Album Review: Ghetto Kumbé – Ghetto Kumbé [ZZK Records; July 2020]

ghetto kumbe album cover

Ghetto Kumbé is an example of an act that dares to lead with striking visuals, and doesn’t disappoint with striking music to match. Formed in Colombia by three seasoned performers – singer El Guajiro and percussionists Chongo and Doctor Keyta – they have cultivated an enticing Afrofuturistic sound and image over the past six years, culminating in the release of their self-titled debut album (through ZZK Records on 31st July 2020).  

Musically, Ghetto Kumbé is a dance music album that wears the African and Caribbean rhythmic roots of Colombian music firmly on its sleeve, with Afro-house, techno and electronic beats thrown into the mix to transport the past into the future. The project was co-produced by London collective, The Busy Twist of the UK global beats & bass scene, giving the group even broader international appeal. 

Thematically, the album touches upon the social unrest that’s plagued Colombia in recent years. Ghetto Kumbé uses the power of dance music to both address these issues and mobilise a community to bridge these divisions. The first proper track, ‘Sola’, with its colourful marimba flourishes, welcomes you into the fold before ‘Vamo a Dale Duro’ places a spotlight on political corruption and wealth inequality, as the foreboding flute signals that a change must come. 

Guest features contribute to the album’s sonical diversity, with serene vocals from French artist Mélanie Bourire (singer of Réunionese band Saodaj’) on ‘Djabe’ (meaning ‘freedom’ in the West African language, Akan), whilst Palenque-based hip-hop group Kombilesa Mi delivers punchy attitude for the album’s most infectious floor-filler, ‘Lengua Ri Suto’.  

‘Cara a Cara’ is another very vibrant find, its guitar melody lines, raucous Latin percussion and stomping beats collapsing on top of each other to form a cohesive mesh. Even tracks like ‘Pila Pila’, where melody takes a backseat, still manage to elevate spirits by tapping into ancestral chanting that crescendos into a satisfying climax. 

When challenging injustice it’s easy to be so consumed with frustration that it clouds the mind of what a better world should look like. ‘Tambo’ is an important song that articulates this very well, purging any angst one might feel as the band invites us to appreciate the heartwarming aspects of life that can’t be bought.  

Purists often malign fusion music for diluting cultural origins in favour of commercial success. Ghetto Kumbé can let these critics rest assured, staying true to the black origins of music as they create a soundtrack to a disillusioned generation that is both willing to stay engaged and view the dancefloor as their refuge.

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