When the band El Conjunto Nueva Ola first got together in Mexico City in 2000, lead singer Urbano Lopez says things didn't quite gel at first.
"We tried to do rock music, but we couldn't have the rhythm right. So we gave up and decided to play Cumbia," he says.
And that, Lopez says, was one of the smartest decisions they made — along with moving to the Los Angeles area a few years ago.
"We know that Cumbia is a rhythm that is played from La Patagonia to Los Angeles now, so in every latitude it morphs; it kind of adapts to the culture there," Lopez says.
But El Conjunto Nueva Ola, which translates as the New Wave Band, doesn't play traditional, acoustic Cumbia, and they don't look like a Cumbia band. The six members wear Mexican wrestler masks during their shows. During my interview with them, they kept their masks on. I never got to see their faces.
These guys play covers, though they're not what you'd call a cover band. One of their covers is a popular tune called "La Cumbia de Los Luchadores," The Wrestlers Cumbia. Lopez says they almost didn't want to do it.
"It was kind of obvious and we don't like to do obvious. We pretty much think about something and we make a U-Turn and we crash. That's the approach to how we get to a song. We really think, ‘Oh how is this song good?’ We're gonna do the exact opposite."
For instance, they have a unique rendition of the Sex Pistols' song, "Anarchy in the UK." The band re-arranged it and named it "El Albañil de la Pensíl" or "the mason from the Pensíl neighbourhood." Their version focuses on a mason who is a street-smart, hard-working citizen. Lopez says theirs is a much more positive take on the punk classic.
"We are modernizing the Cumbia and ‘Cumbializing’ the modern, adding a new flavor to it, so we use a lot of the keyboard-oriented sounds from the 80s — you know, the New Wave — and adapt them into the rhythm," Lopez says.
The members of El Conjunto Nueva Ola think of themselves as 21st Century wrestlers, battling musical styles on stage.
One thing's for sure — they don't take themselves too seriously.
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