Bomba Estereo’s Simón Mejía Taps A Symphony Of Nature Sounds

An interview by SCOTT SIMON & SOPHIA ALVAREZ BOYD for The Delaware Republic. You can listen to the podcast here.

Simón Mejía and his band, Bomba Estereo, love to give their fans cause to party with their music. But after years of nonstop touring, as well as becoming a father, Mejía felt he needed a break. So he set out to reconnect with nature in his home country, Colombia.

“Everyone that has been born here in this country has to have a very deep relation with nature,” Mejía says. “We have part of the Amazon jungle, we have three branches of the Andes mountain range. We have a huge desert in the north. We have the two seas, the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. We have the snow and we have the Caribbean Sea. So it’s really strong, and it’s really dense.”

He roved all over Colombia with a microphone to capture captivating sounds all around him, from the birds to the waves to the jungle. Those sounds have become the foundation of his new solo album, Monte.

Mejía and Bomba Estereo have been active in Colombia’s environmental movement for years, fighting against deforestation and mining in sensitive areas. But with Monte, Mejía says he found a new approach to his activism — centered less on speaking and more on his primary art form.

“I was reflecting and thinking, ‘OK, what I know how to do is art and music.’ And what happened is I used music to create a kind of activism that is not singing about specific causes, but trying to, through music, connect with nature,” he says.

“When I started recording nature, like two or three years ago, I was just making the recordings to have archives of these natural soundscapes, that maybe in the future we will not hear the same, or maybe we will not hear again — you know, there are some birdsongs that maybe in the future will just disappear. So I was making this kind of like a personal archive for me. When I realized that maybe I could do some music, or find a way to incorporate that into the electronic production I was doing, I started to record specifically thinking about electronic mixes.”

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Simon Mejia and his band Bomba Estereo love to give their fans cause to party with their music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “SO YO”)

BOMBA ESTEREO: (Singing in Spanish).

SIMON: But after years of nonstop touring and becoming a father, Simon Mejia felt he needed a break, so he set out to reconnect with nature in his home country, Colombia.

SIMON MEJIA: Everyone that has been born here in this country has to have a very deep relation with nature. We have part of the Amazon jungle. We have three branches of the Andes mountain range. We have a huge desert in the north. We have the two seas, Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. We have the snow, and we have the Caribbean Sea. So it’s really strong, and it’s really dense.

SIMON: He roved all over Colombia with a microphone to capture the captivating sounds all around him, from the birds to the waves to the jungle. The sounds have become the foundation of his new solo album called “Monte.”

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Simon Mejia and Bomba Estereo have been active in Colombia’s environmental movement for years, fighting against deforestation and mining in sensitive areas. But with “Monte,” Mejia says he’s found a new approach to his activism.

MEJIA: At the beginning, it was more like speaking activism. And at one point, I kind of got tired of that because I was reflecting and thinking, OK, what I know how to do is art and music. And what happens if I just use music to create that kind of activism that is not singing about specific causes but trying to, through music, connect with nature?

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTE’S “HABITAT SUR”)

MEJIA: When I started recording nature – that was, like, two or three years ago or even more – I was just making the recordings to have archives of these natural soundscapes that maybe in the future we will not hear the same or even we will not hear again. You know, there are some birdsongs that maybe in the future just disappear. So I was making this kind of like a personal archive for me. And then when I realized that maybe I could do some music or find a way to incorporate that into the electronic production I was doing, I started to record it specifically thinking about electronic mixes. I had, like, the (unintelligible) of the cockroaches, and they gave me some rhythm. And I started to develop beats.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTE’S “MIRLA”)

MEJIA: “Mirla” actually was one of the last songs of the album. Mirla, I think, translates to blackbird in English. Two years ago, I went to live outside Bogota, a house which is in the mountain. There’s lots of bird activity and – lots, lots. So in the morning, I started listing to one particular birdsong, you know, like, chant, because it was different from the others. And then I became conscious of it. So I started waking up just to hear the bird. The bird every time came closer, and when it was really close, I started recording it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTE’S “MIRLA”)

MEJIA: After a couple of days, I felt while I was recording that he knew that I was recording him because he kind of look at me when I was with the microphone and everything. And when he looked at me, I felt like he began to sing better, like a singer, you know, that knows that he is being recorded and starts to sing better (laughter). And I did lots of recordings and a couple of days of really good recordings. And then one night, I was sleeping, and I heard, like, a boom. And I saw the bird lying dead. And I knew it was this particular bird.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTE’S “MIRLA”)

MEJIA: So I grabbed the bird, and I buried him. I did, like, this small ritual and put flowers and everything. I cried. And yeah, I don’t know, it was crazy, but I felt – maybe it’s all in my imagination, but I think that we established a relationship, that kind of musical and kind of love relationship.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTE’S “MIRLA”)

SIMON: Today, Simon Mejia says he understands and feels closer to nature than ever. But Bomba Estereo party music is also a part of his life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTE’S “SOL AMOR”)

MEJIA: The party’s important. You kind of need – you know, it’s a balance between the two things, especially here in Colombia. The music that you hear in Colombia is party music. And people like to dance, and they talk loud and everything. But at the same time, it’s a very nostalgic and melancholic country and sad country because we’ve been through really difficult things, you know? It’s like a very yin-yang country. We have, like, the darkness and the light. So it’s a balance between those two energies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTE’S “SOL AMOR”)

SIMON: Colombian musician Simon Mejia – his new solo album is called “Monte.”

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