Interview: Son Rompe Pera – Blood, Sweat & Psychobilly (September 2022)

Son Rompe Pera electrified a sleepy Sunday tent at Womad this year; their high-energy cumbia-punk kicked off an early afternoon tropical dance party. Thrash marimba and infectious rhythms punctuated by searing guitar and wild yells drove a dazed crowd into a joyful frenzy. The band’s passion for the new-from-old sound they’ve created shone through.

The Mexican five-piece expand on their style, influences and future plans in our interview following their performance at the festival.

Rhythm Passport: I saw your performance earlier; it was amazing. How would you personally describe your music?

Kacho: There’s a lot of cumbia, a lot of sweating, plenty of dance and psychedelia. It’s a catharsis of a great deal of energy.

Rhythm Passport: What’s the inspiration behind the punk element that you bring into traditional music?

Kacho: In 2017 we travelled to Chile for the first time, and it was a revelation to see that cumbia could be combined with many other styles. We went to see a Chilean band called Chico Trujillo who gave us the inspiration to adventure and do what we’re doing now. We already had some similar ideas though because we listened to psychobilly, rockabilly and ska.

We started to play marimba when we were really young. Our father taught us how to play. I was 11 and Mongo was 12, and we learnt to play the instrument on the street. We were buskers, following our father’s footsteps: playing on the streets and giving a business card around with our phone number, so people could call us to play at weddings, birthday parties and celebrations. It’s a tradition in Mexico to have many marimbas played on the street at family parties or anniversaries.

So, we have always dedicated our life to music.

Rhythm Passport: You brought together two passions of yours, the one for punk music and for traditional music as well…

Mongo: As Kacho said, the very first instrument we played was marimba. But we were really too young at that time to understand and look for other rhythms. We were mainly doing it as a job, like a family business. As soon as we came out from school, we were playing marimba on the streets.

We grew up listening to the music played in our neighbourhood, like cumbia but also metal. Our father was quite into that. Then, growing up, we started to get into the psychobilly and punk scenes together with our friends. But we always kept the idea to do things differently. We were indeed thinking that with psychobilly and punk we could go somewhere else. And thanks to marimba we could travel the world.

Rhythm Passport: You have a unique sound, how do people respond to it? In Mexico or South America, how do people react when they listen to it?

Mongo: The reaction is quite curious. In Mexico, they are used to seeing marimba – still they are surprised when they see us performing live, when we add the punk energy and attitude. While when we go to other countries, maybe people don’t even know what marimba is or never listened to its sound. So, they are surprised, but they have fun and we have fun together with them too.

We are a band who really enjoy playing live. We don’t have too much material recorded in the studio, and when we perform live it’s entirely another thing. That’s mainly because, in Mexico, marimba is considered a folkloric instrument. And not everybody likes it. Young people are not too much into its sound. It’s an instrument for grown-ups. So, we are trying to break this paradigm by bringing marimba to everyone, showing that it’s a really nice instrument and everybody can play it as they wish. You can play it like a piano, but with a crazy, crazy vibe.

Rhythm Passport: Why do you want to do this – what inspires you to create this new style?

Mongo: What we are looking for is to let people know that you can experiment even with a marimba. There are other traditions, like mariachi or norteño, that have become quite popular in Mexico and abroad. People tend to forget that there’s also the marimba tradition in the South of the country. So we want to encourage people to re-discover it and not to lose its significance.

Kacho: In Mexico there are many, many marimbas. In Chiapas or the Guatemala State for example. Even if the instrument comes from Africa – its origins are in Africa – still in places like Chiapas the marimba found one of its natural habitats. People adopted the instrument and made it their own, modifying it a bit as well. That is something remarkable for us; we want to share and let people know about it.

We have other friends who play and tour with marimba as well, but maybe their arrangements are more traditional or related to jazz. We grew up in a working-class area of Mexico City, also one of the most dangerous. In our barrio, people are used to listening to a lot of cumbia, folkloric music and marimba. Our father learnt to play marimba near where we lived. There was this road, in those times, with more than 30 places (bars, clubs…) where you could go and organise parties with marimba. That’s where our father went to look for a job. He learnt to play marimba there and taught us too. We went on doing that till we travelled to Chile.

Rhythm Passport: What else is happening in the Mexican music scene? Any new acts to recommend?

Kacho: There’s a lot going on, but there’s not much support from the government or institutions. For example, in Colombia, there’s more support for traditional music and it’s easier for producers and musicians to work together and collaborate.

We usually listen to a lot of cumbia. One of the bands we really look at are Los Cogelones.

Rhythm Passport: What are your plans for the future?

MongoAfter Womad, we go back to Mexico for a few days and finally rest a bit. We have some shows there as well though. Then we tour in the US and, after that, back to Europe. We’ll also be playing at Womex in Lisbon.

Kacho: Then, in December, we’ll take a break because next year is going to be really busy for us. We have a new album coming out, recorded in Bogotá in February this year. We wrote it between Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Argentina. It’s a blend of all the nice music experiences we went through, and what you see and listen to when we play live is what will end up in the album. It’s the same energy. We’re really looking forward to releasing it because it’s almost entirely formed by original songs, our own compositions. There’s only one cover in it. And it also features a wide range of styles.

Rhythm Passport: There’s so much energy in your live shows and they are so raw. How do you bring that energy into the recording process?

Mongo: It was a bit complicated at the beginning because we had to think about how to do it. We really wanted to get hold of the essence of what we were doing live, and luckily, the people who worked with us in the studio helped us a lot to do just that. People like Mario Galeano (Frente Cumbiero, Ondatropica) and Dani. So, we eventually recorded it live, like we were performing live, in one go. It was just like a live session.