Bogota's the Meridian Brothers are the creation of Eblis Álvarez, who writes, arranges, produces, plays, and sings everything on their recordings, though when the band plays live he is aided by other musicians. Their music is almost unclassifiable, a bracing meld of electronic and organic instruments, influenced by Latin rock, psychedelia, Frank Zappa, the Residents, modern vanguard electronic music, and South American and Caribbean folk traditions and rhythms. Created in Bogota, Colombia in 1998, Álvarez, the son of biologists, was a key mover in the city's experimental music scene. He was heavily influenced by psychedelic Latin rock -- primarily from Argentina -- and was seeking new ways of melding instrumental playing with electronic production techniques. He made early recordings that were distributed locally on cassette. In 1999, he joined Mario Galeano's Ensamble Polifónico Vallenato as a guitarist. The group's innovative interpretation of traditional Colombian and tropical music and Latin rhythms influenced him greatly. In 2000, he moved to Denmark, where he studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and the DIEM (Danish Institute of Electronic Music), learning advanced editing and signal-processing techniques. He didn't return to Bogota until 2005; he discovered the country's music scene ripe with a new generation of musicians exploring cumbia, vallenato, salsa, and currulao. The Meridian Brothers V appeared in 2005 on la Distritofonica, a completely vanguard tropi-punk exercise that set out Álvarez's vision of dissonant electronic textures wedded to simple, yet fragmented melodies, canciones, and polkas. Meridian Brothers VI followed in 2006 as a wide-ranging evocation of Colombian sounds from the late '60s and '70s as they met with Nigerian highlife, Ethiopian pop, and modern Colombian and Peruvian cumbia in the studio. He formed a live touring band that included percussionist Damien Ponce, Maria Valencia on reeds and winds, Alejandro Forero on keyboards, and bassist Cesar Quevedo; Álvarez played guitar and sang. Meridian Brothers VII was released in 2007, and relied more heavily on the sounds of vintage Latin rock, champeta, surf, jazz, and electronica, all the while retaining the roots of cumbia and tropical. After South American and European tours, Álvarez and the Meridians recorded Desesperanza, which was issued by Soundway in 2012. It was a fever dream of a recording that delved exclusively into salsa and tropical music, with a vast array of electronic, acoustic, and editing techniques. A compilation entitled Devoción (Works 2005-2011) was released by Staubgold in 2013. The Meridian Brothers toured hard while Álvarez continued to plumb the depths of experimentation in both electronics and pan-Latin sounds and international pop musics. A series of singles appeared over the next two years on Names You Can Trust and Soundway, culminating in the release of Salvadora Robot, an album that wed psychedelia, quick edits, loops, Dominican merengue, cumbia, and salsa. It was issued by Soundway in June of 2014. Álvarez and his band toured festivals in Latin America and Europe before heading back into the recording studio. The next Meridian Brothers offering was the eight-song Los Suicidas, the first album in a trilogy. It was inspired by Colombian Hammond organ legend Jaime Llano Gonzalez, who was famous for playing his country's traditional music -- pasillos, bambucos, cumbias, etc. -- combined and juxtaposed with foreign rhythms like foxtrots and waltzes, all in an ambient style. But the Meridians did it in their own outrageous, warmly humorous way, as evidenced by the first single "Vertigo – Bolero." It was recorded to resemble an 8-bit chiptune. Los Suicidas was issued in November of 2015. The set appeared on numerous end-of-year best lists. After touring the U.S., Europe. and many countries in South America, Álvarez went back into hibernation to do more research and sonic experimenting. In late 2017, the Meridian Brothers emerged with the full-length Donde Estas Maria on Soundway. Though credited to the band, Álvarez worked alone in the studio to create "a kind of journey from Argentina through to Mexico" in which he traced the fractured, complex history, development, and spread of cumbia from one continent to another. ~ Thom Jurek
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