Combo Chimbita Walk Us Through Their Fiery New LP IRÉ

The cumbia-punk collective take us track-by-track through their third record, out now via ANTI-.
Track by Track

Combo Chimbita Walk Us Through Their Fiery New LP IRÉ

The cumbia-punk collective take us track-by-track through their third record, out now via ANTI-.

Words: Mike LeSuer

Photo: Camila Falquez

January 28, 2022

It’s been odd waking up every day since the summer of 2020 and finding ourselves further and further removed from the collective sense of revolution that felt imminent in the wake of daily national news of police-instigated violence and governmental mishandling of a deadly virus—two issues we’re still very much experiencing on a daily basis. While it’s easy to roll your eyes at yet another artist unveiling their quote-unquote pandemic album two years on, it’s important to remember that—in addition to the fact that the pandemic is far from over—these records often drag us back to a fiery moment of cathartic uprising and community empowerment long past since we’ve figured out how to live comfortably within a virus-ravaged world.

With Combo Chimbita providing the latest whiff of that summer’s pepper-spray-soaked warm breezes, IRÉ, the mystical New York–based group’s fourth LP, channels two years of pent-up energy into playful Afro-Caribbean rhythms and psych-cumbia textures with the resulting record proving to be considerably more fun than most others of its ilk. Packed with musical and cultural reference points ranging from Ecuador to Yuruba, the Caribbean Sea to Cape Verde—and perhaps most pertinently: Puerto Rico, Colombia, and New York City, the three locations wherein the record came together—the collective cites Fela Kuti, Burna Boy, Kali Uchis, Ecuadorian musician Polibio Mayorga, and Spanish trap music as inspo for the project.

With the record dropping today via ANTI-, all four members—vocalist Carolina Oliveros, guitarist Niño Lento Es Fuego, bassist/synthesist Prince of Queens, and drummer Dilemastronauta—walked us through the album track by track, spelling out the influences on each individual song. Stream the record below while reading, and purchase a copy here.

1. “Oya”

Carolina Oliveros: “Oya” is a very powerful feminine deity, goddess of storms and winds, guardian of cemeteries, and an entangled duel between calm and despair. So this song animates that reminder of a nuanced life where many of us share a calm external facade while facing an internal whirlwind of uncertainty. It’s the meditative sigh that precedes moving forward toward our desires and dreams with conviction.

Niño Lento Es Fuego: “Oya” draws a lot of inspiration from Ecuadorian musician Polibio Mayorga, who was known for sustaining indigenous melodies through his interventions with the organ and synth. His introduction of these instruments to Ecuador, along with sonic textures of tropicalia, were popularized through his interpretation of albacitos, a repertoire of indigenous rhythms you’d hear at dawn and sunset. 

2. “Babalawo”

Carolina Oliveros: A Babalawo is similar to a priest in Yoruban culture, and this song narrates a dream I had in which an eggun (deceased person) calmed my fears and encouraged me to listen closely to the rhythm of the drums and mentors that were appearing as revelations around me. The dream evoked very specific messages and visuals—seashells, altars, flowers—and at one point, “Ponte pa lo tuyo,” a directive to follow my intuition on this path to enlightenment. It’s a reminder to keep my heart and mind open, to let go of the doubts and taboos, and be receptive to the lessons that line our journeys.

3. “Me Fui”

Carolina Oliveros: “Me Fui” is a completely visceral song, putting all my vulnerability up front, and directing it toward this character who’s had a hold on me. It speaks from the heart, despite the discomfort of revealing all these emotions to someone who doesn’t deserve me. Stopping that vice, that toxic relationship between all the waiting and half-assed presence, and eventually making the difficult decision to leave. 

Dilemastronauta: “Me Fui” is sentimental but rhythmic, and it was the first song we created while in Puerto Rico. It has a ternary rhythm that connects to the cycles Carolina was referencing through her lyrics, and I remember it was our first effort to make music in front of the sea. One of those ideas that arrives because the environment around you is so beautiful, it invites you to create. 

4. “Memoria”

Carolina Oliveras: “Memoria” is, without a doubt, a song that narrates a moment from my childhood: the passing of my grandfather, an important figure in my life who propelled me to sing. That moment breathes into this track’s rhythms and loops, a melancholic moment that repeats itself into my memory and evokes the ephemeral nature of life.

Dilemastronauta: “Memoria” is the first time we used a sample in our music, based on one that Prince of Queens brought with a Lucho Bermúdez–style cumbia and from the big band orchestras of the 1940s on the Colombian coast. The song is divided into the first part with cumbia and a hip-hop beat in the style of The Roots, and the second part is a pure sonidera cumbia in the style of Andrés Landero with the slowed voice of Prince of Queens.

5. “La Perla”

Carolina Oliveros: “La Perla” is a song I composed for our people, the streets, and the party: the party of the people in the streets! It's like that embrace after being locked up for so long and wishing to be outside in the sun, at the beach, or anywhere really, but sweating happily with our people. It makes me feel that the street is waiting for us, calling us to feel the rhythm more intensely and with a deeper desire to live our life. Near the end I call on Yeye, considered the orisha of the festival, of the drum, of sensuality and love; the euphoric moment that wakes our spirits and lets us celebrate on and on and on.

Dilemastronauta: “La Perla” feels like one of the most dynamic songs on the album. Niño Lento’s guitar work is really incredible because it has a Cape Verdean and Angolan feeling with the synths layered on top. Caro's melody and lyrics are a celebration, a reunion, and for us it’s that desire to play again and share our music with the public.

6. “Sin Tiempo”

Carolina Oliveros: “Sin Tiempo” is definitely one of my favorite songs on this album. Both the melody and the lyrics have been a new and different path for me, a ballad of sorts. I wanted to pay homage to a clandestine love, the process of deciphering body language, and the intimate tenderness that connects our souls. 

Dilemastronauta: It’s a slow, romantic, and nocturnal sort of song. Those moments that last in our memories because they’re timeless, they don't expire or they don't end. They are always with the heart.

7. “Yo Me Lo Merezco”

Carolina Oliveros: I wrote this song as a gift to myself as I try everyday to better understand who I am, my worth, my calling, and what I have to offer in this world. It’s a healing proclamation to firmly believe in oneself and walk headstrong with the radiance we know shines deeply through our spirit. That revelation is something I had to summon yesterday, remember today, and will continue to honor tomorrow.”

Prince of Queens: This was the second song we wrote in Puerto Rico for the album, and it’s overflowing with different influences. We were listening to a lot of newer Afrobeat, like Burna Boy and Tekno, and blending it with the music of Fela Kuti and Tony Allen, which we’ve studied for many years. In this song we try to connect those worlds in our own way and undoubtedly the energy of the Caribbean and the sea is felt.

8. “Indiferencia”

Carolina Oliveros: This is a very reflective song, like a double-edged sword, in which we recognize that our paths are at times filled with so much indifference, lack of empathy, and a competition of egos. But, on the other side, it shares resilient hope and growth, without giving in to the no-no-no-no-no, and creating a mantra for when the process becomes too heavy.

Prince of Queens: I love this song! It feels very close to me. We have always been greatly influenced by Jamaican music, especially dub and bass lines, which have always been part of the elements and techniques I lean into. It was one of those special moments where Dilema and I got up in the morning and after breakfast we started jamming a rocksteady beat while listening to the sea behind us. It felt like the song had a sense of non-complacency with a dreamy tone, and talks about the dysfunctional systems around us.

9. “De Frente”

Carolina Oliveros: For a while now, I’ve enjoyed listening to typical Dominican merengue, which are very rhythmic, at times with very particular melodies and high-pitched timbre, quite a few choirs, and I can connect with that through my love of bullerengue. La Banda Real inspired me in particular, and so it’s an ode to that Caribbean flow where you can throw satire at the tigueres on the block, or folks gossiping behind your back. Instead, do it face-to-face, be upfront and direct with your words.

Prince of Queens: This song started as an idea to make a “classic” Combo Chimbita sound with a merengue influence, but more eclectic. I remember after jamming with the idea for several hours, I realized that what I thought was going to be something relatively simple ended up being the longest to understand and play. Sometimes what seems simplest is the most difficult.

Niño Lento Es Fuego: “De Frente” is a tribute to merengue, but with that punk twist we like to explore infused with old school rips and synthesizers that lend themselves to rock.

10. “Lo Que Es Mio, Es Mio”

Prince of Queens: For me, electronic music has always been a big part of everything I do. I love working with sequencers and machines, and for this song we wanted to experiment and find out what Combo Chimbita would be like with a sampler mentality, as if we were little machines. The guitar is a loop throughout the song, and the rest of the elements were created with that idea, as if we were using Ableton but without a computer—just our minds! It was a very cool exercise that greatly marked the influence of this album in general.

Niño Lento: This track belongs to this batch of songs that are an exploration and collage of the music that we were listening to while recording: a lot of Spanish trap, artists like Fuego from the Dominican Republic, definitely some Afrobeats and reggaeton, and even some Kali Uchis. We were thinking about how to make a reference to this from our instruments and our way of playing as a rock band.

11. “Mujer Jaguar”

Carolina Oliveros: The roaring is largely a crying out from the soul, a connection to our deep desire to construct a different world. It’s a nod to the strength of our youth, a new fearless and forward-thinking mind, whose nonconformity with our socio-political status fills us with hope.

Niño Lento Es Fuego: It has such a strong energy—more punk, with explosive drums and the guitar riffs are simple but groovy. When we created it, we were using Caro’s vocal improv and sounds as guides to eventually write lyrics, and when we went into the studio there still were none. We tried, but they just wouldn’t fit. However, that howling was transmitting an incredible vibration that was beyond words: a deeper message that arrived for us to share. 

12. “Todos Santos”

Carolina Oliveras: It’s an homage to how the town revealed messages and energies for us to latch onto in this next phase for Combo Chimbita. When we found an altar for Yemaya built by local fishermen between the ocean and the surrounding mountains, we knew this song would be healing, purifying, and hopeful. Those maternal characteristics are something we wanted to evoke through the single and its video, recognizing that the young girl who roared in Mujer Jaguar had a process of learning and unlearning, of guidance and autonomy, which she uses to confront life.

Prince of Queens: The track’s hypnotic drumming was done in collaboration with GRAMMY-nominated percussionist Philbert Armenteros, a Cuban-born Babalawo who helped perform this special homage to Yemaya with his batás. “Todos Santos” generated a peaceful and tranquil energy, which reflects our capacity to heal and to forgive, something we often lose sight of through the hustle of day-to-day life. We constructed this song in phases through Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Colombia, so the Abya Yala state of mind reminded us that we can transcend the borders and boundaries placed upon us to musically reach a space without time, without physical lines, where we can mend our spirits.