DJ Sessions: Fusing Latin American Cumbia, Reggaeton And Tribal Sounds

May 21, 2014
Originally published on May 21, 2014 3:13 pm

A new musical style of fusion is sweeping through Latin America, and also popping up in the U.S., as DJ Luis Espada tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.

Espada, who was born in Madrid and grew up in Mexico, is part of the music and art collective known as Peligrosa.

He says new artists, from Peru’s Dengue Dengue Dengue to Brooklyn’s Sango, are heavily relying on sounds from the past. Espada said Dengue Dengue Dengue achieves this by sampling Native American music and old cumbia beats in their songs.

“Not only do they do that, their visuals are amazing — they wear these masks where it’s all neon colored, but still represents the old Indian heritage of Peru and around that area,” he said. “They are considered new cumbia, digital cumbia, but to me, the name tropical bass has been around longer, so that’s what I like to call them and pretty much everyone we’re going to speak about today.”

Note: We now have a Spotify playlist for our weekly DJ Sessions segment! The playlist will be updated each week with new songs. Spotify is free to use, but requires a login. See the playlist here.

Songs Heard In This Segment

Dengue Dengue Dengue, “R2″


Dengue Dengue Dengue, “Rama”


Pablito Mix, “Mi Cumbiaton”

Popcaan, “Everything Nice”


Sango, “Especial (feat. MC Taty)”


Sango, “Me dê Amor”



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Time now for the HERE AND NOW DJ Sessions.


TOM PETTY: (Singing) There goes the last DJ.


JAMIE FOXX: (Singing) DJ, won't you play this girl a love song?


NIC CESTER: (Singing) Dance, little DJ, come on.


RIHANNA: (Singing) Come, Mr. DJ, song pon de replay.


We are joined this week by DJ Luis Espada, AKA King Louie, of the music and art collective Peligrosa. He's with us from CUT in Austin, Texas, part of the HERE AND NOW contributors network. Luis, welcome.

LUIS ESPADA: Thank you.

HOBSON: Now you were born in Madrid. You grew up in Mexico. And a lot of the music you're bringing us features cumbia, which is a Latin American style that is heavily influenced by indigenous tribes. Let's listen to a group that is fusing cumbia with other styles. This is Dengue Dengue Dengue. The song is "R2."


DENGUE DENGUE DENGUE: (Singing in foreign language).

HOBSON: Tell us a little bit about Dengue Dengue Dengue.

ESPADA: Dengue Dengue Dengue is a duo from Lima, Peru. So what they're trying to do is bring in the extremely new, futuristic sound with the old, Indian sound of Lima, Peru, or of Peru in general. So what they do is yes, they get these old samples of old Indian tribes or old cumbia beats, (unintelligible), and they add a heavy bass, heavy synthesizing.

And not only do they do that, their visuals are amazing. They wear these masks where it's all neon colored but still represents the old Indian heritage of Peru and around that area.

HOBSON: Well, and they describe themselves on their website as a tropical storm of electronic psychedelia.

ESPADA: That makes perfect sense.


ESPADA: I mean, they're considered new cumbia, digital cumbia, but to me the name tropical bass has been around longer, so that's what I like to call them and pretty much everybody we're going to speak about today.

HOBSON: Well, let's get to another one. This is from Mexico. Here is a young DJ that you wanted us to know about, Pablito Mix, and here is the song "Mi Cumbiaton."


PABLITO MIX: (Singing in foreign language).

HOBSON: Now Pablito Mix on his sound cloud page describes himself as one of the most representative DJs of urban music in Mexico.

ESPADA: Yes, most definitely. He just came out of nowhere, and what he brought to the table was the natural sound of (unintelligible), of the reggaeton beat. And he mixed it with cumbia and of course synthesizers and heavy bass beats and made cumbiaton. And now he is packing Mexico City's clubs to capacity. People who don't have resources to maybe even be on the Internet in Mexico but get to go to the clubs and listen to their sound, which is cumbia, mixed with heavy Western influence bass and also the (unintelligible).

HOBSON: Well, and you use that term (unintelligible), which is the heavy bass that we hear in reggaeton. That is a style that has roots in Puerto Rico. But let's turn now to the U.S. because this fusion is also happening here. This is a group called Mixpak(ph) out of Brooklyn. They produced a song called "Everything Nice" by Popcaan.


POPCAAN: (Singing in foreign language).

HOBSON: Tell us what we're listening to here.

ESPADA: The same thing, you know, they really base themselves off the dance hall movement, but also they're bringing in, in their flavor, and they're bringing in their sounds and very space sounds, very new-age sound, you know, a - it's always good to have that future sound just to give it that flavor of today's youth.

HOBSON: You know, last week on the DJ Sessions we heard all about future soul. This is the same kind of thing, I guess, getting the future sound in there.

ESPADA: Most definitely. I mean, there's now this future bass. It's like a 70 bpm movement with the old southern hip-hop feel. You know, there's this guy in New York, his name is Bren Mar(ph). He's making that a lot. He's doing a lot of the R&B mixing with a lot of heavy bass. People in Brussels, Dave Luks(ph), he's making the same sound. So it's a pretty insane culture now, how we all are in the same pool of music.

HOBSON: Well, let's go west to Seattle now and the Seattle-based producer Sango, who has a new album. Here is the song "Especial" featuring MC Taty.


SANGO: (Singing in foreign language).

HOBSON: Now this is an American 22-year-old doing Brazilian afrobeat.

ESPADA: Exactly. He's a kid from Michigan who just starting making these awesome beats with old baile funk and old - just old Brazilian, Portuguese samples.

HOBSON: You just got the word baile funk into this interview. I think you've used more Spanglish in this than any other DJ in our DJ Sessions.


ESPADA: I mean, I come from an all-Spanish-speaking family, and I was just sent to English-speaking schools my whole life.

HOBSON: So a mix of both.


ESPADA: So I do have to throw in a little bit of Spanglish.

HOBSON: OK, well we have time for one more. This is also from Sango. This is "Me de Amor."


SANGO: (Singing in foreign language).

HOBSON: Luis, as we said, you are in Austin. How is this music being received in the U.S.?

ESPADA: Incredible. I mean, I mean, the thing is if you split both of these apart right now, the (unintelligible), the trap side is old-school southern hip-hop, I mean Houston hip-hop 10 years ago, eight years ago. And with baile funk Portuguese music. So you would've asked any of these old producers making the southern hip-hop, hey, in about 10 years there's going to be all this Latin around your music, they wouldn't believe it.

Same with the EDM movement, you know, the whole electronic music scene. They got a hold of this 70 bpm music, and now artists like (unintelligible) are exploding with this - they're playing Coachella, late time at Coachella. They're playing these huge festivals in Europe. And yeah, it's really taking up a storm here in the U.S. and in the U.K. and a lot of the world, actually.

HOBSON: And when you say 70 bpm, you're talking about 70 beats per minute. But explain why that is so important.

ESPADA: It's half-time. So thing that you - the repetitive snare and the high hat is what's going to give it the speed, but at the end of the day the beat has been cut in half, to half-time beat, to give it that slower, southern feel. I like to say southern because in my life, that's where I started hearing it, from Atlanta producers and from Louisiana producers and from, you know, Houston, Texas-based producers.

It's pretty amazing how it's just all of one big mash-up of music now.

HOBSON: DJ Luis Espada, aka King Louie, of the music and art collective Peligrosa, joining us from CUT in Austin. Luis, thanks so much for speaking with us.

ESPADA: Thank you.

HOBSON: And you can see all of Luis' picks at and a new feature.

YOUNG: Ta-da.

HOBSON: This week we now have a Spotify play list for the DJ Sessions. You can get a link to it at But also if you're on Spotify the account is NPR HERE AND NOW. We've got all the songs from all the DJ Sessions going all the way back to the beginning.

YOUNG: Fantastic.

HOBSON: So you can keep, you know, dancing and hopping around all the time.

YOUNG: Yes, you may be speaking a foreign language to some people. We will help you through it at

HOBSON: We will put a link to a definition of Spotify. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.