By Camila Álvarez
One of the country’s more original outfits, Cero39 seeks to explore traditional Colombian sounds and reinterpret them in a non-traditional way. By crossbreeding ‘tamboreros’ (drummers), birds, oceans, and trees with narratives inspired by local quotidian life and European influences, El Cero provides a taste of what Colombia will sound like in the future. With their first LP scheduled for release July 5th, 2012, we sat down to chat with the group’s founder, Mauricio Alvarez.
J: Let’s start with the name, Cero39.
039: The first vallenato king was a man named Alejo Duran; his wife famously stole his car, and Cero39 was the number of that car’s license plate. I gave the project that name because it isn’t stationary; its epicenter is Colombia, but it doesn’t stay here. It encompasses lots of different music from Latin America and the Antilles.
J: Your graphics and videos are on the vintage side, referencing childhood innocence and spontaneity.
039: That’s what El Cero39 represents as a work of art. Our lyrics deal with the quotidian, as does traditional vallenato, but tend to avoid the “Everybody with your hands up in the air, let’s be happy” kind of thing. What we want is to show the beautiful side of Colombian culture, maybe also laugh a little about our ‘narcoculture’, and try to rescue some of our unique popular designs. Look at, for instance, champeta graphics, the raspao cart, or the tourist t-shirt for the traveling cachaco… these are very particular things in our society, but they are also things that with the “almighty kindness” (and I say that in a pejorative way), Colombia has forgotten.
J: You’ve said that you like to paint with sounds, to create narratives.
039: I paint with sounds because it’s a way to find proportion. It’s like a search for the perfect math, for an auditory equilibrium. Even though this gives some kind of ‘pop character’ to the music, it also helps to find new ranges and textures that go back to sounds that I’ve found on my travels. For example, Andrés Landero tried to imitate a bird with his accordion, just as the guacharaca tries to mimic a different kind of bird. Traditional music is born out of the references of its surroundings. This same emotional work that a traditional musician does is what I’m focusing on, but with technology.
J: You’re a professional guitarist/pianist. How does it feel to switch from traditional instruments to a mouse and computer screen?
039: The piano gives you a very sensitive auditory possibility; the guitar, even more so. The mouse and the screen give you a broader range of auditory possibilities. With the computer you can play with that sensory part of the frequencies. It’s not just a sound, but also a timbre. You can do a lot of harm, just like you can give love, just like you can give ten thousand things that don’t have to be based only in a sequence of notes. Being able to play with the three of them is really amazing.
J: You called the fusion between dance music and Colombian sounds ‘chucu-chucu advance’, and are now carrying things toward the dub side. Why?
039: I gave it that name because I not only mix it with dance music, but also with sounds that come from German and Japanese cultures. A lot of my influences come from those two countries: Ryoji Ikeda, Tilmann Otto, Tujiko Noriko, Monolake, etc. So I try to take chucu-chucu and send it to the present-future. I mean, the present in Europe, and the future in Colombia. Now I’m into dub because it’s like the essence of electronic music. It’s a place where you can find a lot of sounds and interesting narratives.
J: You’ve had the opportunity to play in places such as Mexico and Denmark. What can Colombia learn from these other cities?
039: To value. Mexicans from even the most popular sectors are proud of being Mexican, and not under the moniker “Mexico is passion,” as happens in this rather suspicious ‘Neocolombianism’. There’s this adoration of our traditional singers, but only after the rest of the world values them first. I believe Totó la Momposina makes some of the most honest music; also Petrona Martinez, and Etelvina Maldonado, who I love so much.
As a society, Denmark is far beyond us. There, people say: “Trust is our weapon.” Here, our culture is a lot more about distrust, and even though the media wants to sell something different, a lot of important things aren’t really being valued like they should be. That’s why there’s no respect and no education. You can’t be sincere with the typical Colombian. Distrust is so instilled in our culture that people tend to interpret what you say in ten thousand different ways.
J: You have a very active creativity, constantly uploading new songs to Soundcloud and publishing an EP through Konn Recordings in 2011. Why has the LP taken so long?
039: Most of the things I’ve been uploading are demos; I like to show the process sometimes. For the LP, I wanted to have a perfect sound, a high-quality mastering. I looked around a lot and found a guy from Premier Studios in New York. They gave me a fair price and showed me some samples, which I loved. Sometimes I feel that Colombian albums lack a good final coat, a final layer, and I wanted the best for mine.
J: What will 2013 bring?
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