Rionegro’s Self-Titled LP Is a Blueprint for Evolving Latin Music’s Classic Genres

Techno salsa mashups and electrocumbia trap beats aren’t new to the Internet. So when news arrived that the new Cómeme record would be a reinterpretation of these genres, aiming for something deeper than your typical fusion fare, the project definitely caught our attention.

An ensemble consisting of Colombian producer Sano, Cómeme founder Matías Aguayo, and Colombian producer Gladkazuka, the group gathered in a cabin in the woods of Medellín, Colombia to conjure Rionegro out of traditional rhythms. Then other voices and minds came along to form a true reinterpretation of each style.

“In all of this cultural appropriation by people from Europe who try to [use] tropical approaches, they fail in the sense that they don’t go to the roots of the rhythm, they just go to the surface of the sound,” said Matías Aguayo in an exclusive interview.

He uses the frantic, merengue-inspired “Perro Negro” to explain his point: “it’s a techno track from wild, hardcore underground techno [on] the surface, but you can dance [along with] the rhythm to the moves of merengue.”

Sano was the one who envisioned it all. Before the recording process, he embarked on a personal search for traditional rhythms and the modern sounds that would match them. Then he invited the other producers and musicians to Medellín for a series of long jam sessions full of aguardiente antioqueño, recorded in a temporary makeshift studio built by Aguayo and Gladkazuka.

Aside from making salsa, cumbia, and merengue from a modern perspective, Rionegro became an attempt to capture the atmosphere in which these songs were created – to defy what an electronic record should sound like.

“I think in general the noisy approach [of the record] is like pseudo lo-fi, because it’s not really lo-fi, it’s just in [juxtaposition with] the cleanness and the standard of [electronic production] today, where we have a very crisp and crystal sound, but also a very standard way of perceiving where which element…has to be. So it’s on purpose that sometimes a cowbell is much louder than the rest or sounds seem very distorted sometimes; these were elements that shaped the sound.”

By keeping background sounds – like birds chirping or dogs barking or the hissing of the wind – Rionegro ensured their tribute to traditional rhythms sounded like no other.

The results of this experiment are peppered throughout their self-titled LP, a collection of songs that, intense as they are, were clearly born as jams. Take the example of “Perro Negro” again. It’s an explosive take on merengue, but has a foot firmly planted in trap.

Or “La Descarga,” which adds underground techno vibes to that territory. “Carruseles” has obvious salsa undertones, and the vocals are reminiscent of the great New York salsa crooners. “Lugareña” is another captivating reinterpretation of salsa, enjoying warm organs, MPC drums, and dog barks – it’s the song that reminds Aguayo the most of the night-long jams they had in Medellín.

Rionegro is an instant classic in the Cómeme catalog, not just for putting together some of its best producers, but for its authentic approach to rhythms with real Caribbean flavor. Cumbia, salsa, and merengue remain timeless in Rionegro’s hands.

Sadly, Rionegro is a one-off project. There are no plans to take the ensemble on the road for a tour, so the record is the only way to be transported to “the world of Rionegro,” as Matías calls it. The journey through this world can be dense, but with a good sound system, it’s all worth it.