The Colombian Meridian Brothers aren’t actually brothers. Originally, they weren’t even plural.
This innovative, genre-transgressing salsa band started as a one-man studio project from musical polymath, Eblis Alvarez, who composed and played on the recordings. For performances, his band now features four friends from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá. It’s an exciting group whose aural adventurousness and wide range has garnered international acclaim, placing them outside the mainstream of an insular salsa scene.
Lucky for us, they’ll be performing at the downtown Richmond Music Hall on Monday, April 3rd, joined by our city’s own acclaimed bolero group, Miramar, who will open the show.
“We’ve been playing live for 15 years,” says founder Alvarez when reached in Colombia via WhatsApp. “It was originally intended to be a solo project, then continued in a number of albums.” The recordings combined a deep appreciation of cumbia and salsa roots with an experimental, psychedelic edge. “Our music could be called neo-tropicalism,” he continues, evoking the Brazilian, late-1960s Tropicalismo movement that combined social focus with an omnivorous approach to influences. “We inspire ourselves from a wide range of records from Colombia, the African diaspora, Cuba, New Orleans, and Latin American music in general.”
On the recordings, traditional sources are given a modern, often synthesized palette. “We are traveling back in time along diagonals and parallel lines,” Alvarez explains, “picking out elements to put into nowadays technology.”
He believes that it’s more about an attitude to the material. “In the past, musicians were creating solely on their instruments. From hip-hop on, artists have been using existing samples as creative material,” he says. “Some of the albums are directed toward recycling, curating materials from samples and putting them back in. Sometimes, I prefer traditional tones, rhythms, textures, and orchestrations.”
But the Meridian Brothers live are a different animal, he says.
“For people who know our music, the performance is a 3D, 4D or 5D experience,” says Alvarez. “There are several more dimensions of mind, emotions, physical being. People who knew us from just our records in the past say that we are better live, more profound. For those who don’t know us, I don’t know. Based on testimony, people like it. It’s a new experience with Latin music, combing synthesizer sequencing with a live drummer.”
Like Richmond’s own salsa favorites, Bio Ritmo, the innovative approach may have crossover appeal but not connect with genre aficionados who prefer bands to color within traditional lines. “We are kind of outsiders in salsa,” Alvarez admits. “It’s like a church and we are not members; or it is that we are member of several churches. I am a collector of salsa records and a salsa dancer. I can play congas, timbales, and salsa bass. But when someone approaches a collective with something new, it is not accepted immediately.”
Their latest album, “Meridian Brothers y El Grupo Renacimiento,” is perhaps the band’s most pure, if stripped down, salsa album. “If you played it in a dance venue, it would pass,” says Alvarez. “I follow all the parameters, all the cliches, the forms, and the sounds of ‘70s salsa. It is not that radical. Still, some journalists still say it is new. I do not know what it is. Maybe some attitude with the voice.”
The band’s wide sonic range does present a sound challenge onstage.
“I am very picky about the mix,” Alvarez notes. “There are many details, we change a lot of styles. In a nine-song set, we play three songs that are salsa and also cumbia and electronic salsa. All are very different; everyone needs their own mix in their monitors. On the new record, I sing in a different pitch and have to hear myself clearly. The arrangements are very tight, so we need a detailed sound check.”
The audience is also integral. “They can be receptive in several frequencies,” Alvarez says. ‘They can be dancing and partying, or they can be unmoving, just listening and observing. The only thing I do not want is a cold audience that isn’t paying attention.”
That is unlikely to happen on Monday with Richmond favorites Miramar as the opening band. It may be tempting for some folks to take the first school night of the week off, after an overstuffed weekend of music.
But in this case, with this band, F.O.M.O. (fear of missing out), should be a real concern.
The Meridian Brothers perform with guests Miramar at Richmond Music Hall on Monday, April 3. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. For more info, visit thebroadberry.com.