Meridian Brothers: Salsa from a Parallel Universe

The sonic alchemy of psychedelic salsa through the Meridian Brothers’ futuristic-past lens.

Founded in 1998 by Eblis Álvarez in Bogotá, the Meridian Brothers have become a hallmark of Colombia’s avant-garde music scene. Known for their eclectic mix of traditional Colombian rhythms—salsa, cumbia, and vallenato—with electronic experimentation, they embody the spirit of Latin American psychedelic sounds. Álvarez’s journey from a solo project selling homemade cassettes to international stages highlights their innovative approach.  The band’s evolution integrates electronic elements with Colombian music from the 60s and 70s,  forging a sound all its own.

Starting a music career can be difficult. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the early days of Meridian Brothers? How did you overcome them?

The biggest challenges I faced in my career are the forced change of the public persona and the containment of the will. I explain: when I was a student and a young person, I never imagined being inside the music industry and its ways. I was a classical/jazz music student, and I was devoting my studies to gaining a teacher position, maybe at a local university. At one point, and very surprisingly, the music industry changed in Colombia from being an absolutely unpopular country to a source of Latin vanguard music. This fact inadvertently dragged me into meeting record labels, journalists, promoters, managers, and bookers. I was uneducated in dealing with all this, so I had to change, and this change was a total challenge.

On the other hand, the containment of the will deals with the fact that, once immersed in the music industry, you get a lot of expectations of the correspondent archetype of success, and, in order to keep doing things, to live out of the music and so, you start to will, to desire, and the process is painfully slow and frustrating. But, when I learned how to contain the will, I lived happily, no matter what happened in the environment.

How did the concept of “Meridian Brothers and El Grupo Renacimiento” come about? What inspired the fictional band and their story?

The inspiration came out of the general obsession of the media and nowadays society with the truth. And of course, with its opposite, the lie.

Therefore, all these terms of ‘fake news’, ‘Fake documentary’, ‘mockumentary’, ‘conspiracy theory’, and more, created several types of content on the web (the source of all the information). I decided to make a fake story of the prototypical group of salsa of the seventies, which way, a beloved genre for me.

In the past, I have made these projects in small singles and hidden projects, but with this, it became a whole album, with the mockumentary and all.

“Meridian Brothers and El Grupo Renacimiento” merges salsa with critiques of technology. How do you balance traditional music genres with contemporary themes?

Well, I don’t think technology excludes tradition. If one speaks about the general definition of the term (a practical solution to technical problems, applying scientific means).

Anyway, now we tend to define technology exclusively within the domain of digital, computerized devices, and solutions, even more, we also tend to think that applying digital technology to society is an advance and an evolution. This is where my critique starts. I prefer to divide “technology” and “technocracy” into two separate concepts. I actually critique technocracy, the control of society via scientific principles and technical means, not technology itself, which is one of the most remarkable activities of humans.

Eblis Alvarez2 Perla Hernandez
Eblis Alvarez © Perla Hernandez Galicia

What inspired the character of Artemio Morelia, and how does he reflect the album’s critique of technology?

Artemio is a middle-aged man, overwhelmed by technology (aka technocracy), then he complains about how the world has changed. Anyway, the lyrics of “El Grupo Renacimiento” are naive and simple. I imitate the style of seventies salsa, which used to take trivial matters and put them into lyrics. Artemio just complains or describes his suffering in a personal view of these matters.

The album is described as a “futuristic past.” Can you elaborate on this concept and how you achieved it musically?

Yeah! I use this term, mostly meditating on the idea of a parallel timeline, in which humanity is more conscious and free, not influenced that much by the controllers. The idea of it is to go to the past and embark on a new timeline producing a brighter future, then I call it “A futuristic past”.

To keep adding stuff to this concept, I also use the idea – very common by the way – that we use the past to create the future, “A futuristic past”.

Can you explain the role of storytelling in your music, especially through the lens of Latin American crónica?

Well, I don’t tell that many stories in my music, in terms of chronological order. Most of my characters are describing a situation or a state of mind. I also create stereotypic characters, common figures of personalities mostly using the basic molds that produce human actions, these molds are in the primary source: the ego, the material possessions, the siblings, the family, the pleasures and creations, sickness, the enemies and the agreements, the absurd mysteries and contradictions of personas, religious beliefs or materialistic atheism, the success, friends, and the unknown and the relation with the non-human, or the super-human collectivity.

I search for contradictory situations among these molds, sometimes funny and absurd, I kind of like that. And if it’s for a crónica, most of the chronological situations in a timeline are a consequence of a basic stereotypic contradiction.

Meridian Brothers have explored many genres throughout their career. What musical styles are you currently interested in experimenting with?

Yeah, all these genres are connected anyway to the Caribbean and its components, which are vast. I am interested in solid formants of the Caribbean language, whatever it is.

For example, I’m now researching guitar duos in African music and its connection with the Colombian coast. What can be done with the sound and the format…

The Bogotá music scene is known for its innovation. Who are some contemporary Colombian artists you find inspiring?

Totally innovating. I’m interested currently in the new generation of musicians, which in general are deeper than our beginnings. The new generation is better at researching, they know the music industry, our musical history, and they are very prolific.

Currently, I’m very into accordion music, for example; I can name Ivan Medellin and Conjunto Media Luna (which I made a record with), Mau Gatiyo y Los Años Maravillosos, El Turco Perro. But also, some other people making salsa music such as “La Pambelé”, or tambor music such as “La Perla”.

Every day a new music group is born in Bogotá, I can assure you. I would like to keep more track of all this amazing music.

How does performing as a full band with Meridian Brothers differ from your solo work under the same moniker?

It differs a lot. I don’t really think of a live act when recording. I prefer to consider myself as a ‘composer’ who imagines a music space, and then writes it in scores to be performed later, or keeping the metaphors, I can be someone like a writer which imagines fiction to be decoded via reading.

I try to make that in the studio, either imagining artificial spaces or very real spaces, such as a normal live recording, and it takes a lot of time of experimentation, research, and imagination.

When going on stage, I really have to reconstruct the work to make it real in a live situation. It’s a lot of work for the band (Maria, Mauricio, Alejandro, Cesar, and our sound engineer, Alejandro too), trying to put all these spaces onto a stage.

As a multi-instrumentalist, do you have any favorite vintage or obscure instruments that you enjoy incorporating into your music?

I play whatever instrument crosses my path. It can be in unconventional ways (not to say amateur), or in conventional ways. Anyway, I’m not the type who goes out searching for new objects to buy and experiment with.

I really concentrate on what I have, which is a lot, and mostly on playing and performing rather than the fetish of the object itself. I mean, you can really pull tons of exciting sounds from a conventional synthesizer if you know how to use it, or I can play very interesting music on my old cello.

I don’t mean that this is the only way; there are a lot of new instruments to discover. I wait for my chance to get them too, but I’m not obsessed with it.

Beyond music, are there any other creative pursuits you’d like to explore in the coming years (e.g., film scoring, visual art)?

I have worked with film, documentaries, and so on. I would like to continue with it if there’s a chance, of course. But I mostly concentrate on my albums with the three bands I work with, especially with the Meridian Brothers.

I also compose score music on commissions. This is something I enjoy a lot, and I really hope to make more works for the future.

Photos courtesy of Meridian Brothers
Featured image © Paul Bourdrel

Last Updated on March 22, 2024 by retrofuturista

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