Several years ago, Julián Salazar, guitar player for internationally-renowned act Bomba Estereo, spent some time in the jungle outside Capurganá, a small town in the Pacific coast of Colombia. After two weeks of getting lost in the sonic waves emitted by insects, birds, monkeys, and wild cats, Julián was inspired. Five years later and tours with Bomba Estereo later, the guitarist decided to drop his rock riffs for the sounds of analog synth machines and try to emulate those sounds he had heard in the lush forest; sounds, which were still haunting him in his mind.
It was 2011, and that’s when Julián reached out to Franklin Tejedor aka “Lamparita,” a young percussionist from San Basilio de Palenque, a mountainous village southeast of Cartagena. Franklin had played with Bomba Estereo once, and Julián had been impressed at how even though Franklin was a traditional Afro-Colombian percussionist, he was willing to get out of his comfort zone and immerse himself in modern dance beats.
They two got together in Bogotá and the result was a magical symbiosis of infectious, ecstatic beats with Tejedor hitting the alegre (a Colombian folkloric drum) and Salazar exploring shrills and thumps, pushing buttons on analog machines. They became Mitú.
Julián's home studio in Bogotá.
It only took Julián and Franklin a few sessions to start making songs and creating the nucleus of their first album, Potro, released under Polen Records in 2012— a fast paced duel between traditional percussion and futuristic techno that will probably make you anxious, but will certainly wake you up, make you dance and shake off everything and anything that is haunting you. This is techno palenquero – the roots of Afro-Colombia with the frenetic beats of techno dance music.
Mitú just released their second album, Balnear. They’ve already toured all over Colombia (recently they performed at the launch party for Vice there), Europe, and are itching to return to the US, where last November they made their debut playing at Bardot in Miami. I caught up with the members of Mitú in Bogotá:
Fusion: Franklin, do you feel music has a different meaning in Palenque?
Franklin: Of course. Palenque was the first free slave town in America. Benkos Bihó, this African leader, arrived to Cartagena. He knew how to read and write, he was very smart. He was the one who designed the escape plan from Cartagena to the foothills of Los Montes de María, so the freed slaves could get to Palenque. And that’s how our language—Palenquero— was born. The Spaniards took away all their instruments, threw them to the ocean, burnt them, because according to them that’s how they used to rebel, to do black magic, you know? So when the freed slaves got to Palenque and they saw all this wood, they realized they could make drums with it, like in Africa. And that’s how they started making their rhythms.
Who had idea of bringing Palenquero language to Mitú?
Franklin: That wasn’t planned, really. I used to live in Palenque and I only played Palenque rhythms with the most representative band in town—Las Alegres Ambulancias . I played with my dad, with my aunts. I knew I wanted to travel and show the world what I knew, because I didn’t want to be like my dad who spent all his life in Palenque. Then I came to Bogotá, met with Julián and started experimenting with the machines and the drums. In the beginning there were no voices, but one day this word came out of me, and Julian said: Wow, what is that? And I told him it was Palenquero and he said it sounded very cool. That’s how we started.
And what was that word you said?
Franklin: I said “chalu”, which is a rhythm called “chalupa”.
What is the importance in mixing all these traditional Colombian sounds and culture with more modern ones?
Julián:There isn’t any importance to it, just the useful value that each person might find in it. There isn’t any moral value in taking a conservative attitude towards music, like trying to perpetuate the traditions and ideas of the past because they are embraced and well regarded by modern tendencies. The combination of elements shouldn’t target preservation; it should only do it when it’s possible and useful, but not just for the desire to include something for the mere fact of not wanting that to disappear.
Franklin Tejedor aka Lamparita, half of Mitú.
How has your sound evolved or changed since the first sets we find in Soundcloud to your new album, and your live shows?
Julián:There have been many changes. I’m obsessed with always coming up with new things. Sometimes I even think that every show has to be 80% new. Maybe because I know that in this phase we don’t really have very demanding fans who complain because we didn’t play certain songs.
The timbre has also changed. We used to try to emulate the Caribbean “gaita” (flute), and now there’s not a lot of that, but we still try to hold onto the emulation of fauna, of the mountains.
What are the pros and cons of going analog?
Julián: There are a lot of pros, and I think the cons are minimal for what we do. Nowadays people praise changes that are very dramatic and drastic in very short intervals, and that is obviously achieved with a computer. You take some time to program it that way at your house, and when you do it live, you already have it there, which becomes really easy because you’re just guiding and giving a couple of orders to the computer. When you are playing live with ten machines at the same time, you can’t do that. It’s a lot more interactive and fun.
Why did you feel the need creating Mitú if you are already part of Bomba Estéreo, a very successful band? How do you allocate your time?
Julián:As a musician, I have other facets which sometimes can’t be accommodated in one single project, and which I eventually need to pay attention to. I think that not doing it, would be forcing the creative process. In the end, I think that my work in Bomba is fed by my work in Mitú. Their both freedoms and spaces that are necessary for me not to fall into comfort zones.
What do you want people to feel when they listen to a Mitú album or when they see you playing live?
Franklin: I want them to dance the whole time.
Julián: I think I want them to feel the same thing I feel: happy!
This post kicks off La Sopita Series: sounds, beats and clicks from the Colombian underground to the world. La Sopita began as a series of concerts I organized in Miami when I was a student at Florida International University (I graduated in May 2013.) My goal with the shows, and now with this column, is to function as a bridge, connecting emerging Colombian artists to American audiences.
Starting with this first installment featuring Mitú, in La Sopita you can expect a series of interviews with the leading innovators of the diverse indie music scene in Colombia: from techno palenquero, to psychedelic salsa, to a mix of rock and Andean sounds called rasqa, to gothic cumbia and everything in between.
La Sopita, like homemade rich, yet simple soup, will give you an intimate taste of the different delicacies being concocted in the underground kitchens of my bloody yet, beautiful country of Colombia.
Find Camila Alvarez on Twitter at @CamiAlvarez7