sophomore effort is also a firmer, more direct stand on issues that have been embedded into the band’s music from the beginning — in particular, a plea to defend the lands and environment where Afro-Colombian sounds and culture originated.
“We’ve always been so connected to the environment. That’s why this album is called Soy Selva, because it’s where we come from: Cartagena, Santa Marta, La Guajira. And this is precisely what we want to protect — our land and environment. Some of the messages on the EP are asking people to be more conscious of things that are destructive…It’s inviting everyone to take care of this beautiful land that gives us so much and to say no to practices against it,” he said.
One of the most confrontational songs is “Waré Warrior,” which El Guajiro wrote as a way to honor the spirit of the indigenous Wayuu communities in the Guajira Peninsula. Because of coal extraction, the region has been exploited and abused over the last few decades, and now faces pollution, deforestation, and droughts. But despite the hardships on the land, the throbbing percussion on the song is a nod to the community’s fighting spirit.
“It’s truly a song about warriors, and it’s very forceful and explicit,” he said. “For me, it’s a way of confronting issues and saying things more directly. I don’t think I’ll change the world, but I do hope the message reaches some obvious people.”
Like the rest of the project, “Waré Warrior” succeeds in bringing stories and rituals directly to the dance floor. The band plans to keep their momentum going with a tour in France this December and more dates in Colombia next year.
Ghetto Kumbé’s Soy Selva EP is out now on Galletas Calientes Records. Stream it via Spotify or Apple Music or purchase it on vinyl here.