Several years ago, Julián Salazar — at the time guitar player for internationally-renowned band Bomba Estereo — spent some time on the Pacific coast of Columbia, an experience that motivated him to capture the lush, entrancing sonic landscapes of the jungle in his compositions.
To accomplish this, Julián joined forces with a young percussionist, Franklin Tejedor. Tejedor, a former player with Bomba Estereo on their third album, hails from a lineage of musicians in the town of San Basilio de Palenque, the first free black town of the new world and a cultural space classified by UNESCO as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Alongside his father and other family members, Tejedor had also played drums with Las Alegres Ambulancias, San Basilio de Palenque's most iconic band.
Mitú gave a performance at WOMEX 2013 showcase in Cardiff, Wales at a time when they were beginning to tour in support of Potro, their debut album. The brew they concocted was absolutely mesmerizing. Tejedor laid out ecstatic beats on Colombian folkloric drums, while Salazar wove in an evocative sonic tapestry on analog synths, accompanied by words and chants that Tejedor pronounced in his hometown language of palenquero — created by freed persons who had no common language between them — which gave the tunes a mysterious timbre, both ancient and futuristic.
After releasing Potro in 2012 and Balnear in 2014 (recorded in Palenque), the 2015 EP Siempre marked Tejedor's transition from playing folkloric drums to digital drum pads, a trend continued in Mitú's upcoming third LP, Cosmus, their first under ZZK Records. Also, after a decade with Bomba Estereo, Salazar recently made the decision to move away from that band to deepen his exploration of this genre that he and Tejedor have termed "techno palenquero."
Cosmus' first single, "Fiebre," features Teresa Reyes on vocals, another musician from San Basilio de Palenque; its video documents total freedom as experienced by a couple in their late teens.
The record's second single, "Melgar," also features Teresa Reyes and reveals more what makes Mitú so exciting in comparison to other roots-meets-electronica music. As Salazar and Tejedor play over Reyes' chants, the ensuing dialogue creates a highly cinematic sound that has little in common with the normal practice of taking an established traditional element — cumbia, say — and setting it into a pop-electronic context.
Rather, Salazar fiercely manipulates his analog synths, extracting abstract recreations of the sonic jungle he had set out to document (there's a reason he's been called the "Electronic Mowgli" of Colombia).
Take "Cóctel," a gentle, almost meditative — but nevertheless danceable — discourse that begins with a brief spoken word moment, moving through sounds reminiscent of traditional Colombian flutes, building to a lovely trance layered with distant chants.
Tejedor says that the first time he invited his father to see Mitú perform, the elder Tejedor (Laureano "Lámpara" Tejedor, a musician of some fame in San Bsailio de Palenque) asked: "Where are the musicians in your band? Where are the instruments? What's with all these machines?" But by the end of the night, the elder Tejedor was tearing up the dancefloor himself, and complimented his son on the music.
Mitú takes full advantage of what roots and electronica together can accomplish. Its sound emerges from the the infinite variations that equipment allows yet it is nurtured by the deep wellspring of a centuries-old music. In an act of musical Afrofuturism, Cosmus travels to the Palenque of the future — a walled refuge where, free of constraints, two artists create a new language to speak to each other and through it are able to express an astounding range of emotions.
Cosmus is available on ZZK Records today, August 25.