The Mexico City-based five-piece band Son Rompe Pera, led by brothers Jesús Ángel Gama and Allan Gama (they go by Kacho and Mongo, respectively), may be the only self-described punk rock group based around the marimba. The group’s sound is unlike any punk band you’ve ever heard before, and that only serves as a testament to how genuine the group’s commitment to punk is. After all, if punk is more about attitude than conforming to a single specific style, Kacho and Mongo unquestionably have it in spades as they draw on modern cumbia and garage rock in their interpretations of traditional and popular songs and styles from Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and beyond.
Exuberance is key to that attitude on the new album Batuco, named for Kacho and Mongo’s father. Batuco himself features on the album, as does similarly groundbreaking Chilean cumbia rock group Chico Trujillo, who bring their usual sense of fine musicianship and iconoclastic arrangement to a cover of Tulio Enrique León’s “Cumbia Algarrobera” that features ska rhythms and the melodic twang of acoustic guitars. Chico Trujillo’s lead singer, Macha, also appears earlier in the album, lending his capable pipes and emotive prowess to a cover of Lalo Guerrero’s pachuco classic “Los Chucos Suaves”.
Innovation abounds throughout, the group’s music constantly changing color as Kacho, Mongo, and their nimble crew (on guitar, bass, güiro, conga, drums, and other percussion) pull in shades of different genres. “Mi Vida sin tu Amor” takes Pánico Latino’s ska-punk classic and grounds it in the bright, wooden resonance of the marimba. Accordion joins the largely percussive group for a cover of Los Cadetes de Linares’ heartbreaking ballad “No Hay Novedad”, paying homage to the corrido legends. A trumpet solo before the bridge is particularly poignant. They adapt the song to their musical sensibilities – ones that, as the range of music on Batuco shows, are more readily characterized by a tendency toward joyful experimentation than by any set genre.
The bottom line is that Kacho and Mongo truly play as they play. Their foundation is a strong one, their father instrumental (pun fully warranted) in teaching them the marimba, and their interests and expertise are widespread, including everything from Mexican folk to rockabilly to ska. Batuco is a brilliant constellation of musical points; connected, the pattern is one unique to Son Rompe Pera. I tend to think of a well-crafted album of covers as one that balances respect for the original work with a sense of innovation, and each of the songs Son Rompe Pera reinterprets goes toward meeting this ideal. The familiarity of the music will please crowds across the globe — not only those invested in the last several decades of pan-Latin folk and pop, but also those who simply love to hear something new and pumped full of energy.
Batuco is that. It challenges the challenging, questioning extant notions of punk, cumbia, folk, and rock while celebrating the potential dynamism of tradition. At the same time, it doesn’t ask you to overthink it — this is fun music, good to listen to, great to play, and wonderfully novel to experience.