Scene: Bersa Discos hits the bueno

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Here's an interview with new-cumbia whizzes Bersa Discos -- on the eve of their party Tormenta Tropical's first anniversary this Friday at the The Elbo Room -- as published in this week's Scene: The Guardian Guide to Nightlife and Glamour magazine, on stands inside the Guardian...

"The reception to our sound has been amazing here," says new-style cumbia pioneer DJ Oro11 — who, along with partner DJ Disco Shawn, heads the Bersa Discos label (www.myspace.com/bersadiscos) and puts on the packed Tormenta Tropical monthlies at Elbo Room. "A place like the Bay Area is a perfect spot for new cumbia sounds to take hold. People here are always looking for new music, plus there's obviously a huge Latino population. A lot of younger Latinos who grew up hearing cumbia also listened to hip-hop and electronic music. They're really into what we're doing."

Cumbia, the irresistible traditional accordion-driven dance music of Latin America (originally from Colombia), has undergone a mutation of sorts, opening up to include electronic augmentation, hip-hop beats, and even punk styles. The new iteration has taken hold in clubs like the cutting-edge Zizek, in Buenos Aires, where Oro11 was living and performing when Disco Shawn sought him out in 2006 for a taste of the electro-cumbia sound. The two returned to San Francisco, their home base, to form the Bersa Discos label as a kind of sonic nexus. "DJs and producers were selling burned CDs and swapping MP3s, but nothing was very organized at the time," says Disco Shawn. "We just wanted to get some of these amazing tracks pressed up on vinyl and circulated a little more officially."

Bersa Discos is now on its fourth release, titled, appropriately, Bersa #4 and featuring Afro-Colombian-tinged tracks by Brooklyn's Uproot Andy and deeper sounds from the Netherlands' Sonido del Principe. And the Tormenta Tropical party has seen legends like DJ/Rupture, South Rakkas Crew, Buraka Som Sistema, Toy Selectah, and even the Zizek folks burn up the stage. Shawn says to keep a 2k9 ear out for DJ Panik's Texan "crunk cumbia." Meanwhile, UK "bashment" crew the Heatwave hop in Dec. 19 to enliven the party's first anniversary.

SFBG What originally attracted you to the new cumbia style?

ORO11 I first got into cumbia in 2001 while I was in Buenos Aires -- the same time that the Argentine economy was collapsing. Kids were still heading to the clubs all night, but as a whole the music was pretty unimpressive. Lots of '80s, trance, Ramones, and Rolling Stones — seriously, whole subcultures based on those last two. But one day I caught a Sunday TV variety show called Pasion Tropical that had the group Pibes Chorros on. Those dudes were repping heavy keyboard-guitars, long hair, and skull tees. They had a different sound that grabbed me, meaner than most cumbia I had heard. So I started tracking down their mixes, chopping up their samples, and making cumbia remixes with dancehall and hip-hop thrown in. Guys like Marcelo Fabian, Villa Diamante, Sonido Martines, and Daleduro were messing with cumbia too. So we started linking up, throwing parties together. Shawn and I met not too long after and started throwing the idea of Bersa Discos around.

SFBG What are some of your most memorable Tormenta Tropical experiences?

DISCO SHAWN It's all been amazing. But the best thing has been getting to play with artists whose music I was already a fan of. The crowd has also been great. It's totally mixed — Latino cumbia diehards, hipsters, dancehall heads, etc. Even better, people are really into dancing. Most of the time we're playing songs that people don't know — most of the songs are in Spanish, so a good portion of the crowd may not even understand the language — yet everyone goes crazy on the dance floor. It's really nice because we're not slaves to playing any sort of "hits."

SFBG Drop a new cumbia top five on us.

ORO11 How about these?

Petrona Martinez, "La Vida Vale la Pena (Uproot Andy Remix)"
Los Rakas, "Esa Mulata"
El Guincho, "Kalise (Frikstailers Remix)"
DJ Panik, "Gettin' Some Head"
BananaClipz featuring MC TIDAL, "Bluetooth Riddim"

TORMENTA TROPICAL ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY PARTY
With the Heatwave and Paul Devro
Fri/19, 10 p.m., $10
Elbo Room
647 Valencia, SF
(415) 552-7788
www.elbo.com

ORO11 I first got into cumbia in 2001 while I was in Buenos Aires -- the same time that the Argentine economy was collapsing. Kids were still heading to the clubs all night, but as a whole the music was pretty unimpressive. Lots of '80s, trance, Ramones, and Rolling Stones — seriously, whole subcultures based on those last two. But one day I caught a Sunday TV variety show called Pasion Tropical that had the group Pibes Chorros on. Those dudes were repping heavy keyboard-guitars, long hair, and skull tees. They had a different sound that grabbed me, meaner than most cumbia I had heard. So I started tracking down their mixes, chopping up their samples, and making cumbia remixes with dancehall and hip-hop thrown in. Guys like Marcelo Fabian, Villa Diamante, Sonido Martines, and Daleduro were messing with cumbia too. So we started linking up, throwing parties together. Shawn and I met not too long after and started throwing the idea of Bersa Discos around.

SFBG What are some of your most memorable Tormenta Tropical experiences?

DISCO SHAWN It's all been amazing. But the best thing has been getting to play with artists whose music I was already a fan of. The crowd has also been great. It's totally mixed — Latino cumbia diehards, hipsters, dancehall heads, etc. Even better, people are really into dancing. Most of the time we're playing songs that people don't know — most of the songs are in Spanish, so a good portion of the crowd may not even understand the language — yet everyone goes crazy on the dance floor. It's really nice because we're not slaves to playing any sort of "hits."

SFBG Drop a new cumbia top five on us.

ORO11 How about these?

Petrona Martinez, "La Vida Vale la Pena (Uproot Andy Remix)"

Los Rakas, "Esa Mulata"

El Guincho, "Kalise (Frikstailers Remix)"

DJ Panik, "Gettin' Some Head"

BananaClipz featuring MC TIDAL, "Bluetooth Riddim"

TORMENTA TROPICAL ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY PARTY

With the Heatwave and Paul Devro

Fri/19, 10 p.m., $10

Elbo Room

647 Valencia, SF

(415) 552-7788

www.elbo.com

Comments

Hey there Steve -- not sure where it says above that the music originated in Argentina? Just that it's a traditional music there -- perhaps I should have broadened that phrase to say "Latin America" ...

Posted by MarkeB on Dec. 21, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

This article suggests that Cumbia is originally from Argentina. They may listen to it there nowadays, but it did NOT originate there. Old Colombians everywhere would be quite disappointed about this mischaracterization.

Posted by Steve on Dec. 21, 2008 @ 2:59 am

True enough Marke. I was just thinking that in terms of being "traditional," it's much more traditional to Colombia (where it emerged from the music of African slaves on the Caribbean Coast in the Colonial era) than Argentina (who picked it up in the 1950s from what I understand). I don't mean to spit hairs here too finely though, the coverage is appreciated either way.

Posted by Steve on Dec. 21, 2008 @ 3:27 pm

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