Electrifying Cumbia: Synth & Disco Shaping the Sound of Today

text by digital-media

14 June, 2024

Assistant MD Savina is here to introduce you to the new wave of cumbia and the standout talents that have shaped its evolution. Read on to discover the ways that artists from the 1970s to present-day have worked to transform traditional cumbia while also staying true to their roots. 

words by: Savina Gutierrez

A vibrant new wave of cumbia music and artists has emerged since the 1970’s. This new generation grew up immersed in the sounds of classic cumbia and is now transforming the genre. The evolution of cumbia music spans decades, with both old and contemporary artists pushing the boundaries of the genre in exciting ways. In the past, we have seen the genre characterized by instruments like accordion, guitar, and percussion. With the evolution of the genre, we are seeing an incorporation of synth keys and disco rhythms, bringing new life to traditional cumbia. Artists such as Los Angeles Azuels, Fito Olivares, and La Sonora Dinamita are some of the key figures who have shaped traditional cumbia. With the evolution of the genre, we see an incorporation of synth keys and disco rhythms, bringing it new life. I’m excited to highlight some of my favorite artists in Cumbia and to showcase how contemporary artists are using modern influences to create a fresh and dynamic sound. 

Los Yoyi (1977) 

  • Del Copacabana del 34

Grupo Los Yoyi stands as a pioneer of psychedelic electro-cumbia. Their self-titled 1977 debut album redefined the genre with its seamless blending of synth, funk, and Latino rhythms. This is the only album composed and produced by Jorge Soler León, and it is nothing short of a masterpiece. Its 70s production style adds a vintage sound that complements its overall groovy aura. The seamless blend of synth keys and gritty guitars creates a satisfyingly textured sound that’s impossible not to be drawn into. When those cumbia beats kick in, your head can’t help but bop along. Throughout the album, Los Yoyi masterfully uses breaks to create suspense throughout each piece. Specifically, in “Del Copacanba del 34,” halfway through the track, he simplifies the arrangement, leaving us with just one beat and melody while we hear the layered background vocals. This technique creates such a climactic moment before seamlessly transitioning back into the full arrangement. With no other work to follow, this album stands as a testament to Los Yoyi’s unparalleled talent and creativity, leaving an undeniable mark on the history of music. 

Malphino (2018)

  • The Sleep Tree

At first listen, this cumbia group, Malphino, captures the sound of classic cumbia tracks Through their use of instruments such as the accordion, synthesizer, cowbell, and guacharaca. Malphino’s ensemble is formed by internationally diverse members. Despite their roots in the UK, the group’s members come from all over the globe- including Japan, the Philippines, England, Malaysia, France, and Colombia. Their song “The Sleep Tree” uses synth keys, dreamy guitar, and a vibrant guacharaca that keeps you moving along with the beat. With this deep appreciation for cumbia music, Maplhino has been able to add a new modern and international spin on this genre with its cinematic, mystical qualities. 

Tropa Magica (2020)

  • Meme City 

Tropa Magica, an East LA band, explores various genres, from punk to cumbia to psychedelic punk. Tropa Magica takes a completely different approach to this genre. Specifically, with their song, “Meme City,” there is an overwhelmingly ethereal and echoey tone to this track. The glittery reverbed guitar and hypnotic synth loop make the track so much more dream-like. Plus, the lead singer’s raspy voice, accompanied by haunting background vocals and a drum line that intermittently enters and exits the track, creates suspense and intensifies the entire song. This song is so mesmerizing and playful, even with its lyrics, “Meme City” is as engaging as its title suggests.  

ARIEL (2022)

  • Dame tu amor

With the rise of modern cumbia music, these up-and-coming artists incorporate elements of reggaeton and disco into their music. A great example of this is Mexican American artist ARIEL, formerly known as Ariel and the Culture. In his 2020 single, “Dame Tu Amor,” there is a catchy synth line that sets a vibrant, energetic feel. His use of pitched vocals and turntable scratching gives a very retro, 90’s Chicano energy to the song. The production of his album “buena vista!” is flawless, with instruments like the guacharaca & cowbell, he blends traditional cumbia beats with modern electronic synths. The elements he uses to create a sound that is so nostalgic and transform his music into a sick dance track. For listeners who enjoy the sounds of artists like Chicano Batman, CUCO, or Boy Pablo, ARIEL is a standout who adds even more depth to the Chicano music scene by experimenting with new sounds and techniques and embracing cultural authenticity. Innovation challenges both the artist and the audience, pushing them to explore new sonic landscapes and perspectives. This Texas-born artist has done a fine job creating his own sound and solidifying his place as a rising star in the music industry.

Cumbia is a timeless genre that continues to prove itself as a staple in the music world. Whether you’re a longtime fan or new to the genre, I hope you found some new music and enjoyed looking into these new, vibrant sounds and rhythms! 


Posted in Blog, Music reviews, Music