A Celebration of Nature: The Looking Glass in Conversation with Ghetto Kumbé

By Janna Aldajari // Photo: press photo

The Looking Glass met Ghetto Kumbé at Roskilde Festival 2019. We spoke to them  about playing at the festival, about their musical influences and their relationship to nature. Consisting of Edgardo Garcés ( El Guajiro), Juan Carlos Puello ( El Chongo) and Andrés Mercado, the band make a unique blend of traditional West African rhythms such as the Lambam, Soli, Sofa, Kassa, Makru, and Afro-Colombian rhythms such as Cumbia, Bullerengue, Son Palenquero, Chande, and the Chalupa de Rio. Combining the Colombian alegre drum, African djembe and dundun with electronic beats and bass, they create an explosive sound, that hypnotized the crowd at the Gloria Stage on Wednesday evening. 


How was the show you just played? 

Andrés: “There are some concerts where you have a really good connection with the crowd. The audience tonight was incredible from start to end. I felt like I was hallucinating, seeing everyone with so much energy. It was one hour of jumping, dancing and singing  – it was incredible.”

Edgardo: “It was very beautiful to be received like this. It was our first impression of the Danish people as it was our first time here. The energy was great.”

Juan Carlos: “How the audience shared the dance, and the sound of their hand claps, mark us with joy and lift us a lot.”


Was the experience of the crowd the same as in Colombia? 

Juan Carlos: “The impression that we have when we play in Europe is that people are experiencing something new, which makes their reaction different.”

Edgardo: “We love playing in Colombia, but at times it has its disadvantages. There’s an immense diversity of music, and there are a lot of groups doing a lot of good things. Bogotá is quite small for all the bands existing, and we don’t have so many people to share our music with.”


What’s the story behind the band’s name? 

Edgardo: “We have a message for the rest of the world. We are part of the jungle – Chongo is the tiger, Andres the panther, and I am the Jaguar, from Sierra Nevada, South America. We have a mission to tell the people where we come from, who we are, and why you have to look after what we have in Colombia. The water, the animals, the plants, the mountains, the sea, the rivers. Not all of us have this consciousness to look after our environment, and this is why it’s our mission to remind people through the music, the parties, the dance and the Kumbé.”

Juan Carlos: “Everyone is welcome to the Kumbé, the ritual of the drums.”


What is the message behind your music? 

Edgardo:  “We want to tell people about where we come from, who we are.”

Andrés: We are from the Caribbean, the surroundings of the jungle, the surroundings of nature, and this takes its form in our songs. “Makru” is a song that invites to dancing to all the traditional rhythms from Africa, arriving to Colombia. An invitation to get to know all these rhythms, and a way of showing where the music comes from. “Ware Warrior” is in defence of many things that are happening right now in our country. A lot of children are dying from lack of nutrition, ignored by the government. It is a country that is very exploited, so for me this song is like a cry, a little scream to the rest of the world for a revolution to happen in Columbia. The idea is to send a message that is more social, with more consciousness. That is our idea. “


Can you tell us about your influences and your relationship with electronic music? 

Edgardo: “We are inspired and influenced by Colombian music. We have always reflected on how to bring this to the world, to the parties, to the festivals. And we spend a lot of time, Chongo and I, working on the fusion of this, the fusion of electronic and Colombian music. So our influences are also electronic, everything from House, Techno, Afro House to Kuduro and all the electronic music that we have listened to and been influenced by.”

Juan Carlos: “Electronic music and tribal music have arrived at a meeting point for us. We feel they have a similar structure, the repetition you see in African music, the music of the drums. It lifts you to a trance, so we feel this dynamic, the themes, the heat, the growth that tribal music has, and that electronic music has too. We started by finding these similarities and investigating them.”


Is Kumbé similar to Cumbia or can you tell us more about it? 

Edgardo: “This is where the word Cumbia comes from, but the word Kumbé means a celebration, a party.”

Andrés: “It’s a celebration of the fields, a celebration of nature, of the sowing of seeds.” 

Edgardo: “Kumbé – the ritual of drums – is an invitation for everyone to join the party. A celebration, where each person can be free. Many people are repressed and do not have this freedom, but we invite people to be free, to dance.”