Band brings Latino music to Canada

Rumba Bomba! Latino band anything but typical
By Roger Levesque, Canwest News Service, June 20, 2009

They may be known as one of Canada's top Latin-jazz bands, but Alberta's Bomba! is really building on their international musical connections.

As the group gets ready to mark a decade together, their new fourth album, Cuatro Caminos (Four Paths), reflects the multiple elements that make up Bomba's rich sound, and an impressive new level of musical maturity.

"We've done a lot of different things over 10 years," notes co-founder and percussionist Mario Allende, "and it's taken a little longer this time to bring all these paths together. It happened in a very natural organic way."

It's been four years since the last Bomba! album, but "four paths" is a reference to the ethnic traditions that come together in the band: Allende's family is from Chile; bassist Rubim de Toledo is of Brazilian heritage. All three founding members, including pianist Chris Andrew, grew up in Canada, which exerts its own subtle influence (Andrew is still based in Edmonton where the group began; the others live in Calgary now).

Finally there's the balance of three Cuban-Canadians in the group - percussionist Raul Gomez Tabera, lead singer and guitarist Luis Emilio Rios and violinist Aldo Aguirre. Afro-Cuban rhythms remain a key musical ingredient, though the new CD also features sambas and the pre-samba choro tradition from Brazil, along with Peruvian or Andes elements.

"The band is always a surprise to me," adds Allende. "We're always asking ourselves if we can reach new goals and when we reach them, it's with a 'yes', but a surprising 'yes' that we sound that good. And there's always a deeper place we try to get to, beyond countries or styles, that unifies it all."

Cuatro Caminos sports some special guests on a few tracks too: five members of Cuba's Los Munequitos de Matanzas and three other Cuban players they know, plus two members of the famous Chilean band Inti-Illimani.

Those guest spots came about when the other bands were visiting Alberta over the past few years. The album was recorded in both Edmonton and Calgary.

The new album also comes with a beautiful, poetic introduction from Jorge Coulon, the founder of Inti-Illimani, in which he ponders "what makes a sultry Caribbean rhythm flourish on the Canadian steppe?"

In a sense, Bomba! has been answering that query since the beginning, often literally to people who are surprised to find out that such a happening Latin band comes from Alberta.

Perhaps the answer matters less and less, especially with the new ring of sophistication you hear on Cuatro Caminos. While some tracks show they can still be a sizzling, in-your-face dance band, others lean toward sheer beauty and something gentler in the polyrhythmic chemistry.

"We've never wanted to be the typical Latin sound of the day,'' says Allende. ``When you have the option to play some of Chris's songs for example, it's a gift. It's our chance to present music in our way but with the beauty and subtlety of his melodies."

Along with the member's occasional visits to various parts of Latin America, Bomba! has also managed to tour Europe, to play Korea and to kick off the Havana Jazz Festival. With the release of Cuatro Caminos, they are preparing to embark on their next cross-country tour, nine dates including appearances at the jazz festivals in Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

They already have a devoted fan base in Alberta and a respectable profile in musical communities across Canada, but Cuatro Caminos should really help underline the remarkable fusion of artistry and invention that makes Bomba! so much more than a mere party band.

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