For Sergent Garcia, the French-Spanish fusionist best known as the creator of “salsamuffin,” it was just a hop, skip and musical jump to cumbia, Laura Emerick reports in Chicago’s Sun-Times.
Over five studio discs, he’s honed his trademark style of reggae and tropical Latin, and with his latest, “Una y Otra Vez” (2010), he’s ventured across the Caribbean to explore the folkloric sounds of Colombia, especiallycumbia and vallenato. Actually, the disc continues the journey he launched on his 2009 EP titled “Cumbiamuffin.” (The whole “muffin” thing is a play on raggamuffin, aka dancehall, a kind of reggae.) It also befits the zaniness of the Sergent, aka Bruno Garcia, who adopted his stage name in homage to Zorro’s sidekick, the bumbling yet lovable Sgt. Demetrio Lopez Garcia. (“Sergent” is French for “sergeant.”)
“I made that EP with Afro-Colombian musicians It was my first experience with cumbia, and I loved it,” said Garcia, who will perform here Sept. 18 as part of the World Music Festival. “So I decided to go there and record it. Colombia has a lot of energy, and lots of innovative young bands.
“Previously, I explored the bridge between Cuba and Jamaican music, with salsa, which is son cubano, and reggae. Like reggae, cumbia has become popular around the world, and like salsa, it’s a combination of different rhythms. Now with the move to Colombia, it’s like I’m traveling all around the Caribbean. But I’m not switching from salsa, I’m integrating cumbia into the mix.”
For “Una y Otra Vez,” Garcia invited several young Colombian talents, including Bomba Estereo, La 33 and La Mojarra Electrica, to perform on the disc. “I wanted to record with the new generation of Colombian musicians,” he said. “When I arrived in Colombia six years ago, I was surprised at how vibrant the scene is there. They are working on updating traditional music and bringing it to a new generation.”
While growing up in Paris, Barcelona and Bilbao, Garcia used to listen to Colombian music released on the label Discos Fuentes. One of the biggest stars of the Discos Fuentes stable was singer-songwriter Joe Arroyo, who died in July. “When I was younger, I listened to a lot of Discos Fuentes music, and also on Colombian music on the radio,” he said. “That Discos Fuentes sound is not far from the salsamuffin style. Joe Arroyo was a huge talent of Colombia; he helped to introduce Afro-Caribbean music to the world. His death is a huge loss.”
The son of a Basque father and French mother, Garcia now lives in Valencia, Spain, part of the Catalonia region, which has its own distinct culture with French and Basque influences. “Because I live in Valencia, I hear Catalan everyday. I speak it but I am not fluent,” he said. On his discs, he sings in Spanish, French and English but prefers Spanish. “It’s very rhythmic, which suits salsamuffin. I feel better singing in Spanish than in French, which speaks to another sense. It’s more internal. Spanish is more direct.”
Whatever the language, his message translates to all cultures. “Caribbean music is popular around the world,” he said. “Even in places like China or Vietnam. We’re all part of a big melting pot.”
As part of the World Music Festival, Sergent Garcia performs at 5 p.m. Sept. 18 in a free concert at the Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park.