Muerte y Sabrosura – Exploring Colombia’s Dark Side
Bright colored houses, tropical fruits. The enticing smells of arepas cooking on the next street corner. Upbeat cumbias and smiling faces: My trip to the caribbean city of Cartagena had been filled with all of the usual festive and exotic tropes I normally associate with Colombia, a country constantly overflowing with energy and a zest for life.
However, as I landed in the bustling capital of Bogotá, the color and heat drained away from the landscape, leaving a monochromatic city shrouded in clouds with a year-round mountain chill in the air.
My first night out my friend Natalia invited me to see her friend’s Goth Cumbia band play. Goth Cumbia? It sounded like an oxymoron. I was picturing a rebellious metal band doing some sort of hideous fusion with tattooed punks moshing in the audience. Despite my reluctance, we headed to the contemporary art gallery called MIAMI in the residential neighborhood of Teusaquillo, whose tiny European style houses and plazas were a refreshing contrast to the grit of downtown.
The gallery was filled with bogotano hipsters, all in nearly matching black and grey leather jackets and dark jeans. On top of each speaker there were plastic skulls, one black, one silver. Smoke seeped into the room from the back patio, where a few guys were grilling up some choripan (sausage sandwiches) and we got ourselves some cheap local beer called “Poker”.
There I was introduced to Nicolás Vallejo-Cano, most well known for his chops as editor of Colombia’s hippest music magazine, Revista Shock, and also the founder of the group we were about to see: La MiniTK de Miedo (pronounced La Miniteka de Miedo). Waiting anxiously in the crowd were everyone from mural painters to electronic music producers like Cero 39 and El Freaky, and Ondatrópica’s manager. Apparently we were all in for a surprise, since this was the band’s second live performance.
The trio took the stage wearing black ski masks. I winced in fear of what would come out of the speakers…but was immediately soothed by an ethereal electronic sound that was just as much Washed Out dreamy electro-pop as a Halloween party. Nicolás grabbed the microphone and chanted, “1..2..666!”. The undeniable rhythmic scratching of the traditional cumbia Güiro grounded the extraterrestrial 80’s synthesizers and experimental noise as Nicolás whispered “huepaje”, a Colombian exclamation shouted at the most joyous of musical moments, over the clicks of the clave. I found myself bewitched, like I was dancing cumbia in a graveyard in the epic final scene of an 80’s Colombian version of Casper The Friendly Ghost. Since cumbia has always been internationally known as the quintessential happy and celebratory folklore music, the irony and wit of songs like “Yo Te Quiero Calavera” (I love your skull) and “El Vacilón del Ultratumba” (The afterlife party) was not lost on me.
I immediately approached Nicolás after the show to get the story behind the concept. He explained that a miniteka is a tiny soundsystem normally used for quinceñeras, or cheesy teen birthday parties. Calling the band a miniteka is a playful reference to the famous picós, gigantic badass soundsystems known for blasting the popular champeta music from the coast at local parties, which mixes both African, Latin, and Caribbean rhythms like Highlife, Soukous, Reggaeton, Soca and Calypso. Therefore a “Miniteka de Miedo” would technically be a “tiny jukebox of fear”. As funny as the concept is, he confessed that it comes from a more serious and intellectual reflection upon Colombian identity:
“I feel that in the tropics right now, all of these rhythms from Colombia especially, are lacking an honest reflection about the dark essence of our history. We are all really happy and dancing and shaking our booties but I feel that’s a little escapist. So, I want to do an exploration on our identity and my identity through the music. We look at ourselves in the mirror and there are shadows and ghosts but we have to confront them. Also with a sense of humor and all of the Colombian flavor. So it’s all of that, it’s an investigation.”
Part hilarious joke for any Cumbia fan, part cerebral soul search into the darkness of both Colombian and his own personal identity, La MiniTK del Miedo started as just a bedroom music project for Nicolás. Much to his surprise, people started taking the project seriously. Their album Muerte y Sabrosura (Death and Delicious Flavor) is not only an extremely catchy record, but it pushes the limits of where music is going in both the Colombian and global bass scenes internationally. Check them out on Facebook and Soundcloud, (where it is genre-categorized as “witch-house”) to hear more. Disclaimer: After being blown away by MiniTK and interviewing them for this article we decided to work together!
My Tonspur Podcast: Colombian Sabrosura - Pre and Post is a little soundtrack of some of the new music I picked up on my trip:
I started with some obvious favorites, Systema Solar and the new Bomba Estereo release “Elegancia Tropical”. While sorting through my giant stack of CDs I found some great groups that were more traditionally tropical, like in Ondatrópica and Funk-Cho and the Caribefunker, and also those that fit in to more of a global bass genre, remixing the traditional sounds and bringing them to a modern and more international dance floor like in the cases of the Son Palenque remix and Julián from Bomba Estereo’s new electro champeta project -Mitú.
However, I was most intrigued by a new underground and experimental movement that Nicolás likes to call “post-sabrosura”, exemplified not only by MiniTK but also Meridian Brothers. Meridian Brothers have been getting a ton of buzz worldwide for avant-garde mastermind Eblis Álvarez’s bizarre vision and reinterpretation of the tropical genre stereotypes using his own custom made instruments. Nicolás sees this as something that was inevitable in Colombian culture, an intellectual questioning of tropical cliches, that has come about due to a boom in popularity of Colombian music in the past several years.
“These new bands ask ‘And where does this (boom) lead us? How can it further evolve?’ The result is a lyrical, instrumental, and musical exploration that creates a caricature that simultaneously makes fun of and celebrations these traditions”
So for this playlist I threw in a bit of all of these examples to give you guys a picada, or a little taste of everything! Soak up all that sabrosura, pre and post!