003 - El Buga

September 18 marks "Fiestas Patrias", a national celebration of Chilean independence, that often lasts the whole month. Traditional music like Cueca fill the cities and towns during this period, and Cumbia, a musical genre that originates from Central and South America, one that dates as far back as the early 1800s, takes centre stage. Despite the slightly pejorative social stigma that has become associated with the genre amongst many local people, in recent years a new group of artists have emerged incorporating elements of the genre and providing it with new life, and new audiences.

Enter El Buga, a Chilean producer and Regional label co-founder from Santiago, who put together an hour of energetic Cumbias for Métron Musik Mixtape 003. Infused with drops of House, Dub, Juke, Future Beats & Hip-Hop, and showcasing musicians and producers from all over the globe, it’s an apt tribute to South America’s musical heritage as well as its modern identity.

El Buga and I have spoken a fair amount recently so I wanted to try and transfer some of his knowledge from our recent discussions into this interview as a way of introducing some aspects of Latin American music. 

JH: Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Cumbia and the recent growth of Latin electronica?

EB: As far as i know, Cumbia is originally a Colombian folkloric genre from indigenous and African music roots, with some European colonial influences. When the genre went through it's golden years, with Discos Fuentes as the powerhouse, it reached notoriety in the rest of the continent, and got to southern countries like Peru, Argentina and Chile, where some standards of Colombian classic Cumbia got their own version and significant fame, but also starting their own variations, like Chicha in Peru, through the following years. This variations had never stopped, with more contemporary styles as Cumbia Villera in Argentina keeping it fresh and active.

For electronic experimentations, my first reference of a project completely dedicated to it, it should Chilean artists Jorge Gonzales and Dandy Jack collaboration called Gonzalo Martínez And His Thinking Congas in 1997, with an album so ahead of its time, it didn't even got a proper release in Latin America till today, 2015 in Chile. First editions were only available in Germany and England.

Also a very innovative project called Sidestepper was happening in 2000 in Colombia, receiving global praise but still on mainly underground circles. The amount of producers taking Cumbia elements kept growing at a slow rate, till the release of Argentinean El Remolón's Cumbia Bichera EP on Chilean netlabel Pueblo Nuevo, leading to the creation of ZZK collective in Buenos Aires. With continuous media coverage on this emerging label, Tropical Bass explosion worldwide and social media streaming services like Soundcloud and Bandcamp, Cumbia Digital was officially a thing.

JH: You mentioned that Cumbia plays a big part in ‘Fiesta Patrias’?

EB: It's an interesting phenomena, because Cumbia isn't our national traditional dance, it's Cueca. A kind of folkloric Criollo dance, that evolved from colonial times with a classic elegant style and a more rural popular variation called Cueca Brava. The dance associated with this music is very choreographic, making it really hard to dance to some people, but is still alive thanks to Cueca Chora, a more urban version that keeps it popular to this day.

I don't know how it started, but somehow Cumbia took over and it's always on heavy rotation at "Ramadas" and "Fondas", the places prepared for parties at Fiestas Patrias. Also you can hear a lot of Mexican music like Corridos and Rancheras, because this kind of sound is very influential in the country side of southern Chile. Now you can add Reggaeton and Bachata to that mix, making it a really Latin affair.

But Cumbia keeps winning at starting the party, with Colombian style old school classics from Sonora Malecón and Sonora Dinamita going back to back with their Chilean big band alternatives from La Sonora De Tommy Rey and La Sonora Palacios. Also there is a new scene called Nueva Cumbia that is starting to gain a lot of terrain with Chico Trujillo on top, a band who was very underground and now has great mainstream acceptance.

JH: I loved the mix, can you tell me a little bit about the thought process behind the mixtape?

EB: I started by picking tracks conceptually for the mixtape. With more electronic and early experimentation tracks at the beginning, going to bass driven classic Cumbia sounds through hints of local variations and ending with gypsy carnival brass fanfares.

Then came this party i was going to play, so i decided to take the original setlist i was working and add a dancefloor turn with more upbeat tracks, hip hop beats and house rhythms. I mixed the set live and then corrected and arranged it to polish the details and edit some of the mixes.

Finally i double, or should i say triple, checked that everything was sounding good and ready to Cumbia. That's about it.

JH: What’s next for El Buga?

EB: Really, I don't know, but I say this in a good way. I'm actually a kind of inside outsider in this music world. I have no musical education and don't know how to properly play an instrument. I wasn't surrounded by music in my house as a child and I only got deep at listening to it in my twenties, always checking for new sounds and basically everything I can listen to, from hip-hop to electronics.

For me, it's always a learning process, so hopefully I can keep making progress and keep trying to make new music. For the label, I hope we can achieve more local recognition, which was also what drove me to enter the production world, we are kind of quiet in the Santiago scene, and this is mostly because we are more like music lovers than DJs.

If we can make a little space for us to play, it will lead us to have more chances to bring our Latin American friends to play here, which was also one of our first and major goals.  

JH: Finally can you recommend a couple of records that we, and everybody else out there, should listen to?

EB: I would rather recommend label names for everyone to check out, find an album or two and get lost. Tiger's Milk from the U.K. is putting out some nice Peruvian compilations, with contemporary and old school music. Going a little far from the tropical direction, I should mention Chilean label Discos Pegaos which showcases avant garde electronics from Santiago's underground scene.

Another label that got me hooked is Lisbon's Principe Discos, with some deep afro tribal house from Portugal. Also it's good to check out what's happening in Brazil right now, with Cumbia entering the clubs with the help of Frente Bolivarista and Tropical Twista Records. Last but not least, is our partner label Konn Recordings, founded by Chilean DJ Subversivo, now based in Colombia.

JH: Thank you for participating in this project and for sharing your passion, knowledge and enthusiasm for music with us.

The original artwork below was created exclusively for the mixtape by Jack Hardwicke.

Métron Records 2018. Hampshire, UK.