Interview: Q&A with Rumbo Tumba – Crafting Musical Wonders (October 2023)

Words by Marco Canepari

When you witness Rumbo Tumba performing live on stage, juggling and manoeuvring between instruments of the Latin American tradition, a looping station, and effects, you inevitably find yourself pondering his creative routine. You envision him bustling and scurrying about in his lab or workshop, akin to a wizard or a sorcerer crafting the alchemy of a new potion, or resembling a seasoned artisan meticulously chiseling intricate woodwork. And, naturally, it piques your curiosity, leaving you with a host of questions you’d like to pose to him.

So, when we had the pleasure of attending his eye-opening and soul-stirring set and meeting him afterwards at the Ariano Folk Festival this August, we couldn’t help but arrange an interview with him which came to life in a Q&A form a few days ago.

The Argentinian music enchanter has recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of his career with a gig in Buenos Aires. Alongside the insightful Q&A below, we’re delighted to present an exclusive glimpse of the performance, where he breathes new life into his very first release, ‘Huguaju’.

Enjoy the video and immerse yourself into Rumbo Tumba musical wizardry.

Were there specific experiences or moments that led you to start Rumbo Tumba and create this unique fusion of Latin American folklore and urban beats?

Yes, but it was something not planned. In my early 20’s, I was playing punk hardcore, also studying sociology and Latin American History, and I was really influenced by these three things. After traveling through some countries in South America, I fell in love with the music of the region. So, I started thinking, “Why am I playing music that comes from other parts of the world instead of something more related to my roots?” I wanted to fight this internal colonialism. I came back home with this idea and some traditional instruments from my trips. I asked my friends to make some music with them, but all of them were punk rock musicians, and no one wanted to play with me. So, I had to make a partnership with technology to play this more traditional acoustic stuff. This was around 2006, and I started recording music with a cassette portastudio and wooden instruments that I didn’t know how to play at that point. A few years later, I got a loop station and started composing with it, despite my lack of traditional music theory, and that’s how Rumbo Tumba started.

I read that your musical journey began with punk rock. What triggered your transition from punk rock to exploring Latin American folk music?

As I mentioned in the previous response, Rumbo Tumba wouldn’t exist without the punk philosophy. I play Latin American music, but the essence of the project is Punk Rock & Do It Yourself.

Speaking of your career, how much has your sound changed since your debut, and do you feel like you’re following a specific path, or is it a continuous process of improvisation?

I’m not following a specific path, but it is a continuous investigation and development of my own sound and my own way of playing live and composing. It’s research that started more than 12 years ago. I think that my sound improved a lot in this specific way rather than changed radically.

In your latest EP, 10 Años, you brought a different perspective to your tunes. Can we consider it an update on your music, bringing your sound up to the present?

In this EP, I just made new versions of some songs from the first 10 years of Rumbo Tumba, featuring other colleagues and artists with lots of freedom. They recorded whatever they wanted over the original songs, and then I finished the tracks in a really different way than I’m used to. I allowed myself to do things I wouldn’t do in any of my albums. But that was not my real vibe; it was just a short experiment. Working with traditional music and adding electronic sounds is not what I do. I experiment with other tools, like composing with loops, polyrhythms, and traditional rhythms, using acoustic wooden instruments, and trying to develop music that always transports you to Latin American landscapes but without playing proper traditional music.

Your music is a continuous fusion of tradition and modernity. Can you provide insights into how you strike a balance between these two elements in your compositions?

This balance is based on the tools and the way I use them for my compositions. I just record what I can play live with my body, a looper, and my instruments. I use only traditional acoustic wooden instruments, and at the same time, all my music is made with live looping technique. This mixes the traditional sound with the modern language of music in a particular way. I like a phrase that a journalist used to describe Rumbo Tumba: “The Craftsman of organic loops.”

Live looping plays a central role in your performances. Could you provide insights into its technical aspects (how do you employ it) and its significance within your music?

As I said, I just compose what I can play live, so live looping is central in all my work, not only in live performances. This adds a lot of limitations to the composition process but also puts your brain to work, and really crazy and beautiful things come out of these investigations. I really love to work like this because there are an infinite number of tools available for making music these days, and it’s too much for me. So I always try to decide before recording an album or preparing my live set the tools and instruments I’ll use, and that’s it. I have to do it with that and nothing else. It’s like cooking only with what you have in your fridge; you have to use your imagination, taste, and feelings to make something good. By doing this, I can also connect in a more profound way with the instruments and tools I’m using. Less is more.

Your music frequently delves into the interplay and contrast between nature and the urban environment. Could you explain your creative approach to addressing this duality?

I’m always moving and traveling between big cities and natural remote places, where I love to be much more at this point in my life. But I grew up in a really industrial city, and then I lived for 10 years in Buenos Aires, so “the urban” is part of me despite nature being my main source of inspiration, even when I’m inside a closed studio. For example, my last album RIO ADENTRO was totally composed and recorded during the pandemic lockdown. I was living in an apartment missing nature so much, especially my hometown’s river, so I started composing music based on this feeling and also making a parallelism between an internal trip (that I think we all had to do at some point of these pandemic years) and a trip inside the nature of the Parana River Delta where I grew up. So what I’m trying to say is that I’m a person who always lives in the middle of urban and natural places, so it is organic that these reflect on my music.

Collaborations have added a unique dimension to your music, with artists such as El Búho and Barrio Lindo, among others. Can you delve into the origins of these collaborations, your criteria for selecting collaborators, and how they have influenced your sound?

I only started making collaborations in my own music in my last album in 2020. In pandemic times, without tours, I was missing the interaction with other musicians, so I started to work on some songs with colleagues. Before this, I had only made features for other artists’ music. That is the case with Robin “El Buho”, who invited me to record 2 songs in 2 of his albums (2017 & 2019). So in 2020, I asked him to make something similar but for my album, and I love all the songs we composed together. With Barrio Lindo, we made a reversion of my song ‘Alta Magia” for a concert we did together in the summer of 2022, and this particular song worked great. So when I had the idea of the 10 Años EP of reversions, we recorded what we had played live before.

Despite the fact that I love the work of some electronic music producers, and I have lots of friends in the downtempo or folktronica scene, I have to say that I’m much more influenced by instrumentalists than producers. It’s quite clear if you see my live performance.

Throughout your extensive international touring over the years, have there been any particularly memorable performances or encounters you’d like to share? How do audiences around the world respond to your expansive yet “very local” sound?

I had lots of great memories during this decade touring the world, but what comes to my mind now is a concert at Pirineos Sur Festival in Spain in 2019. I was playing a gig called Experiencias en la Naturaleza high up in the mountains, around 3000 meters above sea level, in the morning. However, at 4AM, the party was crazy at the festival, so I thought that nobody would take the hike to listen to my concert. To my surprise, a lot of people came, and the place was unbelievably beautiful, as well as the energy. Think about the feeling of happiness that invades you when you reach the top of the mountain after a hard hike… That’s how the entire audience was there to receive my music. It was very moving. Also, I have to say that touring Africa this year was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life; it was a dream come true.

After traveling extensively and continuing to tour around the world, how do you experience returning home? Could you describe your connection with your home country?

The nicest thing about leaving is coming back, and the nicest thing about coming back is leaving, but my home will always be Argentina despite my addiction to movement. Furthermore, comparing price and quality, we have the best wine on the planet, and we are world champions. What else can I say… I love Argentina 🙂

What are your thoughts on the music scene in Buenos Aires? Do you consider yourself an integral part of it or more of a maverick/outsider? Are there any musicians or bands you’d like to suggest for us to discover?

The Buenos Aires musical scene is amazing, lots of things are happening every day, but I feel a little like an outsider. When I moved to Buenos Aires in 2015, I didn’t know where to play because I didn’t know anybody, and also because my music was in the middle of many things. It didn’t fit in the traditional folklore scene, nor in the downtempo folktronica that was more focused on the dancefloor. So, I started producing and curating a series of concerts called Cable Tierra, where I played together with artists with really different styles from all over the country. Every edition had a live band, a folktronic or downtempo music producer, and Rumbo Tumba. This lasted 7 years and had more than 20 editions, and that’s how I built my audience in Buenos Aires. Now that many more people are supporting my work, I decided to stop this format and started playing alone, producing fewer concerts in larger venues.

As you continue to tour and perform, what are your future aspirations for Rumbo Tumba? What can we expect in the next 10, 20, 30 years, and beyond for the project?

My aspirations are to continue this way, experimenting with traditional music, learning how to play new instruments, and touring at least half of the year. I want to move my base to Patagonia, have my house and studio there, surrounded by mountains, forest, and lakes. I’m already working on this plan.

We usually close our interviews with a tricky question: how would you introduce Rumbo Tumba and your music to someone who has never listened to it before?

Rumbo Tumba is a one-man band, a multi-instrumentalist from Argentina who makes experimental & instrumental South American folklore focused on deep emotions.