Q&A: Ondatrópica, Conquering the World with Cumbia

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The word on the lips of every cumbia lover worldwide is Ondatrópica; the Colombian super group led by Mario Galeano of Frente Cumbiero and producer/musician WillQuanticHolland. The duo brought together 40 musicians, veterans and fresh faces alike, and rung them through strict recording sessions to cut an über-album of new cumbia classics (which they spoke about a few months ago in an exclusive video interview for Remezcla, also check out the photos!).

The duo is currently on a world tour with 12 of the 40 artists, calling the performing band Los Irreales de Ondatrópica, playing songs from the project’s 26-track self-titled album. In this update to the original interview, Mario and Quantic take us through the brief but exciting history of the Ondatrópica group, Quantic’s move to Cali, Colombia, what they love about L.A.’s Latin music scene, and their upcoming cumbia-punk project (yes, you read right… cumbia-punk!).

How did the idea for Ondatrópica come about? Did the British Council step in early or later on in the project?

Mario Galeano: The British Council in Colombia has had a relationship with Frente Cumbiero for some years now. They actually sponsored the recording with Mad Professor. After the recording was successful, they took us as important band in the region of Colombia, and asked us to do a new project. Me and Quantic have been friends for some years now and we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to work together. We then started making a list of how we wanted to record, who we wanted to invite and how we could make it happen. The original idea was to do a concert in the River of Music Festival, London. This started to grow to the point that we ended up doing a really complete recording, and invited a whole bunch of people to play with us.

Quantic: The creative process began at the end of 2011. We roughly penned some ideas down when Mario visited me in Cali. After that, we traveled to Medellín and went to Discos Fuentes Studios. That was the place we really wanted to record at because it has a certain fame. Many of our favorite records were recorded there. Then, we decided that that was definitely the place where we needed to record, and started to get together ideas for the band. We probably put together about 20 names on paper and whittled that down to the musicians we could afford to invite, or who were still around and still playing. We wanted progressive musicians to come, so we were very interested in finding people like Anibal Velazquez and Michi Sarmiento who we felt have a progressive career, so we invited them all for three weeks in January of 2012.

Quantic, you’re originally from Worcester, England but have been living in Cali since 2007. Why did you decide to live there as opposed to Bogotá or Medellín?

Q: I’d heard a lot about Cali. I spent a little bit of time in Puerto Rico and then Panama searching for records. I’d heard a lot about Cali as being like a Mecca for Latin music. At that stage, I was really interested in Julian Y Su Combo, Los Blanco, all the kind of Latin music that was coming out of Colombia, Venezuela, and Peru. It was sort of unknown to hear that there was a Mecca was really cool just to be able to go to and visit it. A lot of those records weren’t really on the internet at that time. That’s a relatively new thing where you could listen to stuff on YouTube. It was really like you had to go there to find them, and there were certain records I was looking for that I knew I wouldn’t be able to find unless I actually went there.

I ended up going to Cali just to visit and I really liked it. Coming from England — being a bit rainy and crap weather in general — and going to a place like Cali, it was just so energetic of a place with wonderful weather, great tropical food, fruits, and music, and friendly people. I guess I moved there over Bogotá and Medellín because it was the first place I went to in Colombia. I just got a ticket from Miami to Cali and I loved it. I saw Cali as an opportunity to learn about areas such as Panama City, Barranquilla, Medellín, and Bogotá. All of those places are within half an hour to an hour’s plane journey from Cali.


Mario, I read an interview in BOMB Magazine from two years ago where you mentioned a project called “Transnational Cumbia .” What happened to that project?

M: The thing about transnational cumbia is [it’s] related to Frente Cumbiero. The original name is Frente Cumbiero Transnacional. It was sort of like a political statement. This was around a time when there was hardly any information on cumbia on the internet; a cumbia diaspora. As Will mentioned before, it was the same thing for me: I had to go to Mexico to find first-hand what was the sound of a cumbia rebajada. It became very evident that there was a huge community of cumbia all the way from Argentina to the States, and that’s the kind of information that we don’t have in Colombia available.

Many musicians are not aware of the power of how people live cumbia or consume cumbia. It had become something we needed to make a front of, like a commitment of getting involved with cumbia. And this was just before this whole hype on cumbia started. At the time, it made sense to call it something like that. During those past years, I was more involved in collaborations with Mexican and Argentinian musicians, but of course, we are still part of the [whole] cumbia movement.

Mario, your first group was Ensamble Polifónico Vallenato, a band from the mountains of Bogotá that reinterpreted Caribbean music. Then came Frente Cumbiero, which mixed together modern and international cumbia. Now you have Ondatrópica. It all seems like a very natural progression not only for your career but also for Latin music in general. What do you think will come next?

M: Creatively, it still can go to any direction even if it’s experimental stuff. For example, the project that we have now, a side project called Los Pirañas, which is quite like noise, or punky. It can still go to any direction creatively. It doesn’t mean we have covered the whole ground of what Colombian, Latin music is. There’s a thousand ways to go, and I think it has to do with our project being focused around culture, and not so much on the commercial success of music. Maybe we’ll just go and keep on doing research, collecting records, making re-issues, doing DJ sets, inviting again old and new musicians, and recording a record. There’s a lot of things to still look into.

The opening artists for your Los Angeles’ show (Very Be Careful, Buyepongo, Chicano Batman) are good representations of modern Latin music. How familiar are you with L.A.’s Latin music scene?

Q: Both Mario and I try and keep abreast of the scene in L.A., particularly because it is and has been a really interesting and happening scene. As far as the Latin underground side of Los Angeles, I feel has become — or within the last five years — super diverse and interesting. I’m also a big fan of the punkero, kind of punky Mexican sound, but with a Colombian influence. That’s somewhat of a musical melting pot in the sense that you have Salvadorian, Mexican, Colombian, and Guatemalan communities there, so you get that kind of crossover that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. You wouldn’t get that in Colombia.

M: Very Be Careful is a band that I really got tuned into five years ago and I really love their sound. There are some people here in Colombia who would think that type of cumbia vallenato is wrongly played, or that it’s not roots enough. But I found it fantastic, and I love their lyrics and the way they play. Actually, the first international gig that Frente Cumbiero did as a DJ set, which was in London, was with Very Be Careful. It’s very cool to now again meet and play with them. They definitely have a super distinct type of sound, and it’s great to see that it’s getting stronger.

Who came up with the idea of covering Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man?”

Q: Covering “Iron Man” was something that came out of thinking about doing versions of English songs. Naturally, we started thinking about Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. Out of Black Sabbath, we thought it’d be really cool to do a metal song, like a heavy rock song, especially because Colombia is so into Sabbath. There was “Paranoid” and a few other options, but “Iron Man” just seemed like the most useable for a banda. We always imagined a brass band playing that, and I think it came out to be more elegant than we imagined. We thought it was going to be quite drunk and the rum/ron wordplay just came out of being in the studio. I remember we had a bottle of rum at the time and it was just like a quick moment: “Hang on. I. Ron. Man.”

M: Yeah, it was just something very fresh that came out in the studio, as a lot of other things. We were not following a script or something that was prepared 100%. We were laughing, making jokes, playing around, and chilling out. These types of things happen in creative environments, like here in Discos Fuentes studio. I’m pretty sure “I. Ron. Man.” is one song Ozzy Osbourne didn’t imagine having it covered this way. We definitely have to show it to him, and have him drink some Colombian rum.

Download Ondatrópica’s self-titled debut below: