NorteñoBlog has held off talking about Raymix, the nombre de cumbia of 27-year-old producer-singer Edmundo Gómez Moreno, in the hope that I would start liking his music. No such luck, but the electrocumiadero’s continuing popularity — “Dónde Estarás” is #8 on Mexican radio, and his two-year-old breakthrough hit “Oye Mujer” is #1 on U.S. Regional Mexican Airplay — has forced my hand. Maybe I need to hear his repetitive, “atmospheric” synth beats echoing around an airplane hangar or something.
Elias Leight’s fine new Rolling Stone feature (!!) helps explain the mystery. Key takeaways:
1. “Edmundo Gómez Moreno spent 11 months as a project manager and systems engineer helping NASA build nano-satellites in Mexico.” This amounts to one of the coolest “before they were rock stars” jobs ever, as Raymix was apparently living his best life in a real world version of Big Hero 6. Now I’m wondering if his name is a play on “Baymax.”
2. “‘I would define cumbia, whether people like it or not, as the most popular Latin genre all over the Americas and perhaps the world,’ says Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste, a professor at Georgia State University who co-edited and contributed to the essay collection Cumbia! Scenes of a Migrant Latin American Music Genre.” (The Blog is exploring interlibrary loan possibilities.) Cumbia gets plenty of play on regional Mexican radio, often in mixes or accompanying DJ patter, but its electrified version — as played by Raymix, 3Ball MTY, the Kumbia Kings, etc. — has always seemed like an outlier in the mostly acoustic, polka-based format. (Los Ángeles Azules have horns, so their enduring presence makes more sense.) Sure, bandas and norteño groups have a vast repertoire of party cumbias; on banda albums, the Big Dumb Cumbia is as reassuring a presence as the Mama Song on rap albums. But bandas speed up the cumbia’s trademark “ch-ch-ch ch-ch-ch” guiro rhythm until it smooths into something resembling a polka. The slow electrocumbia, on first hearing, seems to have more in common with tropical rhythms like dembow. Why the overlapping audience for acoustic polkas and electrocumbias?
3. The answer, Leight finds, may be rooted in class distinctions.
A big part of the reason that mainstream Latin radio in America has resisted cumbia’s charms, according to Dr. L’Hoeste, is class bias. “It’s popular among the Mexican working class, and they popularized it in the States,” he says. “The present constituency of middle-class Latinos, they’re not too keen on cumbia.”
Luis Estrada, managing director of Aftercluv, Universal Music’s dance division – which has signed Raymix, along with another promising cumbia producer from Texas, El Dusty – also points to class-based prejudice against the genre. “You go to a Mexican wedding of any socioeconomic level, and they will end up playing cumbia,” he explains. “But maybe in the lowest levels, they will start playing cumbia right away. Maybe in the highest levels, they start playing cumbia at midnight.”
This sounds a lot like banda and norteño: working class music that sells like crazy and easily packs concert halls every weekend, but has trouble crossing over or gaining respect from more upwardly mobile/hipster listeners. Recall the founder of Club Fonograma admitting his love for Gerardo Ortiz’s “Dámaso” was at first a guilty pleasure, and saying, “The college-educated hipster kid isn’t supposed to like narco-corridos.” I’m guessing cumbia has a bit more cachet than corridos, thanks to clubby South American bands like Bomba Estéreo and the enduring legacy of Selena — but still, to an outsider like me, this class distinction is fascinating. It sort of recalls how… certain elements in the U.S. have dismissed rap, country, and nu-metal as musics unworthy of sullying their otherwise sophisticated and eclectic tastes. Such elements are really fucking annoying.
4. Another Leight parallel with norteño (really, you should read the whole thing): “At a time when ‘urban’ sounds [like reggaeton and bachata] are dominant, cumbia is still seen as a folkloric genre.” Likewise, corrido singers might be chill suburban dads, Luis Coronel might hail from Tucson, bandas might shoot their videos in downtown Chicago; but untrained ears persist in hearing these styles as “folkloric.” Partly this is the bigoted innocence of listener bias, and partly it’s because the music is proudly rooted in century-old rhythms and instrumentation. Even so, to their audiences, these styles are (also?) absolutely modern.
With that in mind, NorteñoBlog directs you to the other elctrocumbiadero Leight mentions: El Dusty, a Corpus Christi beardo whose new album Cumbia City (UMG) is much more banging and busy than Raymix’s monochrome offerings. Songs like “Loquita Loco,” ft. the Master Blaster Sound System, transform cumbia’s “ch-ch-ch” rhythms and stiff horn basslines into something loose and floppy, not far from Manu Chao’s global ragamuffin aesthetic. (Speaking of cumbia as a worldwide phenomenon…) Dozens of percussion and vocal timbres rat-a-tat off one another, creating pieces that work as unified bangers and as detailed headphone listening. Like Samuel R. Delany’s city of Bellona or Keith Moon’s drumming, El Dusty’s sound world seems to morph from beat to beat, in ways that usually amp up the radness. VALE LA PENA and Pick to Click and all that.