The Los Pirañas’ geometric depth; noise against monotony of the system
di Giovanni Panetta
Interview with and about Los Pirañas (Eblis Alvarez, Pedro Ojeda and Mario Galeano Toro) and an in-depth analysis about the side-projects Meridian Brothers and Romperayo.
Los Piranas

Los Pirañas, from left to right: Mario Galeano Toro, Pedro Ojeda and Eblis Alvarez.

Every country around the world has many surprise in the realtive music context, as many curious ones have discovered in the course of this last years; a sonic spirit that has kept itself through the time and ended up to increase until this era in a massively weird form, with renewed technologies and artistic codes. Year by year, music becomes conceptual even more and not only what concerns the avantgarde context, but the popular one too, spreading over each local border without losing its own identity. For example, the trio we interviewed has an interesting concept of noise music, who manipulate new modern technics istead being enslaved by the same digital culture, on the opposite side in relation to the trivial internet world. Los Pirañas, formed by Eblis Alvarez (guitar, laptop), Pedro Ojeda (drums) and Mario Galeano Toro (bass), published their third album Historia Natural in 2019 for the worldwide German-Slovenian label Glitterbeat, which is characterized by local and historical music, that is cumbia, but also African sounds, in particular afrobeat, whereas everything is immersed in a dilated, unfamiliar geometries, thanks to the distorions by the Alvarez laptop.

Los Pirañas published four full-lenght records: three original albums (Toma Tu Jabòn Kapax, La Diversión Que Hacía Falta En Mi País and Historia Natural) and a record of re-works (Infame Golpazo En El Keronxen). Anyway the band is associated to other side-projects which bring out the ethnic element again in different shapes.

The Eblis’ group Meridian Brothers, born in 1998 evolving from a solo project to a band with the Maria Valencia (saxophone, clarinet, percussion and synth), Damian Ponce (percussions), Cesar Quevedo (bass) and Alejandro Forero (electronics and synth) contributes, moves in dancefloor territory, in a tropical, more acoustic but even distorted way than Los Pirañas. There’s more consonance in the composition but in an oblique, interesting way. A listening not only for the dancing, but the contemplation of that sound. Cumbia Singlo XXI, an album in 2020, for Okra and the Genevan label Bongo Joe Records, offers an elastic idea of elettronics, playing with many analog sonorities, and fervid manipulation as a musical demiurge with a wide range of choice on instruments. Instead, the album in 2021 entitled Pas En La Tierra (Bongo Joe Records) is in the name of a acoustic songwriting, a more relaxed work. The last one, Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento (Ansonia Records, 2022) oblique patterns have a main role, whereas the rhythm flows constantly with little, more organic variations but maintaining integer its bearing structure, and everything is permeated by an humorish creativity.

Instead Romperayo is a quartet where Pedro is the drummer, main member and principal author in collaboration with Juan Manuel Toro (sampler, synth), Nicolas Eckardt (bass) and Ivan Medellin (accordion). The self-titled album (Discrepant, 2015, which Eblis collaborated in) has an elevated degree of freedom, a fervid, intensely diversified music. His progressive attitude, with a broadly punk approach, esplicates in its beginning with Alegria Por Un Zumo de Naranja, where an harlequinesque lisergicity in cumbian sense is the main ingredient. An interesting inclination to atonal music appears in Icoro Palenquero and in its acid synth lines, which tap into electronic jazz of ’70 to certain points, mixing itself with elements with Columbian tradition. El Lamento de la Burra has obliquely rap moments, and Tradición Destructiva has massive electronic elements in its course. In an anachronistic way, 17 Tazas de Cafe Por la Mañana has classical-jazz sonorities with the necessary and actual experimentalism, with cumbia music as dominant leitmotiv. Anibal, Vúelvelo A Meter is plastic in its experimetalism which changes its sonic register many different times like a naïf fugue. Instead, Diadema para Catalina has a more austere and rarefied (in its dynamism) electronics in a little less cumbian sense. Diversification and Western elements (like jazz sonorities) offer shades of a fervid, multifaced digital sound.

Continuing to talk about Romperayo, Que Jue? album (SOUK, 2019) is in the vein of a psychedelic cumbia, which is a little more traditional and lyrical than Los Pirañas sound. This poetry is more rarefied and less melodic in a certain way; Indeed, we could say melodic lines can be seen as means and not as aims, and they take shape in a very experimental form than the self-titled album of 2015 (that is very experimental too, but we could say in a more general sense). Indeed, Que Jue? is profound in its austere sonorities, in an urban and cosmopolitan way. In the first track, the titletrack, rhythmic patterns are periodic and melodism is modernly psychedelic. There’s the same speech with Ay Que Pulguita, but in a more danceable way, infact the record has a strong dancefloor component, where cumbia-music component is more conceptual and essential in its expression. The structure in 1938 is periodic but abstract in its platonic form with less baroquism (which characterizes your musical past) and more pop-ish “art brut” creativity, the main ingredient of this work too. A very austere sound associated with an essential and electronic attitude.

The last album by Romperayo, Así No Se Puede Muchaches (SOUK, 2022), flows in the sign of a progressive craftmanship, whereas the local and political character is predominant. Que Tumba has a constant, cumbian beat, instead Sangre en la uña has dub-ish sonorities and more variability with a right balance with its musical spine. In Jojojo, library music/soundtrack sounds don’t miss, which reproduce cosmic patterns in a more synthetic way. Each one of these elements reflects the idea of the album, whereas the abstractism associated with the recurrent electronic periodicity, created by the sampler and loop instrumentations, is the prevalent aspect in the record.

Los Piranas have a more “pure” direction in that sense, without converging in any traditionalism in a proper sense anytime, with a broadly and oblique punk craftmanship. The following part is an interview to the Bogotan musicians, which will be a path through their music and the associated interpretations.

Let’s begin to talk about your most organic and meditated work, that is Historia Natural, of 2019. The record is characterized by a lysergic sound, in a more strucured harmony and complex baroque rhythmic patterns. Effected guitar by a laptop offers noisy and futuristic expression through dissonances with the associated tropical poetry, but in a sense more periodic and ordered then the past albums. Infact, the noise aspect is a detail in this soundscape, and it is architected with neatly contrasted stains. It is set up with a ironic mapulation of South-American estetics associated to the Western attitude. But why this organic element, and how was it developed from its beginning?

Eblis Alvarez: “We inhabit as artists, a hybrid position in Colombia. When seen from outside, more particularly, seen through the lens of commercial classification of genres such as “world music” or “Latin”, and all the stereotypes that emerge from that, we can be understood as “ironic” or as “artificial”, when manipulating traditional music with noise. But if these tags are removed, in this hybrid view, the inner side remains as if we were just plain creators, exposed to whatever the so-called civilization has to offer in any of the aspects of human living, such as art, sound and culture.

“The noise and the organic feeling it’s just the result of being in the present and it has been developed accordingly (laptop, synthesizers, progressive and structured feeling in the music, etc), and the influence of modern culture, which is nowadays dictated more by the system of communications, trade and publicity instead of the tradition itself.

“In the bright side, we get to include in our music all kind of external elements, such as the electronics and the noise, attitude repeated by different generations in the peripheric non-western centered outline of human communities making art & music, but since the advent of the global system of electronic communications (beginning with the telegraph in the XIX century, established with TV, radio and telephone in the mid-XX century, and of course ending with the duplication of the entire world by the internet), the downside consists of the stream of external information formated by the system, instead of the people. This can inevitably get towards the no return point of total standardization, where all match all. It can be called as something extremely equal, therefore, sterile.”

In your second record, La Diversión Que Hacía Falta En Mi País, surrealistic non-Euclidean rhythmic patterns and futur-cumbian freak-edelic effects and guitar riffs, in a surf-esotic manner, are drawn as a new expression of dadaist landscapes. Melodic lines turns around realistic elements, which are upset in a new exagerrated music model. Moreover if an articulated geometry and several colors characterize that album, it is possible to hear an exotic consonance which make the listening more fluid and familiar; in a certain sense it seems there is a controversial relationship with your local culture. Can you talk about how was born the the double-faced, fervid poetry and what is the connection with your country, from an artistic point of view?

Eblis Alvarez: “Well, Los Pirañas is not an extremely calculated group, as it might be seen. The result of the music is the conjunction of three souls and spirits. When together, we might create something that can be interpreted as geometric music sometimes. Since we three interact freely with our own idiosyncrasy, the result is the combination of three unconscious, reacting with chunks of culture, gotten inadvertently or by will. I can also point out that we have been friends for nearly 30 years, the result of such as long time friendship, and the fact of being colleagues and accomplices in music research, has grounded a strong network of ordered signals, when making improv music.

“Talking about local culture, I can say that it’s not excluded from geometric symmetric patterns, more specific, binary mathematic patterns (western culture has standardized music in these numbers). Most of Latin-American traditional airs are derived from for instance Militar Bands inserted by the imperial powers. I dare to guess that the binary “geometry” can be in part inherited from that,  in combination with the African and indigenous elements can result in hybrids of symmetric and non-symmetric thinking. I can also point out that geometry and order are not something that belongs solely to the western tradition. Geometry was discovered by all human civilizations and worked out differently, so the symmetry is the result also of being humans.

“About Dadaism, well I guess everyone in the band knows the movement. That might be a casual association of our attitude towards the sound. We don’t really look that up too much.”

The abstractist disorder is the main character of Toma Tu Jabòn Kapax; it districates in a sonic territory of South America and Africa in an original and experimental way, in which is implented a naïf attitude, and rhythmic patterns and melodic lines describes Expressionistic elements, which overpass a realistic composing. How does happen this more abstract beginning of your music?

Pedro Ojeda: “As we told you before, all our songs are born from improvisations. Toma tu jabón was recorded in a live concert in a bar called Matik Matik that we like a lot. It’s that kind of venue that is open to any kind experimental music.

“Although for you the album could be related to abstract expressionism, we like to be on the sidelines of these concepts for the respond to a very rational logic and a product of the development of the arts very much from the western canons, .

“It is true that there is a naïf attitude towards the music. In that album we really wanted to distance ourselves from all kind of seriousness and from the heavy weigth of the “academy”.

“In addition the fact that it’s all instrumental music with no lyrics maybe give it that abstract element you mention.”

A step between the two oldest albums is the single Salvemos Nuestro Folclor/Carnavalito Infernal Y Cosas Chéveres; there is a more structured, melodic and organic sound that is different from the first record, and a more abstract and in the name of a tropical naiveté then the second full-leght release. How did this specific passage happen?

Pedro Ojeda: “Those two songs were part of the material that was recorded in Matik Matik, for some reason didn’t make in the álbum Toma Tu Jabòn Kapax. So when we were looking for material for that 7′ single we found these two songs.”

Let’s talk about your last release for Discrepant and Keronxen labels, that is titled Infame Kolpazo en Keronxen; it is a compilation of some of your old tracks from past albums, those are re-arranged for you band with a brass trio. Organicity increases with the presence of sonic native/African element in this record. A certain and surprising grandeur is dominant in this extra-Western soundscape, with a filtred classical creativity (in a exotic/art-brut way). But, what the course of this peculiar works? I’d like to know how was born the process of this more baroque creativity (in a broad sense).

Mario Galeano Toro: “Our latest record was produced under different circumstances than our previous ones, since all of our other albums where born out of improvisation sessions that happened in the studio while recording. So basically we improvised and after editing the tracks for the record we kind of “learn” them se we could play them live in concert. The album Infame Golpazo en Keroxen, was the result of an artistic residence in the island of Tenerife, Spain, and more precisely inside a huge ex storage tank of kerosene now converted into a cultural venue, where the KEROXENE festival takes place. We where commissioned to do a collaboration with Tenerife musicians so we decided to invite a brass trio compromised of Tuba, Trombone and Trumpet. We also decided instead of creating new material, we wanted to arrange pre-existing Pirañas material for this format so each one of us arranged 3 tracks. I guess that the grid of the score (the european way) give it that grandeur that you mention.”

Los Pirañas

Los Pirañas, from left to right: Mario Galeano Toro, Pedro Ojeda and Eblis Alvarez.

In Infame Kolpazo en Keronxen there is, in a certain sense, the influence of music soundtrack music genre. The music structures reproduce cinematographic movements and situations. A lysergic, psychedelic movie in the wild heart of Bogotà and the street culture of Columbia. In this sense what are the influences of music soundtrack or cinema in general? How much do you see this record as a potential soundtrack of an immaginary so-called cumbia-abstractist movie?

Mario Galeano Toro: “I would say that we don’t bring into our music specific references to movies in the sense of incidental or background music. I mean we are not thinking so much in images or landscapes, I would say that we go for a mood for the dance floor, for the freakout bailador.  However, we were in our teens influenced by the soundtrack of a particular movie called “Rodrigo D No Futuro”, which shows the punk and metal scene of Medellín Colombia during the 80s, one of the most extreme in the world. The song “Sin Reacción” from “La Diversión Que Hacía Falta en mi País”  is a cover from that soundtrack. “

In the previous part we tried to give an interpretation about Los Pirañas sound more directly with an interview, which was already completed a little bit months ago, almost before an year. I was uncertain because of many things (which depended exclusively by myself), but then I understood that it was an interesting testimony anyway, in particular about their poetry and other details, so I find a nice idea releasing this work. So I apology with the band for this time which passed by, and I believe in next collaboration if they will.

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