TAMBOR: A Sonic Odyssey into Afro-Colombian Heritage with Mia Moretti
“It is a sonic story of what was, what came and what we hear today”
In a rhythmic revelation that transcends the boundaries of music and culture, DJ, music producer, and songwriter Mia Moretti introduces her debut dance EP, TAMBOR – a dynamic celebration of the soul-stirring sounds of Bullerengue. Crafted during her trip to Colombia, this sonic narrative intricately weaves together the timeless voices of the two greatest singers of Colombian folk music: Totó la Momposina and Petrona Martínez, both of whom have left an indelible mark on the rich tapestry of Colombian traditional music.
What unites Totó la Momposina, Petrona Martínez, and Mia Moretti? A shared love for “Tambor,” meaning drum, symbolizing the heartbeat of Bullerengue—a rhythm that roots us to the earth. TAMBOR features a trio of tracks that celebrate the deeply soulful vocals typical of the region. Together with grounding percussion, these songs remind us of the essence of dance music. Moretti’s slow and sudden debut EP honors the matriarchs of bullerengue, a genre that typifies modern pacific coast equatorial life through its queens. Totó La Momposina and Petrona Martinez featured on TAMBOR, tap into the basic trials and rhythms of life and make way for their voices in dance music. “Through my travels, I discover musicians, sounds and genres that I may not have otherwise,” said Moretti. “While in Colombia earlier this year, I met and fell in love with bullerengue. I was transfixed by the way the voices on these records commanded the music. I was very lucky to find some of these rare records, they led me down a long, beautiful path that eventually became this EP.”
Congratulations on your debut EP TAMBOR. How was the creative process? What was the inspiration behind your EP? I was originally intrigued by Bullerengue – a genre of Afro-Colombian music – from the Caribbean Coast of Colombia because of its tradition of being passed matrilineally.As a woman that resonated with me. I know how important it is to pass down our stories and our knowledge, but it made me think about who my community is. Who is passing our stories down? I think women’s voices are important and in the dance community, there are not enough of them – which in essence means not enough of our stories are being shared. This EP is my way to say, listen to our stories, listen to our voices, learn from us, heal with us.
What are your favorite records you’ve discovered during your trip and how did you integrate them into your EP? I had known of Totó La Momposina long before my trip to Colombia and I was on the hunt for her records, which are very coveted and hard to come by. However, I was completely overtaken when I saw Petrona Martínez on the cover of Tu Tambolero. That is what I love about digging for vinyl. You can get totally lost, transfixed, pulled in by something you do not know at all, but feel you should know. You must know. That’s how I felt about Petrona, and I’ll tell you I bought every record of hers that the shop had. That was the beginning of the EP and that’s when I knew this wasn’t going to be just one sample by Totó La Momposina, but a collection dedicated to these queens.
ROSA is one of Colombia’s most recognizable standards, albeit originally hailing from Cuba. Moretti enlisted the help of Momposina’s family and friends on the Caribbean Coast, Bogota and London to pass the song on to a new generation. Momposina’s granddaughters, Maria and Oriana, re-sing her parts while Momposina’s longtime collaborator and band member, vocalist Jorge Aguilar, performs the lead line. The result is a drum-fueled, electronic dance ballad laced with history.
You have reinterpreted one of the most famous Colombian songs – “Rosa”. TAMBOR even features the unmistakable voice of Totó La Momposina from her song “Tu Tambor.” What was it like to work with Totó La Momposina herself, her family, and friends and to give the track a new interpretation? What did you take away from working with them? The idea for ROSA came from a Magin Diaz track that I fell in love with, sampled and then, sadly, could not clear. I did not want to give up on the song, and since Toto La Momposina was featured on the Diaz version and I had worked with her team on Tambor, I thought that possibly there was another avenue to explore to get it out. Clearing samples is a whole other side of production that I knew would take so long, but didn’t realize would also be so beautiful. When I was clearing the samples on this EP I wrote everyone involved personally, and included letters to the artists about their work, my passion for sampling it, and my vision for sharing it with the dance community. Because I had embarked on the clearances myself, I wasn’t just able to clear the samples, but I learned so much more about these artists.
Turns out, John Hollis, Toto’s manager, not only had other versions of “Rosa” sung by Totó, but was also in close touch with her long-time band members. They suggested I work with one – Jorge Aguilar – to re-write and record the lead line. Jorge was a band member of Totó’s’s for many years, and was infamously known as the “ad libber” at their shows. In addition to adding Jorge, John informed me that Totó’s two granddaughters, Oriana and Maria, singers living in Bogota and London, suggested they may be interested in recording new parts. In the end I worked with all the musicians Hollis recommended. His wife even recorded vocal stacks for the chorus and sent them to me from Paris. It was truly a family affair, which isn’t shocking at all, as that’s where this music comes from. I was honored and humbled they let me into their “family” to honor Totó this way. It made me realize how important community is in music, and maybe we’ve lost some of that in the dance space, but I hope to encourage its return.
PIANO DE LA SELVA is Mia’s tribute to another matriarch of Afro Colombian music, “The Queen of Bullerengue ” Petrona Martinez. Piano de la Selva combines the signature call and response style of Bullerengue with the trans-like repetition of classic house music.
Why did you take inspiration from her particularly? What makes herself and the Piano de la Selva instrument so special? This record is very interesting to me because the marimba isn’t typically heard in Bullerengue, the marimba is from the Pacific side of the coast. So here in this track you have two genres sort of meeting and coming together. Already Bullerengue is a blend of African culture and indigenous culture in this region, so now we get to be a little more specific in terms of communities and sounds to learn a little more. “Piano de la Selva” translates to “Piano of the Jungle”. If you think about this, just knowing the translation, you get so much information. I followed some African folklore that attributed the name of the instrument to an African goddess of music named Marimba. I wanted to evoke her. I want to always evoke the goddess around, and within, us.
What else did you take with you from this trip to Colombia and its musical heritage? That our songs are our story. We share and pass them down. Music is also glue. It holds the community together.
TAMBOR continues Moretti’s mission to celebrate the power of female voices from around the world, which included “You and Me” (honoring the iconic house track from the 90s by Crystal Waters) and “Sweet Juju” (sampling the song of the same name by South African singer, Letta Mbulu) earlier this year.