It’s never easy to predict what the Meridian Brothers will come up with next. Whether playing punky cumbia or sweet tropicalia, the Eblis Álvarez-led project remains one of the most exciting outfits in Latin American indie rock. For this new phase, Álvarez reaches back to an often forgotten time in Colombian cumbia to shape his new obsession, resulting in Cumbia Siglo XXI. The new album will be dropping on August 21. In anticipation of the release, Álvarez is sharing “Cumbia De La Fuente,” one of the most crucial tracks of the record.
Cumbia Siglo XXI takes its inspiration from the genre’s development in the 1980s when outfits, such as Son Palenque and 2000 Voltios, incorporated musical language associated with disco, funk, and rock; resulting in a facelift for the genre that made more with less instrumentation than traditional cumbia. Of all the strains of the genre throughout the years, this is one of the least recognized nowadays, which sparked the inspiration for Meridian Brothers’ latest project.
Instead of going full-on tribute, Álvarez took a similar approach of using just a few instruments to make tongue-in-cheek social commentary about current affairs. The music sounds nothing like its source material, but shares a similar vibe; in other words, the tracks are catchy, retrofuturistic, and caustic–if innocent in its lyrics. It’s experimental cumbia without the tired cliches that have plagued the genre for some years now.
“Cumbia De La Fuente” is one of the album’s best tracks and one of the strongest cases for the effectiveness of Álvarez’s experimentation. Unlike most of the tracks on Cumbia Siglo XXI, it does without the style’s familiar groove to give us something more square, yet weird in its harmonic content. Sounding like a link-up between Kraftwerk and Esquivel, “Cumbia De La Fuente” features simple melodic keyboard lines that feel slightly out of tune, surrounded by pleasant and nostalgic space-age sound effects, giving the tune an irresistible sense of waviness as well as an unmistakable cumbia flavor. Also, the animated video features a drawing by Bogotá illustrator Glenda Torrado.
Lyrically, Álvarez approaches a heavy subject matter with humor and simplistic words to get his point across. Eighties cumbia outfits would often talk about politicians deserving to be tossed out of office in humorous ways, and Álvarez uses a similar approach here. “Cumbia De La Fuente” concerns itself with trying to find spiritual solace in a world that has done away with the divine. “The song is a prayer and an amulet, a search for something that modern human beings are not used to [doing], due to mechanisation and modern industrial societies,” says Álvarez in a press statement. “A scream to the nowhere, looking for some answer, which is not given by scientific fetichism nor the political argument, nor the philosophic reason.”
Existentialism and silly keyboards never sounded so good together.