Davis Square’s Crystal Ballroom was packed with a diverse crowd for a late, Easter Sunday show headlined by Combo Chimbita. The show was part of the Global Arts Live series, which has quickly become one of my favorite ways to discover new artists in Boston. Their mission is to bring diverse music and dance from around the globe to Boston. They bring amazing acts from other countries, as well as American artists with international influences. Likewise, the Crystal Ballroom, located above the Somerville Theater, has become one of my favorite places to catch shows because the space is small enough to see artists up close in the standing floor space, or hang out with them at one of the tables or bars.
Combo Chimbita are a Brooklyn-based psychedelic cumbia band whose members are of Colombian descent. Many of the hallmarks of psychedelic music are present in Combo Chimbita’s music: guitar and vocals drenched in reverb and delay; trance-like bass, synth, and guitar riffs; and ripping guitar solos. Colombian influences enter particularly in the drums and percussion. Unlike in mainstream rock where drum patterns hold the pulse in the cymbal and manipulate energy by increasing activity, Combo Chimbita’s drummer—Dilemastronauta— manipulates textures by exploring different parts of his drum kit. In other words, he will often create a groove without any cymbals, only adding them when he wants to increase intensity. This effect is aided by his skill at transitioning between cumbia and rock grooves.
Bassist Prince of Queens, meanwhile, displayed an innovative technique that I don’t think I’ve encountered before. In numerous songs he would transition seamlessly between playing bass and playing synth, the former used to create deep grooves and the latter used to create spacey pads. The result was similar to what one would expect from a DJ, except in this case Prince of Queens would “drop the bass” by literally switching to the bass guitar. This was supported by Niño Lento es Fuego on guitar, who was equally skilled at supplying interesting riffs, harmonic pads, and roaring solos.
They’re fronted by vocalist Carolina Oliveros, whose voice is both beautiful and haunting. She has an incredible stage presence, and sang and interacted with the crowd primarily in Spanish, which many in the crowd understood. Combo Chimbita’s lyrics have a number of influences, but have recently turned to subjects of “systemic racism, capitalist decadence, totalitarian governments and the attempted erasure of queer and trans people.” Oliveros also plays Guacharaca, a native Colombian percussion instrument that provides rhythmic foundation to cumbia.
A perfect encapsulation of all these elements is their song “Cachimba,” the second song played in their set. The verse groove features a cumbia beat played only on the toms, and is supported by an arpeggiated guitar riff and grooving bass. Oliveros’ vocals build in intensity as they’re echoed by responses from the other band members. This building intensity climaxes as the groove switches to an explosive rock beat with cymbal crashes as the guitar plays full chords. The effect gripped the crowd in a trance, and was just one example of an evening full of these moments provided by Combo Chimbita.