Simón Mejía traces the history of Colombian music

NEW YORK (AP) — For Simón Mejía, the nature and music of Colombia go hand in hand, and the founder and leader of the band Bomba Estéreo works to highlight it in a series of albums and documentaries.

The most recent, the short film “El duende”, traces the history of the marimba in the jungles of the Colombian Pacific, along the Guapi River, through a family with African ancestral roots: the Torres dynasty. The soundtrack — a four-song EP that combines music, interviews and jungle sounds — includes the single “Mamita,” for which Mejía recently released a video.

The 19-minute black-and-white documentary, directed by Lucas Silva, Simón Hernández and Mejía, combines footage shot years ago by Silva, a well-known promoter of Afro-Colombian culture, with footage captured more recently by Mejía and his team. It analyzes the myth of the goblin, a mysterious being somewhere between an elf and a devil who teaches the locals how to assemble the marimba and play it.

It is now available on the Bomba Estéreo YouTube channel, where it debuted early Friday morning shortly after midnight, after its premiere at a festival in Cartagena.

“For me, the marimba is the rivers of the Pacific speaking. You listen to the marimba, how it sounds, and it’s like the ‘flow’ (the current) of the river,” Mejía said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press in New York, where he was to celebrate the launch with a screening of the film at the Nublu club.

“El duende” is the second installment in a series of films presented by Bomba Estéreo after “Sonic Forest” in 2020. Mejía said that he already has two more in mind, the first one about the origin of cumbia along the river Magdalene.

“Each river has its history. They are like backbones of music and through the rivers, and especially the Magdalena River, which is the main river in Colombia, the colony entered and slavery entered,” said the artist. “Then, thanks to the river, the slaves met the indigenous people and began to make music to free themselves from that colonial regime, and that is the basis of Colombian folk music.”

Mejía, who also united music and nature (specifically animal sounds) in her 2020 album “Mirla,” said that she hopes to contribute with her work to the public appreciating and understanding the importance of preserving and protecting the natural and artistic wealth of her country. country. Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

AP: What led you to carry out this project?

MEJÍA: The interest in that ancestral and raizal music of Colombia, because Bomba Estéreo comes from there. It’s a bit like paying homage to where our inspiration comes from. It’s the rivers, the jungle, the birds talking through this music, and that I think is, artistically and culturally, what I’m most interested in expressing and exploring and showing to the world. It is a bit to say that that is why we have to protect those places and those jungles of the Amazon, the Pacific, because by protecting that nature we are not only protecting an essential place for the world, climate change, etc.; we are protecting a culture and the most important music of Colombia.

AP: Tell me a little about the places you visited.

MEJÍA: They are communities in the Colombian Pacific where these tribes of African slaves arrived. It is the most afro place in Colombia; There was not as much miscegenation as in other places, so the music is cool, because the Pacific Forest is also a forest that begins in Panama and goes down to Ecuador, so it is an important block of forest in the most biodiverse place in terms of birds in the world, where more there is fresh water. It is vibrant. You go there and nature is like overwhelming. And the music too! The beautiful thing about music is that, as it has been an isolated place because there are no roads that go from the center of the country there, that has made them isolated, which for some is not so good because it is difficult for them, but the culture it keeps. It is like transporting yourself centuries ago, like living in another era of humanity.

AP: The sounds of nature are really protagonists. Did they use them organically or did they edit them strategically?

MEJÍA: A lot of it is organic because when you record music or interviews, the “background” is always going to be like the “fshhh…” (noise) of the jungle, so it’s inevitable and it’s nice to have it that way, because it’s part of, and what I’m telling you, for me the music of the marimba is the music of the rivers, and in the Pacific the rivers are like their internet, everything is connected by water.

AP: What do you hope to transmit or rescue with this project?

MEJÍA: First of all, I hope to be able to continue doing more with respect to that relationship between music and the environment in Colombia, and that people see the power, especially in Colombia, because sometimes from outside they see more the importance of places like this and we don’t. we see and we don’t worry so much because that is protected environmentally and musically. But it is that people know where these traditions come from, that they are all linked to nature and it is something very beautiful, like from another era. It has nothing to do with modernization or social networks or anything, but communities that live in the jungle and make amazing music and have learned it orally through the centuries. It is an oral tradition, so one feels that perhaps it will be lost when modernization enters there. Documenting that and showing it to the world I like, I have my heart there.

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Simón Mejía traces the history of Colombian music