Inspired by Gabriel García Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, Crystal Fighters are releasing today a DJ mix titled 100 Songs of Solitude. And quite literally. From classic cumbia and salsa songs to emerging names like Lido Pimienta or Systema Solar, as well as other renowned musicians like El Guincho, Bomba Estéreo and Totó la Momposina, the mixtape is a homage to Colombia, its people and their character and humour. In today’s interview, we speak with Sebastian, the band’s frontman, who’s been stuck in the Latin American country since February due to the Covid-19 crisis (although he couldn’t be happier about it!) about his experience there, García Márquez’s literature, cultural appreciation, and the band’s forthcoming album.
Since your super celebrated earliest albums like Star of Love (2011) and Cave Rave (2013) to your latest release, how would you say you’ve evolved as a band during these past years
Thank you! Yes, what a journey it’s been… So blessed to be living free and healthy on this wonderful but for so many, so treacherous spaceship called Earth. Giving thanks and gratitude always for this path with the music and always evolving, always changing, as is the true nature of all things.
As a band, we have gone through many iterations, changes of location and different methods of making our albums, different ways of releasing music, trying to find what suits us at any given moment in time. Some work well, some less so, and from both you learn a lot. We are happy now trying to be writing and recording stuff that we ourselves are truly in love with, trying not to think at all about where the songs might end up.
Your latest release, 100 Songs of Solitude, comes in the form of a DJ mix instead of an album. Why did you decide to go for this format?
We used to make mixtapes all the time and for whatever reason, we stopped doing them for a minute, so this is just a continuation of that ethos. We don’t really consider it a release as such, more like just something showing our influences and what I’ve been hearing out here in Colombia. Something for people to enjoy, hopefully discover some new songs and artists, and shake a tail too.
As you spent the lockdown in Colombia, you were inspired by one of the country’s most renowned authors, Gabriel García Márquez, and his book 100 Years of Solitude. But when did you first know about the book? Had you read it before travelling to Colombia?
I read the book a long time ago while still at school, but its essence has stuck with me over the years and could well have been one of the reasons why I chose to come to Colombia. We chose to title our DJ mix 100 Songs of Solitude in homage to the book and its scope. Márquez was also obsessed with pandemics – we realize from both 100 Years of Solitude and Love In A Time of Cholera –, and this pandemic we are in is condemning so many to an enforced, albeit digitally-enhanced solitude, so we thought fitting to tweak his title for this mix.
Once you were in Colombia, how did García Márquez’s work inspire your music? In what ways can we notice the author’s literature in your music and collaboration choices?
Being here and witnessing the incredible joy of this place while at the same time hearing about the deep troubles of the country’s past and present was extremely eye-opening. It’s quite amazing to see how these two things can coexist, and the character, strength and sense of humour this bestows on the people –who are, in my experience, some of the kindest, funniest and most real people I’ve met.
Similarly, in the music we felt like there was so much incredible beauty yet at the same time, so much tragedy within it. I suppose this dichotomy is something Márquez’s book encapsulates so masterfully in his depiction of the arc of the brilliant rise and tragic fall of the Buendía family. He spans an incredible amount of time whilst simultaneously painting so many magic details and characters that make this life so special. As such, we thought it would work well as a title for this mix, which is trying to be pretty epic in scope but with each song containing magic and beauty all of its own.
The mix contains 100 songs, just like the years in García Márquez’s book. It ranges from classical cumbia bands like Rosendo y su Banda to legends like Totó la Momposina and Buena Vista Social Club, to established names like Bomba Estéreo and El Guincho, and emerging artists like Lido Pimienta, Ghetto Kumbé and Systema Solar. Could you tell us more about the selection process? Were you familiar with many of them, or did you discover most of them while staying in Colombia?
We were definitely familiar with some of the artists like Bomba Estéreo, who we’ve played festivals with and had a song out with a couple of years ago, and a bunch of the classic artists from the cumbia and salsa background. I was kind of obsessed with cumbia before coming here and it’s probably the main reason I wanted to come here – to experience that music and energy first-hand.
I did discover a lot of the artists though out here through hanging out with Lido Pimienta and Bomba Estéreo while they were recording Bomba’s forthcoming album; or while at Barranquilla carnival before the lockdown began, where I first saw Ghetto Kumbé and Systema Solar live, who both blew me away; or through just listening to and Shazaming the radio and hearing and talking to DJs like Uproot Andy and Busy Twist, who have been coming to Colombia and have picked up some amazing tunes along the way.
You explain that you were invited by Li Saumet, frontwoman of Bomba Estéreo, to stay on the property where they were finishing up the recording of their forthcoming album. Once you were there, you met other artists like Lido Pimienta and Simón Meija. Could you recall how was that experience like? Was it a sort of starting point for your new DJ mix?
It was an amazing time, and I am so grateful to have been around while this recording was happening – watching the process of one of my favourite bands at work, learning so much and being so inspired by the way they were being creative. Really, it was like a dream… So many great musicians all brought together by Li and Simón to this incredible beach to record, and the work ethic from everyone was truly awe-inspiring, the energy totally electric and the music that came out of it is another level. I can’t wait for the world to hear it.
As a band, you’ve always been influenced by music genres and traditions around the world, but this mix feels more embedded in a culture that is not your own than previous releases. You’ve worked closely with local artists, so I don’t think there’s much of a problem, but still, how do you navigate the thin line between cultural appreciation and appropriation?
From our point of view, we totally see this as cultural appreciation. There is so much amazing music we have discovered out here that we want more people to know about to support the artists and the scene that is going on over here. This mixtape was our way to try to do that.
When I visited Colombia, I remember how music, especially cumbia, was sounding everywhere: on the bus, in shops, restaurants, on the streets… It’s a very lively, joyous country, and music plays a very important role in that. How do you feel this musical surrounding has affected you personally and professionally? And what influence has this had on 100 Songs of Solitude?
Definitely being here for over six months now has opened my eyes to a different way of living, a different way of making music, a different appreciation for life. I have lived in tropical countries before but never where I got to experience such culture, character and music. The amazing stuff I’ve been hearing out and about in all sorts of places here in Colombia is definitely front and centre pin this mix.
I remember Shazaming in some crazy raves, cab rides, street parties, restaurants with huge Picotera sound systems… Just everywhere. Music is such a big part of the culture here, and we are pumped to bring to you some of what we’ve learnt about in this mix
After spending several months in Colombia, what have you enjoyed the most of your stay? Are you excited to travel to other Latin American countries?
The people, the tropical fruits, the beach, the music, the mountains, the dancing, the conversation, the writing and the inspiration that the nature here has given me… I am super thankful for all these things. Very excited to visit more Latin American countries although I know Colombia will forever be in my heart.
Now that lockdown is more or less over, where are you currently? Are you still in Colombia?
Yes, I am still here and lockdown is very much not over, so we are still ‘encerrados,’ which is actually very pleasant as I am on a beach writing music and there are finally enough hours in the day.
What are your plans for the upcoming months despite the uncertainty of the future?
Just to keep healthy and fit, and to keep creating music that I like and keep pushing the limits of my creativity. We hope to have a new album out by the end of the year, so mainly working on that while attempting to enjoy every moment, which is, after all, the purpose of life.