Tropical Gold

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One of the hottest scenes in South America has found an unlikely offshoot in Northern California, thanks to some enthusiastic gringo DJs-cum-cumbia aficionados who are making it all happen. Oro11 and Disco Shawn started their monthly Tormenta Tropical parties in December in San Francisco, blending the best of cumbia villera–an Argentine incarnation of the traditionally Colombian genre–with electro, hip hop, dancehall, and other dance-worthy beats, and attracting an equally versatile crowd.

In addition to the parties, the friends have launched Bersa Discos, an Oakland/Buenos Aires-based record label committed to showcasing (on vinyl) the innovative cumbia blends coming out of Argentina and the rest of the Americas.

So, how did two guys named Gavin and Shawn end up as influential figures in an otherwise insular, relatively underground cumbia movement on the other side of the planet? While doing the ex-pat thang in Buenos Aires, these Bay Area natives became immersed in the vibrant cumbia scene–going to shows, spinning at parties, and generally getting to know all the major players. As true connoisseurs and fans of the music, they figured, why not bring the sounds to a larger audience? Now, Bersa Discos aims to release a new EP each month, available for purchase at (More on Bersa Discos and Tormenta Tropical here.)

But cumbia villera in the US doesn’t end there… In just a few days, another American ex-pat, Grant C. Dull, will be making his way to California with a bevy of cumbia villeros, ready to tour the US, hitting up Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin (for South by South West Music Festival), New York, and Chicago with north-of-the-equator versions of a weekly Wednesday-night party in Palermo trendy ’hood of Buenos Aires called Zizek. Grant is both the founder of (sort of a Remezcla for BA… well, sort of), and one of the brains behind Zizek Urban Beats Club, the hub of this experimental cumbia subculture. (Read more about Zizek, which is named after Slovenian sociologist/philosopher/cultural critic Slavoj Zizek—who happens to be married to an argentinahere and here.)

The Zizek entourage will include King Coya & El Trip Selector, Axel K Soundsystem, Tremor, Frikstailers, El Remolón, and Oro11 (aka Gavin, of the Tormenta Tropical parties and Bersa Discos). For all the full details on the Zizek Tour, click here.

We recently caught up with Oro11 to talk cumbia, Bersa, Tormenta Tropical, Zizek, Buenos Aires, and more…

[Before you proceed, download his mix right here, for some complimentary audio accompaniment to your reading.]

Full name: Gavin James Burnett

Age: 26

Roots: California

Where do you live now? Oakland/Buenos Aires

Day job: Bersa Discos!!, also work in human resources

Where does “ORO11” come from? Once is a barrio in Buenos Aires where you’ve got all your good santeria shops, 10 peso fake oro watches/jewelry, and whatnot. It holds up pretty good though, you’ve got at least a month before you start getting that green line [from the fake gold] you know.

What kind of music do you spin? Cumbia, dancehall, electro, rap, baile, etc.

How’d you end up in Buenos Aires? I came to BA in 2001 to study and the economy collapsed, saw it at its low point, made a lot of close friends, and knew it could only get better from there – moved back after graduating.

What’s the music scene like there? Hmm, as a whole: bad 80s, Ramones, and the Rolling Stones. Cumbia is by far the most interesting scene–the regular cumbia villera ghetto music is crazy, and now you have more producers messing around with electro cumbia, mixing it with hip hop, house, all kinds of stuff for the more indie type crowds. [There are] some really good tunes coming out of there right now…

Is there any overlap between the rock and cumbia scenes? You’ve got the rollingas that listen to villera at some of the clubs, yeah, but they’re into straight Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and rock nacional. (Pretty crazy that they have subcultures that just listen to the Stones or the Ramones though–someone should do a photo essay).

Where do you spin in Buenos Aires? ZIZEK is always a big night–by far the best venue for experimental dance music going on down there, plus all the producers and djs meet up there to hear their new beats on the big sound, or play remixes of each others tunes. [It’s] so much fun–everyone really supports each other in that scene, always bigging up each other whenever we can. I also used to organize parties with Sonido Martines at the African Social Club in San Telmo.

When did you first hear cumbia villera? What’d you think? I first thought it was pretty lite, but one day Pasion Tropical had Pibes Chorros on with their heavy keyguitars, long hair, skull t’s and all, had a different mean sound from most others that grabbed me, then got turned on to Damas Gratis, DJ Taz, etc, and started mixing cumbia a lot more into sets.

How would you describe it to someone who’s never heard it before? Pirate music.

Tell me about Bersa Discos. Bersa is a project that Disco Shawn and I started to release new styles of cumbia out on vinyl. So far, all tracks are by our DJ/producer friends in Argentina. [We’re] looking to include a lot more from friends in Mexico, and the rest of the Americas too. He and I are both from the Bay Area but first met down in BA. Basically, [we] wanted an outlet to press emerging Latin sounds that wouldn’t have much exposure otherwise.

How’d you two meet? Unbeknownst to us, we had quite a few mutual friends back stateside. He came down to BA in 2006, recognized ORO11 on BA party flyers and from our friends Lemonade’s MySpace page in SF. We met up, became friends, starting spinning together, and planning the Bersa project.

You guys just released your first album… what’s on it? The first EP has tracks from Hijo de la Cumbia, Dale Duro, and myself. Our release party was Feb 8th and it’s available on places like now.

You are based out of BA and Oakland… how does that work? I was living in BA full time for the last 4 years or so. Now I’m based out of Oakland, but am down in BA one or two weeks of each month for work.

When did the Tormenta Tropical parties start? The first one was in Dec, then in Jan we did the second at the rickshaw stop with Lemonade, and Star Eyes from Trouble&Bass NY, and then the release for the first vinyl EP in February, with Paul Devro from MadDecent (Diplo’s label).

How has the reaction been in San Francisco? Who goes? We couldn’t have asked for a better mix up of crowds- -fans of cumbia from Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, etc with hipster SF kids. It was so much fun to see groups mixing it up that usually would never be in the same hangouts, you know. Most indie kids didn’t know what they were dancing to half the time, and likewise, the Latin crew had never heard the electro and B-more house and such. It was really really refreshing all around. We do up the place with papel picada, vibrant lights with la Virgen de Guadalupe, and Gauchito Gil/San la Muerte cards on the tables.

Tell me a bit about the Zizek tour you’re going to be a part of… Zizek on this side of the border is going to be really fun! The crew that’s coming up from BA includes: Remolon, King Coya & Trip Selector, Frikstailers, Axel K Sound System, Tremor, and Grant (who is one of the co-founders of Zizek–makes it happen). Everyone has cumbia more or less as the base of their musica but the artists span everything from folk to harder techo beats.

Any other plans for the future? To keep the Bersa EPs coming every month or so; the second one is in the works right now. Promoting, keep making music, and traveling the Americas.

Top 5 Argentine cumbia villera groups? Pibes Chorros, DJ Taz, Hijo De la Cumbia, Damas Gratis, and El Original

Last 5 albums you bought/downloaded? The new Blaqstarr/DJ Sega Hollertronix EP, DJ Alex Perez Cumbia Megamixxx 5, DJ Vampiros Latin Trance 2006, Ward 21’s Scarface Riddim, and T&A The Chedda EP.

Favorite porteño expression: Fuera yankees!

What the hell is a cosmopolatino? All those supporting Latin art on both sides of the equator, yupyup!