La China Sonidera: 7 years of Cumbia

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A few days ago La China Sonidera, one of Oaxaca’s favorite and most enjoyed bands, celebrated its 7th anniversary. Seven years might sound easy but during this time they’ve worked hard to build a sound of many flavors, so powerful and rich that you can dance to it through the heat of the night without pause. To relive such a special moment, Que Pasa Oaxaca is sharing the interview we did with some of the band’s members, Georgina, Alfonso and Kleiber. The harmony of the group is way more than musical – you can hear it in their banter.  It’s no wonder they are still going strong and will continue to do so. Congratulations, and we wish you many more!

Georgina and Alfonso, you’re both from Mexico City.  Given that Oaxaca didn’t have a Cumbia tradition as strong as the one in Mexico City, why did you choose to start here?

G: I came here looking for something completely different. I came here for work, I was into restoration. I had also lived in Jalapa, Veracruz, and between that city and Oaxaca I noticed the latter was way more musical.  I was shocked, since Jalapa is the home to an important school of musical education and the Symphony Orchestra. Jazz musicians are very popular there as well but they discriminate against cumbia, they even call it “Chunchaca”, as if it was something hideous… I came to Oaxaca after Jalapa and here I felt cumbia was well accepted. Also, Oaxacans are party animals. I have seen people outside Oaxaca being famous for their party spirit. They really are party people and I think this contributed a lot to the acceptance and popularity of this project.

P: In my case I think it was about following the romantic idea of coming to discover the culture, especially because in Mexico City, despite of its multiculturality, you live trapped in your own bubble. People there sometimes can’t see beyond their own noses.  I wanted to know more, particularly the spirit of Mexico that can be found everywhere, and in all forms here due to the diversity of the local cultures. I also ran away from the big city because I make art. I didn’t study art or music but I wanted to have a better understanding of painting, printmaking and to delve into all that. I had been making music since 1989 part time but I also wanted to do some art and that’s why I came. Two years after that, music called me again and that’s when I met Georgina and decided to found the group. It was also a matter of love in a way. It is not only me, a lot people who come to Oaxaca fall in love with the city almost immediately, with its culture, its villages. When I first came here I didn’t know the city at all. It’s kind of adventurous coming to live in a place where you don’t know anything or anyone. I was lucky enough to make friends that are almost like family now. We have our differences, but we have more things in common.  In this case, music brings us together.
 

You started playing at  Bar Central, which was a very important venue for local musicians, but it’s gone now. What do you think of Oaxaca’s current musical scene?

K: I remember in 2004/2005, when local groups started playing and creating their own music. Now people are looking for new creations. There are more local groups, they play rock, funk, cumbia, you name it. It is a fact, the scene is growing, but I think the problem is exactly what you point out, we are missing venues, like Txalaparta now, where they give you the chance to play and where people go to listen new and different music. I think the Oaxacan audience still has a lot to learn. People go to many of these bars where they play rock, but they actually only play covers. If you go there and show them your own rock music project they will still ask you for only the covers… In that sense I think we need  people to acknowledge new projects and bars who dare to introduce new proposals. In Bar Central, for example, people were used to seeing new groups all the time. You would see the poster and go and listen without even knowing what is was, but everyone was willing to listen. That was very interesting about Central. I think we need more places like that, where they take risks to show something new.

Your story starts with your gigs.  You started playing  covers, now you’ve transcended and create your own music, thus achieving what others have not. Do you enjoying playing live?

K: More than anything else. Playing live is what fuels this dream of mine of living as a musician. Every time I play live I feel recharged with tons of energy.

P: It is like the climax, isn’t it? Like in theater and performing arts where you rehearse over and over. Sometimes there is a lot of pain, joy, happiness during rehearsals, there are a lot of feelings going on, but in live performances all of that explodes –it is the moment when all the energy you have been working with is channeled into the audience and the audience gives it back to you.  It is like symbiosis, a continuous feedback. Yesterday we were rehearsing with our guest artists and I felt so absolutely complete. It was such a great feeling because we were playing with Emiliano and Paulina and it sounded amazing! You always enjoy playing no matter when, but sometimes during rehearsals you are focused on technical issues, whereas when you are playing live it’s like THAT’S IT, the molly just hit me! (laughs).

Talking about live performances, I’m sure you have lots of stories. What’s the craziest thing you have ever done during a concert?

G: Crazy? I don’t know… My dress has torn (laughs) The booty button popped hahahaha, but it happened at the beach so with the sweat and all that it didn’t really matter.

P: What has been the craziest thing? I played very drunk once. Yes, it was fun, but I don’t know, you’re not focused, you can’t play the right notes. I mean, in the moment you are overcome with euphoria but it can’t be compared to playing with your five senses.

K: Yes.. what has been the craziest thing? I think we are well behaved people, honestly…

P: What a bunch of nerds! We don’t have anything crazy in our repertoire… (laughs)

G: Well I know of someone who… He asphyxiated us all during a concert, if you know what I mean. I’m not going to tell who it was, but the whole place passed out… (laughs)

Now that you have mentioned some memories, what moments are you most proud of?

G: There have been some memorable performances for us, where the public has completely surrendered to us. It was in Belgium and during Mazunte’s Jazz Festival.

P: Oh yes, Mazunte was incredible. We’ve also really enjoyed recording our albums, and also the first time we heard a song recorded by us. Do you guys remember? It was like “do we sound like this?” It was amazing.

K:  A few minutes ago, as we were doing the soundcheck, the engineer recorded the mix and when we listened to it it was like wooow! That is very rewarding – listening from the ‘outside’ and confirming it does sound amazing!

P: Like saying “hey, I do play well!” hahahahha. I think it is like with any relationship, there are a lot of emotions going on. We are 6 or 7 people and each one has their own stories and you get involved with them. We have so many memorable moments. I would say recording the albums were special times, also going to Europe, when CONACULTA  approved our proposal and told us “You’re leaving tomorrow”. Winning a grant for producing our albums was also memorable.  Today, our anniversary, is a very special moment for us. We have a big list of exciting moments.

What are your favorite La China Sonidera songs?

G: I really like “El Güero” (The blond one) because it really lights the audience up, it is a very rhythmical song. There is also an emotional charge to it, right? It is dedicated to my husband… That song is one of my favorites lately, but I change  my favorites all the time.

K: My favorite songs are always changing as well, but normally I really like the one we always play at the end…

P: The “Ronchas” one?

K: Yes, that one is my favorite (Ronchas a mi) for the same reasons Georgina said, because it fires people up. It’s a very cool song.

P: I like “Quien sabe” (Who knows) because it was the first song we wrote. It is a very simple but very beautiful song. The lyrics are about martians and aliens, so it’s a very unconventional cumbia. I am very fond of it because it was our first one. I really enjoy playing it.

You love lively danceable music, out of the world’s classic Cumbia repertoire, what are your favorite songs?

G: We have a mix of Colombian cumbias that is very lively. My favorite ones are the most energetic. I think we should experiment with slower, romantic songs to find out if they have that same strength, but for me it all comes down to this “Molly explosion” as Mr. Junkie Pants over here put it (laughs) -the songs that explode are the best ones. I love jumping, dancing, sweating, this ecstasy that music brings with it. In the mix I mentioned we have songs such as La Paisana, La Pendeja, Chambacu, all these very traditional Colombian cumbias.

P: I would say “Lejanía”. I think we’ve played that song only twice, but I love this tune by Lisandro Meza. It is a very nostalgic song but, at the same time, it has such a “tasty power”. I think it must be very hard to achieve such strong emotion in such a tropicalish-lively song.

K: For me it would be a song we don’t play, it is by “Los Ángeles de Charly”. That’s my favorite at the moment, but I’m always changing. Sometimes I listen to it for a while, then I get bored and listen to another one.

The next question is a must. Everyone asks you “What’s next?”  But I would like to honour your free and lively spirit and re-formulate the question: Is La China Sonidera going to surprise us?

P: Absolutely!  I’ve always said that in the beginning we wanted to make cumbia but we never could, this is why we are a blend of styles and genres. We come from different musical backgrounds, so when we come together to créate we are not completely sure what the result is going to be. Each one of us has our own trip, we always welcome any ideas.  We discuss and process the ideas so I would say a lot of surprises are ahead, even for us.

G: I think every new creation has our seal obviously, but there is also an element of diversity. That’s a fact, we always try to avoid songs sounding similar, it’s very tiring. We’ve also had a change in the lineup of the band.  Marco is no longer with La China, so I think that is going to give our new creations a twist.  Like Poncho said, I think that could be very surprising even for us!

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  1. María Ítaka, I have been a great fan of your notes and articles. Thank you for making your work with such passion and quality. Congratulations for the excellent use of the media in these days! I love the interview with “La China Sonidera”.

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