Rumbo a Tierra - Systema Solar
2016 was rough on classic rock fans as our musical heros seemed to be singled out and cruelly picked off one by one. As distressing as it is to lose creators of influence and distinction it more accurately drives home the point that time marches on and no one is immortal. There were big losses in global music too but the year was also a parade of stellar releases on a monthly basis, starting in the early days of last year with the introduction of The Vibes by Empresarios. This bass-heavy, Miami-savvy, Puerto Rican groove machine had all the right moves. Surprisingly, 2017 kicks off similarly with Rumbo A Tierra (Toward The Earth) from Colombia's Systema Solar, another knockout disc to start the year, and undoubtedly will be remembered in December as one of 2017's best. The 'Systema' is a nod to to the 'pikos', the large mobile sound systems that have grown out of Colombia's burgeoning contemporary and underground scene. The band was created in 2006 around a collective of rappers, techno DJs and percussionists. But, this isn't sterile electronica. The group digs deep into the sunny Afro-Colombian roots of cumbia, champeta and bellarengue. Joyful positivity rings true even if you don't speak Spanish. The songs on Rumbo A Tierra point to freedom from injustice and intolerance in exuberant reedy voices and close harmonies. Rumbera, the album's first single celebrates women of all sizes and shapes. Que Paso's electronic squeaks and squawks almost harkens back to Electric Avenue but the theme of 'What Happened' goes much deeper, exposing colonialist plundering of Africa and South America. Aguazero (Water Zero) a song about drought deconstructs the melody, opening up to the Systema's samples and turn-tableism, Champe Tabluo hits with pure disco funk. And, one of my very favorites launches the package; Tumbamuralles or Breaking Down Walls takes aim with almost a berimbau- inspired cumbia, answer and call gang vocals and dance-floor ready bass. A message to our leaders perhaps? Walls can't contain music without borders.