Unmistakable cumbia beats open new Superfónicos single “Cumbéalo”, lending momentum to funky horns, Colombian flutes, and jazzy keys in such a way that, even before Jaime Ospina sets down the gaita to let loose his golden voice, the introduction sets a pan-American scene. The America of Austin-based eight-piece band Superfónicos is one that transcends the limitations of political states, one that prizes its southernmost people and places as highly as its northernmost, one in which indigenous and African identities are central – as they should be.
“For us, in many ways,” Ospina explains, “America as a continent, not a country, is like a huge patchwork quilt, and the African element is like the thread that sews it all together.” Track “Cumbéalo” makes a strong case for the structural integrity of this patchwork, with the rising stars of Superfónicos enlisting Spoon’s Jim Eno for production that allows the warmth and fullness of the ensemble’s sound to shine. Crisp timbales, sharp maracas, and resonant congas make up a vibrant backbone beneath a catchy instrumental melody that is finally topped with passionate vocal harmonies.
There is, in the group‘s collective vision, much at hand worth their emotional energy. “Cumbéalo,” says Ospina, “is a metaphor for turning our eyes back to the primal and ancestral and to remember all the great things that we’ve lost in this process of becoming modern and civilized. We think that humankind is in a big crisis right now, because we disconnect ourselves from nature, our sense of oneness, and our spiritual selves.”
On 10 May, “Cumbéalo” comes out on seven-inch vinyl via Jim Eno’s own Public Hi-Fi Records, with track “Tropidelico” on the b-side. Both were captured exactly as performed in the studio, an analog recording that further adds to the group’s emphasis on connecting to the past. “We had to think of these tunes more like old school cumbia or how jazz musicians would,” bassist and group co-founder Nico Sanchez says. “Whatever hits the tape is the take.” With no room for multitracking, this meant bringing in guest musicians to fill out the brass and percussion sections for a true Latin funk big band feeling. Without notes, though, it’s hard to even be sure who is a regular and who is not – so tight is the communal creative energy and the driving rhythm binding these players together.
“It isn’t about North or South America, or what language you speak, even though governments try and sow those divisions,” Sanchez continues. “What’s important is we remember that the drum is our common language and the dance is our conversation.”
As Ospina sings out lines like “No hay fronteras y todo es unida” – There are no borders and everything is unity – this collective spirit rings out, strong and jubilant against all odds. “Cumbéalo” brings together Texas, Colombia, West Africa, and all the sonic history therein, letting Superfónicos’ masterful lineup show each and every bold color they have for an open-minded audience to hear.
Single Cumbéalo will be available on 10 May as part of the Prospector Series, a partnership between Gold Rush Vinyl and Public Hi-Fi Records.