Q&A: Campo, when Bajofondo meets Cumbia

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Juan Campodónico refers to his debut album as “este disquito.” And yes, it might seem like a smaller project within such a prolific body of work, specially compared to the grandiloquent Bajofondo. Honestly, anything looks tiny in comparison to Bajofondo. But in the current music universe, with an overabundance of home-studio, lo-fi, do-it-yourself, free download, and low bitrate MP3s, his album stands out as a modern finely crafted masterpiece, with top-notch production in the hands of über-producer Gustavo Santaolalla himself and the whole Bajofondo crew lending out their talents.

Campo’s eponymous album was released late last year in Uruguay and it’s finally getting its official international release today. We’ve featured it countless times here in Remezcla already, but this time we had a chance to chat with Campodónico and find out more about Campo’s gestation, the connections with Bajofondo, his other projects, and the mysterious flying pizza incident.

I was originally surprised, and maybe a bit disappointed (at the music industry, not you) when I found out that a project of this magnitude, including the signature of two-time Oscar winning producer Gustavo Santaolalla, was being released independently. Why is there’s no label backing this album?

Many things in Campo are quite experimental and considering the current state of the industry, this was the obvious way for a project of this kind, I think. There’s no room for a project like this on a major label. To tell the truth, it’s a very comfortable situation for us. With such a small budget, we reached golden album in Uruguay in a month. It’s a bit guerrilla-style, but it’s great! I think it’s the ideal project to experiment with new communication channels.

What was the original motivation behind doing a side-project to the worldwide successful Bajofondo?

For a while I had some ideas that I was saving in a folder on my computer named Campo. My first intention was to do something more focused in song making. I wanted to do something like indie pop, I was very interested in the pop format. I wanted little songs that could be played in the radio. But at the same time I wanted it to have an identity and new sounds that represented where we are from. When you get on a taxi here in Montevideo or in Buenos Aires, the cabbie can be listening to Michael Jackson, Coldplay or some cumbia villera. All that is part of the local soundscape here. And Campo is right there; there’re elements of cumbia, tango, candombe, some Brazilian rhythms, etc. Something very South American.

Considering all Bajofondo musicians collaborated in this project, what makes it different from a regular Bajofondo release?

In some sense, Bajofondo has a strong essence of tango that’s built around the bandoneón and the violin. Bajofondo is 50% instrumental, it’s not so song-centric. So there’s a very different way Bajofondo is located in pop culture. You’ll never hear Bajofondo on an FM radio here, you’ll hear it as background music on a TV show, for example. Campo, in some sense, is more about the new and fresh, finding new places. I even tried singing in Campo and that’s something I’ve never done before. I always saw me in the guitarist/composer role, never as a singer fronting a band. I started with one song on the album and I realized I liked it and people liked it too. It’s cool to leave your comfort zone.

Juan Campodónico was born in Uruguay but spent most of his childhood in Mexico during the ‘80s. In the second half of the ‘90s, he joined forces with Santullo, another Uruguayan who was also back from exile in Aztec lands and together they formed El Peyote Asesino, a rap/metal band that landed a couple of local hits in its time and drew comparisons with Molotov. They were part of a new scene of hip-hop-influenced artists coming out from Montevideo, who were taken under Gustavo Santaolalla’s wing.

In fact, four members of Bajofondo came out of that scene: Luciano Supervielle and Gabriel Casacuberta (DJ and bassist, respectively, in Plátano Macho), Santullo and Campodónico (MC and guitarist, respectively, in El Peyote Asesino). And, coincidentally, three of them have released Bajofondo-related side-projects, all of them independently (Supervielle leading with two albums under his belt, while Santullo and now Campodónico, have one each).

Do you feel that growing up in exile influenced your music in any particular way?

Having grown up as an exile I had a different perspective of Uruguayan culture and I think that helped me a lot later in my work as a producer. For example, I produced the latest four albums for El Cuarteto De Nos and since I started producing them, they became more international and I think in part it’s because I helped them to get their message through beyond the limits of the local scene. Sometimes when you’re too immersed in your local scene you loose sight of the big picture.

Coming from a hip-hop foundation, why is there no rap on Campo’s album?

It’ll come. I promise, for Campo’s second album we’ll have some. So far we have a remix of “La Marcha Tropical” with rap by La Teja Pride.

La Marcha Tropical” is one of the two cumbias on Campo’s self-titled debut. And they unleashed a small “revolution,” as he says, in his land, introducing cumbia, to a whole new segment of the audience that traditionally rejects the tropical rhythm based on social prejudices. The video for “La Marcha Tropical” addresses those prejudices and it’s an epic win for the whole ñu-cumbia movement that keeps captivating new audiences.

The other cumbia song in the album is simply titled “Cumbio” and it was the track that gave birth to the whole project. It includes the voice of guest singer-songwriter Martín Rivero, singing in English with a distinctive Brit-pop style, something that might sound out of context to many abroad, but that somehow makes a lot of sense in the Rio de la Plata area.

Is it a coincidence that the two cumbia tracks in the album have lyrics in English?

It wasn’t really premeditated but I do believe there’s a reason behind it.

Not only the songs are in English, in the case of “Cumbio,” the style is very influenced by British synth pop.

Totally, everything he (Martín Rivero) does is very Brit. It’s a very improbable thing. Campo’s album is full of impossible connections between geographic zones and eras. Big contrasts. There are plenty of anachronisms there too. The British influence, here, is inescapable.

Did you have to confront accusations of selling out because of playing cumbia? I know in that part of South America, for many, doing a cumbia is synonym with going commercial…

Not really. The people who listened to the whole album, I think, they understand the way we approached cumbia and they know that it’s just one element in the mix. Besides, it’s not really a smart business move, coming from the success of Bajofondo, to say “I’m gonna do cumbia now because that’s what’s in.” Cumbia here is still very associated to a marginal segment of society. But tango and hip-hop come from that same place, so we found a connection there. The prejudice against cumbia, however, is still part of our popular culture here. I think of Campo as sophisticated pop music. There’s a search for sophistication but that doesn’t mean we leave behind what’s popular, on the contrary, we rescue what we like the most of pop music, like cumbia, and adapt it. We look for beauty in our own hybrid culture. People come to Campo for “La Marcha Tropical” but then they listen to the album and there’re are so many other things, it’s not just cumbia. I think this what we’re doing is post-cumbia digital and post-electronic tango.

I know you are planning to take Campo on tour and eventually bring it to the US. I can’t wait to see it live. I think Bajofondo gives some of the best live performances I’ve ever seen in my life and I was wondering if some of that is gonna transfer into Campo’s show.

So far we’ve done only two shows with Campo. It’s a project that’s barely starting, so the energy is very different. I think they are very different animals. Besides, Bajofondo has an impressive trajectory. Campos live show is great, but it’s very different.

I remember being backstage with Bajofondo in San Francisco in ’09 and it was a riot, there was a moshpit, soccer-hooligan chanting, slices of pizza and beer flying around…

Oh wow, what a disaster that was! No, with Campo we’re just giving our first steps, maybe after one hundred shows there is going to have flying pizza in our backstage. Maybe 60 or 50 shows…

Download Campo’s self-titled debut below:

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