“Quema” lets you know what it is straight-away: the “chuck-chucka-chuck” rhythm of the scraper (guira), the rising bass line, the keyboard that appears to be sending out an alarm signal. This is clearly cumbia, but it isn’t recognisable for long. A pounding bass line takes over, a beat is set and then Paulina Sotomayor’s voice enters, guiding the track. At first she is slow, assured, but then the chorus hits and there’s a release, a soulful higher-pitched melody as new synth lines bubble below. Elements of that original cumbia beat return in new ways, adding urgency, rhythm and detail, as the song continues to reinvent itself and play with ideas of what global bass and cumbia should sound like, all the while giving full focus to the song itself, to telling its story.
The cherry on top is the guest appearance of Totin “Arará” Agosto, one of Puerto Rico’s most loved singers and composers, and a man pivotal in putting Puerto Rican bomba back on the map. He adds joyful second vocals, seemingly losing himself in the music. His presence is a reminder that the musica callejera (street music) he plays does not have to be so different to club music. This is music to dance to, to revel, to telegraph delight.
On “Quema”, as on the rest of Orígenes, Sotomayor perform Latinx electronic music that is as bold, thrilling and alive as any street party, with a strong sense of roots or tradition. Yet it is also music that is defined by the duo’s qualities as songwriters, with a clear knack for melody and dynamics that add a sense of rock ‘n’ roll urgency. They are aided on the album by co-producer Eduardo Cabra (“Visitante” of the much-missed Puerto Rican rebel rousers Calle 13), who has recently helped push Latin singer/songwriters like Jorge Drexler, iLe and Vincent Garcia into making ground-breaking fusions of Latin tradition and modern musical forms, and won two Latin Grammy Producer of the Year awards in the process. The trick appears to have been rung once more. Sotomayor are creating their own unique musical universe, fuelled by the sounds of Latin America’s clubs and streets, with a level of songcraft and production know-how that only seems to keep on growing.
Orígenes will be released by tastemaker label Wonderwheel Recordings in February 2020.