REVIEW: Bomba Estéreo - "Ayo"

Bomba Estéreo - Ayo
Sony Music
August 11, 2017

"Despacito" has been the song of the summer. And, in the last few weeks, the think pieces have been landing, wondering what this Spanish-language mescla means for the US in the Age of Trump. The most popular YouTube video of all time is shot in La Perla in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the midst of a crippling financial crisis. It's a testament to the growing popularity of Reggaeton and Caribbean music and a global musical culture, which seems to fly in the face of the politics of racial resentment.

While "Despacito" has been championed as a path-breaker, the uncomfortable fact for many of us who love independent music is that we often travel in some of the whitest areas. Indie music plays to particular niche with little incentive to break out. For me, that realization hit hardest back in 2012 with Pitchfork's infamous "People's List." The "people," it turned out, were mostly like me: white dudes. As much as we may cringe at "Despacito" on repeat, or the general misogyny of Reggaeton, we also have to recognize that the demands of a commercial market, one which has now regularly created Latinx stars from Pitbull to the rising star of Kali Uchis, often create a greater motivation toward inclusivity.

Colombian band, Bomba Estéreo is one of those groups that I think has fallen in the cracks of US musical consciousness. They've been a pet project of mine since seeing the group at SOB's in New York a few years ago, when Li Saumet established herself as one of the most dynamic MCs working. In their early albums, Saumet and Simon Mejía, Bomba Estéreo's founder, seemed to forge a new path through the history of Latin American music by mixing traditional Colombian forms like the Cumbia with 1970s South American psychedelia, like Aguaturbia, and with a splash of contemporary electronica thrown in for good measure. In many ways, the music matched the Colombian nation with a wildly diverse and vibrant social and musical life mixing the indigenous, African, and European cultures. 

The success of Bomba Estéreo's Estalla and Elegancia Tropical left the band in somewhat of a bind. Well-known enough to take a next step into a wider audience, there was a good chance to take this leap they'd have to start dueting with Shakria or leave their carefully cultivated sound behind in order to play to an Anglo audience. Amancer, Bomba Estéreo's 2015 album, attempted to answer this conundrum by expanding their sound into a world party. Will Smith guested on the remix of Amancer's single "Fiesta." Yet, on cue, the indie media lamented Bomba Estéreo playing to a wider audience as a turn away from their musical roots. 

Ayo, this year's offering, is a markedly more subtle affair than Amancer. The big guest isn't Will Smith, but Balkan Beatbox, whose contribution to "Química (Dance with Me)," turns the track into a minimalist organic club hit. And while this record does seem to have more in common with the Elegancia Tropical, there's no doubt that Amancer has left a big effect on Mejía and Saumet. The chorus to "Duele," the lead single, creeps up on you like "Fiesta," but rather than going hard on the synth, the hook repurposes a flauta de millo, a traditional woodwind used in Cumbia, with a sneakily earworm effect.

Throughout the album, the bombast that had been the signature of Bomba Estéreo's style since "Fuego," feels like it's seeped into the instrumentation. The most explosive track, "Money Money Money...," cuts against its sound with a critique of the global one percent and the soullessness of consumption. Similarly, "Flower Power" appropriates and critiques Caribbean sounds with a call for women to enjoy themselves rather than be objectified. Saumet addresses women saying the track isn't Reggaeton, but it's here to make you move your ass. 

"Flower Power" follows on a long trend in Saumet's lyrics of greater consciousness toward personal power. The standout video from Amanacer, "Soy Yo," later adapted into a great voting video during the 2016 election, shows a young Latina  delightfully reveling in her own personality. If Amanacer was a reach toward a more popular audience, then Saumet and Mejía came with their own brand of woke, conscious music to make you shake your ass. 

The standing of Bomba Estéreo echoes a conundrum of many "world" or "global" musicians--their music, formally, has to be both tied to their particular cultural identity, but in such a way that the form is also exceptional enough to be notable; however, if the band strays too much from their particular formula, the record is discounted. Another way to put this is that we're always judging from the vantage of indie rock without taking the band's interest into account assuming that groups have to address the preoccupations and desires of the US-based listener. 

What's clear on both Amancer and Ayo is that Bomba Estéreo's is working their music toward an explicitly empowering angle, confronting assumptions of social roles. Ayo continues the band's formal explorations while drawing on their widening catalog. The album's ending track, "Vuelve" is a psychedelic instrumental mash that would make Andrew Bird and Susana Baca proud. It's just the sort of music that should be making bigger waves in the indie world for its politics and invigorating musicality. It's not simply a political act or a way to make a stand in the face of more and more explicit xenophobia and sexism. But, as Saumet reminds us in "Internacionales," music transcends by returning us to the root of what it is to be human.

Friday Streams -- June 16th, 2017

Hank's traveling the world so here are my picks for streaming this week:



- A must own on vinyl.  Grab it HERE (Numero Group 2xLP)


Friday Streams -- June 9, 2017

This week's streams highlight the geographical diversity of "American" music. I'm on the road for the next few weeks, so if you got streaming issues, leave a comment and we'll try to rectify.

New Releases
Big Thief - Capacity 
The unflinching stare. Big Thief's record covers are the opposite of pretension. You can't quite tell if the photos were found at the end of a roll of film or if they're Alec Soth creations. But, they match the music almost perfectly. Imperfect situations, hard won lessons (and if not lessons then at least warnings) have been staples of a gothic Americana since time immemorial. Big Thief does them by mixing the adrenaline of Springsteen with the melody of Jessica Pratt.

Sleepy Sun - Private Tales
As Big Thief evinces the hard scrabble lives of fly-over country, so too does Sleepy Sun's new record ring of pure West Coast psychedelia. While Fever seemed caught in another decade, by the time "Seaquest" hits on Private Tales you can feel the contemporary world crack into your trip.

Carla Morrison - Amor Supremo Desnudo
Carla Morrison is an indie diva in any language. This acoustic version of her 2015 release, Amor Supremo, just gives her more room to shine.

Extended Players
Bonnie "Prince" Billy & Nathan Salsburg - Untitled
They say that you know America by her rivers. Here, Americana royalty, Will Oldham & Nathan Salsburg highlight 3 creeks in song.

Off the Radar
Dustin Wong - Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads
Ex Ponytail guitarist, Dustin Wong does stuff with a guitar that you couldn't even dream of. This album of post-rock deconstructionism is vivid evidence to that

Friday Streams -- June 2, 2017

TiME to gET yoUR streAM on!

New Releases

For my money, ChestnuTT isn't just one of the best names to capitalize, he's one of the most rewarding artists out there. Try not to love every moment of Landing on a Hundred.

4 years later, Beach Fossils return with all the melodies still in tact.

The "she" in the "he said, she said" of post-Dirty Projectors.

One Hitters

The contribution to the 20 year anniversary of Ok Computer one of the albums that truly changed my life.


An exquisite chamber-folk album (a la Horse Feathers) from Iceland's Seabear.


The music industry seems to be banking heavily on over the top personalities and it’s leaving an aging music blogger like myself wondering where the truth in music went.  If you talk to any honest music publicist today, they will confirm the idea that the story behind the band/artist is just as important, maybe more, than the music itself.  I’ve always balked at covering a band because the frame work was written for me.  My concern is and always will be talent, connection, emotion, and the document itself without bloated outside context.  I beg to a next to nothing readership, let’s get back on track and start finding the story within the music rather than discovering music because of the story.

Cassandra Jenkins spent most of 2010 as a struggling folk singer in New York City's Greenwich Village. Her musical partner, Mike Timlin, died by suicide and her independently released solo album Inside Cassandra Jenkins was not selling; she had no money and was sleeping on the couches of friends and acquaintances.

Sorry, that’s the first line in the plot summary on Wikipedia for the film Inside Llewyn Davis with Jenkins name substituted here and there.  I really don’t know anything about Jenkins, but I can say her newest release Play Till You Win is one of my favorite albums of 2017.  Melodically it’s a gentle and confident album of beautiful music framed by Jenkins’ talent for the investigation of life presented as universal storytelling. Jenkins’ track “Tennessee Waltz” is a simple, yet heartbreaking short story through song addressing the moment you understand that individual love must be given away to allow for true love.  This is a sacrifice many of us know and using it as the spine for a song allows for the music to elevate an already considered human struggle.  Jenkins’ adds to the exploration of this theme and within it the listener can find perspective, character, and the connection we all want with our musicians/bands.

I remember the night and the Tennessee waltz
I must have heard it a thousand times
and it wasn’t till now that I’ve come to see
the view from behind those lines
We were singing along to an old familiar song
when she came waltzing through the door
with her head held high and a look in her eyes
I could see that it was her you adore.
I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz
Now I know just how much I have lost
I used to think that I knew the words
until they hit me all at once
I can’t say it’s wrong, but I know it’s true
It’s with her that your heart belongs
ever since I introduced her to you
We were singing along to an old familiar song
when she came waltzing through the door
with her head held high and a look in her eyes
Now I don’t see you anymore
I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz

It’s always a blessing and a bit of a curse when your favorite track on an album is the opener.  “Candy Crane” is a song that explores perspective and what we as humans waste our time and concern with.  This is all investigated through a story of a person playing a crane machine game, a frustrating device most of us can relate to with a simple reward. Although the crane game prize is rarely obtained, when achieved all it adds up to a piece of plastic or doll…a momentary and nearly pointless satisfaction.  Play Till You Win explores the theme that humans are blinded by the end result and not the moments that make up the journey.  Jenkins seems fascinated by time and the confusing wonderment of how present day and memory can work together in the building blocks of who we are as people.

The exploration of time appears again on “Some Time”.  The song works in many ways, but I like to imagine it as a poem written by Jenkins to Jenkins.  It perfectly captures self-motivation and that relatable moment where our minds connect with individual want.

Give yourself a few years
Give yourself some time
None of them are like you dear
Give yourself some time
Everyone is in it
Give yourself some time
No way to get around it
Give yourself some time
For all the place you have yet to be
and the faces yet to see
Come spring they’ll all be here
and they’ll be back
with the same songs every year
None of them are like you
So give yourself a few years
Give yourself some time
None of them are like you dear
Give yourself some time

The album Play Till You Win accomplishes everything I want from an album, specifically a connection to the creator that grows and matures track to track. Just as I consider the writers of my favorite novels familiar friends who can comfort through their brilliance, new artists and bands need to be given the opportunity to introduce themselves through their talent, perspective, and personality. We are constantly told how to feel about a band, how to contextualize their music, and how important it is before listening to a single note.  The stories attached to bands are strategic attempts to attract a specific audience.  We should be aware of this trap and only trust the music itself and the importance we place on it as the ultimate truth of its quality.

We’re coming up on the tenth birthday of We Listen For You and we’ve always operated under the idea that the music we write about is the music we love.  You shouldn’t always love what we love. Taste and personal connection within art is a universe…a huge space where it’s impossible for complete agreement of what is best and what is worst.  What is worthy.  What is cool.  All that comes from you and you alone.  Where we can all improve and challenge ourselves is how we discover what we will eventually love or hate.  Don’t trust the your friends, outlets that are sincere in their recommendations, and always trust yourself.  Your taste is your identity.  Finding a short cut when building you through art is as fruitless and empty as that claw machine. 

I’m fully aware how preachy this writing has been and I want it noted that I needed to say these things not just to you but to myself as well.  The number of times I’ve clicked on a sensational headline or investigated a band because they are the “it” thing of the moment is endless.  I want to be a better listener and explorer of new sounds.  I want all of us to be better.  If we question why we arrived at the moment of clicking play on a new album then everything competes on the same level and we’re back to letting music work on its own.  Only then can the magic of sound enter of lives, wrap itself around formed memories, dictate character, influence dreams, and smash against everything that was known to form a new self.


Starting with this piece, essays or reviews on WLFY will occasionally challenge the original intention of this website: to help independent artists.  Each piece that features an album that we highly recommend will come with a challenge to sell a certain amount of copies.  We’ll always kick off the challenge with a purchase of our own.

Cassandra Jenkins - Play Till You Win (Album Challenge)

GOAL: Sell FIVE vinyl copies

Current count:
4/5 vinyl sold


Send @welistenforyou a picture or screen cap on Twitter of your purchase and we’ll list you as a supporter.  A small amount of purchases like five won’t change the world, but if we start working as a group to support independent artists, it certainly can’t hurt.

Friday Streams -- May 19, 2017

This week's streams feature the return of a couple of our favorite artists.

New Releases
The Mountain Goats - Goth
John Darnielle & co. continue to craft some of the best records out there: heady, emotional, and revealing.

Do Make Say Think - Stubborn Persistent Illusions
DMST's newest since 2007's You, You're a History in Rust is just what post-rock kids need right now.

Dent May & Frankie Cosmos - Across the Multiverse
Because, you know what's bigger than a universe...

Off the Radar
Ray Charles - The Atlantic Studio Albums in Mono (Remastered)
The ultimate soundtrack to a BBQ. Impress your friends by reminding them who really wrote Kanye's best songs.