Record Of The Week: Bomba Estéreo’s ‘Deja’

On their new album Deja, Columbian duo Bomba Estéreo embraced nature in multiple ways. Singer Liliana Saumet and producer/player Simón Mejía made the album on the Caribbean coast, gathering a group of friends and collaborators in Santa Marta, a city bordered by beaches and mountains, to help bring their music to new life.

They captured audio from their surroundings—the ocean, jungle, river and the wildlife they held—and those field recordings provided inspiration, and even notation, for the new record. The last 30 seconds of album opener “Agua” are filled with a chorus of birds over breaking waves, a move that transports listeners into the enveloping world of Deja.

Bomba Estéreo’s song cycle is somehow both meditative and dancebable, a world of environmental awareness and indigenous folk rhythms topped by lush plucking, skittering synths and Saumet’s ebullient vocal style. Upon arriving in Santa Marta for the recording sessions, the album’s engineer initially expressed concern about the vocal booth being too open, since it allowed natural sounds to bleed into Saumet’s vocal takes.

“That’s part of the sound,” was Mejía’s response, he told me. “Leave it in.”  

Much as Bomba Estéreo have developed their sound for over 15 years, their Afro-Columbian cultural awareness and cumbia dance-informed style now sounding wholly their own, these new songs took shape over the course of years. Mejía  started the tracks as instrumental explorations, then shaped them over time as Saumet put her agile vocals over the freeform music.

Mejía’s own instrumental album, Mirla, (released under the artist name Monte) is a fascinating companion piece to Deja. Released in 2020, it’s a collection of tunes that he would ultimately reshape around his band mate’s melodies, helping steer the songs that would become Bomba Estéreo’s album to their fully realized forms.

The sonics are pristine throughout, thanks in no small part to the mixing of Damien Taylor, who’s no stranger to widescreen audio palates, having worked on records for acts from Bjork to Arcade Fire to the Prodigy. And the clarity Taylor brought allows rich textures to shine in each track. Take new single “Conexión Total,” featuring Nigerian superstar Yemi Alade. The irresistible beat is flanked by chants and marimbas, building to the ecstatic joy of the flute lead line that punctuates the track. 

Deja is a triumph, and may just have you hearing birdsong differently, noting its similarity the sunny chirp of a Bomba Estéreo synth lick.