Feministing Jamz: Bomba Estéreo’s Li Saumet

A woman stares into the camera. Her hair is dark and slicked back in a ponytail. She is wearing a white top, and gold makeup on her forehead.It’s a couple hours before an intimate show in New York’s Meatpacking District, and Bomba Estéreo’s Li Saumet is bright and energetic. I’m the second Verónica she’s just met — after texting to announce my arrival at the venue, I missed my name through my headphones blasting their latest excellent album, Amanecer, and a different Verónica, a fan, was escorted down, excited but confused. Saumet is completely unfazed by the mix-up by the time I get it together, and right away she wants to know more about my purple lipstick — this femme wants details. I have it with me so I pull it out and show it to her. “May I?” Elated at the thought of being lipstick twinsies with this fab mujer, I say “of course,” and we proceed to do the interview in matching bright purple lips. This is getting off to a great start.

Listeners across the world first fell in love with this Bogotá band’s innovative take on Colombian and Latin American music in 2009. Their latest, Amanecer, continues solidly in that tradition. Roots, she tells me, are really important to her, and Bomba Estéreo is particularly influenced by the afro-Colombian rhythms of Colombia’s coast. “Everything comes from Africa — art, music, everything. We have a very strong African presence in Colombia, and especially on the coast, where I’m from. [The music] is deeply felt because it’s not just music for parties, but it’s ritual music too.”

She is quick to defy any easy genre categorization for Bomba, though. When I ask about “Soy Yo,” an ode to staying true to ourselves and our own quirks, and whether I’m right in hearing in it some influence from Colombia’s Lebanese diaspora community, she points out that in addition to growing up listening to electronic music and hip hop — genres that have obviously influenced their artistic direction significantly — Colombia’s mixed cultural heritage is a huge influence as well. “We’re a culture of many. [Colombian] coastal music comes from a lot of places, and we have a strong Lebanese influence on the Atlantic coast. We’re a mixed culture.”

While their earlier albums tackled social and political issues in Colombia, Amanecer is much more introspective, with Saumet singing about love, individuality, and growth. In “Algo Está Cambiando,” Saumet sings about changes she’s seeing in herself, changes in others, and becoming the people we’re meant to be. After years of thinking and writing about social critique, Saumet is ready for a more internal, spiritual critique. “I realized that we love looking to the outside and to change things externally, but we can really only change ourselves. If we’re not able to change ourselves, and at the same time we’re complaining that the world is the worst while we are so flawed ourselves…for me that’s the most important.”

Later that night, she is electric. Even performing almost exclusively new material, the audience is rapt, dancing, and singing along to an album that at the time had been out less than a week. Saumet has a great command of the stage, knows exactly what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. She’s not only immensely talented, but fierce, in control, and totally badass.

When I ask her if she’s a feminist, she thinks for a minute and tells me she’s not. But as she starts talking her answer through, she launches into the importance of women’s rights. “Lately I’ve been thinking so much about women’s rights, about how women have been mistreated, and we keep being mistreated, throughout history, because men are afraid.” I nod my head and smile.

But before I leave, she wants to know: am I a feminist? When I answer that I am, she asks what that means. I give her my best recitation of the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie definition made famous by Beyoncé’s “***Flawless”: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. “Oh. Then yes, I’m a feminist. Obviously.”

Do you want free tickets to see Bomba Estéreo? Take a look at the U.S. tour dates below, and if you can make any of the stops, comment below. We’ll choose a winner next week!

July 17th – Biennial of the Americas – Denver, CO
July 19th – Neumo’s – Seattle, WA
July 20th/21st – The New Parish – Oakland, CA
July 24th – Highline Ballroom – New York, NY
July 25th – Howard Theater – Washington, DC
July 26th – Concord Music Hall – Chicago, IL
August 13th – The Observatory – Santa Ana, CA

New York, NY

Verónica Bayetti Flores has spent the last years of her life living and breathing reproductive justice. She has led national policy and movement building work on the intersections of immigrants' rights, health care access, young parenthood, and LGBTQ liberation, and has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, and demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color. In 2008 Verónica obtained her Master’s degree in the Sexuality and Health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She loves cooking, making art, listening to music, and thinking about the ways art forms traditionally seen as feminine are valued and devalued. In addition to writing for Feministing, she is currently spending most of her time doing policy work to reduce the harms of LGBTQ youth of color's interactions with the police and making sure abortion care is accessible to all regardless of their income.

Verónica is a queer immigrant writer, activist, and rabble-rouser.

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