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‘Breaking down borders’

Colombian funk band Superfónicos is the main act for Santa Fe Bandstand’s first SWAN Park concert of the 2019 season. (Courtesy of Santa Fe Bandstand)

SANTA FE, N.M. — For those attending his band’s upcoming live show in Santa Fe, Nico Sanchez has a few suggestions.

The bassist and vocalist for Afro-Colombian and “Caribe Soul” group Superfónicos said it’s going to be lively, and the audience should be ready to dance.

“I’d say wear very loose-fitting clothes,” Sanchez said. “Because you’re going to be sweating, (you’re) going to be having a good time.”

The group from Austin will be performing its first concert in Santa Fe Saturday at SWAN Park. The evening kicks off the Santa Fe Bandstand’s Southside shows scheduled weekly in July.

Though Superfónicos started performing together more than three years ago, 2018 was its breakthrough. The band released its debut EP, and performed at the Austin City Limits festival and at South by Southwest, where it was named NPR’s Alt.Latino Discovery Artist.

Later this year, Sanchez said, the band plans to put together its first full-length album, which it hopes to record in Colombia.

A majority of the eight-man group has Colombian roots.

The parents of Sanchez and his brother Daniel, Superfónicos’ drummer, are from the capital city of Bogotá. Guitarist/vocalist and fellow founding member Erick Bohorquez also has family ties to Bogotá. Andres Villegas, the other guitarist, was born in Medellin.

According to Sanchez, a turning point for the group came in the summer of 2016 when Jaime Ospina joined the band after relocating to Austin from Colombia. He had been studying the gaita, an indigenous Colombian flute, and Afro-Colombian percussion beats for more than 20 years.

“It was really kind of a Godsend because we knew that we wanted to put together a group that focused on Afro-Colombian rhythms to differentiate ourselves from salsa and the same kind of stuff you’re kind of used to hearing,” said Sanchez. “There’s a whole different wealth of rhythms and songs and styles based in Colombia in general, but we were focusing on the Caribbean coast sounds.”

Superfónicos is rooted in cumbia, but Sanchez said that while audiences have likely heard popular strains of the Colombian folk genre – like the cumbia-conjunto hybrid music played with accordions – this Texas group is diving into the “most roots version” of it.

The style, he explained, was originally formed as a result of the African diaspora in Latin and South America. Several centuries ago, when the slave trade started bringing ships to the Caribbean coast of Colombia, the African people brought their own drums, which were then used in combination with the Colombian gaita. The singing is done in Spanish, representing the European influence.

“That’s kind of the style that we are representing, at least as a start-off point,” Sanchez said. “We kind of shoot off and hit the other branches, but that’s where our music is based, that gaita y tambor tradition.” Those other branches include influences from funk, Afrobeat and Ethiopian music.

Ospina plays the long, high-pitched flute for the band. Similar versions of the unique instrument exist across Latin American cultures, but this one is specific to their Colombian heritage.

“When you hear that sound, at least for me and my friends and my family, it shoots you directly back to Colombia,” Sanchez said.

Superfónicos’ six-song EP released last October is titled “Suelta,” which translates in English as “to let go” or to drop something. The band wanted to release a body of work that encouraged listeners to let go in the figurative sense, Sanchez said, particularly to societal pressures that push people to compare themselves to others.

A new single that dropped last month, “Cumbealo,” was meant to give off a similar vibe.

“The message behind it is the same kind of deal,” Sanchez explained. “We kind of get wrapped up in the stuff happening in the media right now based around nationalism and kind of lose sight of that we’re all really the same deep down,” Sanchez explained. “The color of your skin and where you come from is not important, the religion you practice shouldn’t determine who you get to hang around with and fraternize with. We’re all one family.

“It’s kind of about breaking down borders,” Sanchez went on to say, “both literally and metaphorically.”

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