For more than two decades, the Latin American Festival has not only been a must-attend event for lovers of Latin food and culture, but it has provided an outstanding setting for an introduction to and celebration of Latin music. There's been an ever-continuing cast of diversity — from pop songstress Julieta Venegas and alt-rock outfit NoTeVaGustar in 2013, Barcelona rock band Jarabe de Palo and Venezuela's Los Amigos Invisibles in 2012, Colombia's folk-rock fusion Aterciopelados in 2011, and the list goes on.
This year is no different. Latin Grammy-winning Panamanian rock group Los Rabanes and Afro-Latin rock band La Quilombera are included on a lineup with Colombian headliner Bomba Estéreo, a Cumbia-based outfit that combines dub, hip-hop, reggaeton, rock and more. The band's style is constantly changing as global influences continue to seep into their songwriting.
"At the beginning, Bomba was mainly focused on a Cumbia sound," says Bomba Estéreo founder and bassist Simón Mejía. "Now, it's much more open and we've found a sound that is ours, but always trying to evolve. I think we're unconsciously reaching a universal sound that can be understood, independent of the language, from Colombia to Japan."
Part of the band's character comes through in singer Liliana Saumet's stage presence and range of vocal styles. In one moment, Saumet will rap in a Carribean-style chat, and on the next song she might be singing in more of a lounge and laid-back format, conveying a variety of messages regardless of any language barriers that may exist to non-Spanish speakers.
That broad influence in the band's music is what made it one of the stand-out acts at Bonnaroo in 2010. Performing on a world music stage curated by Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hütz, Bomba Estéreo ended its sweltering mid-day set by getting dozens of audience members on stage to dance with the band as the rhythms and moment sonically carried everyone away.
"I think that when you're making music, you're not pretty much thinking about anything but just making it," Mejía says. "After you find yourself with those kinds of things that put the music in different contexts ... I think maybe it's more like the kind of influences we have that are open, so that makes the music open."
The band is currently touring in support of its third album, Elegancia Tropical, and Mejía says the show will focus on that album. Depending on the energy of a crowd and atmosphere, Bomba Estéreo can lean more toward electronic or acoustic, while remaining upbeat and energetic, of course. People also might hear a bit of fresh material as the band is hoping to release new music early next year.
"People can expect new sounds, new energy, a slight change in direction, but keeping the Bomba vibe alive," Mejía says. You can expect a "full-energy dancing machine."