The Kumbia Queers is bassist Patricia “Kumbiadaver,” guitarist Pila “Zombie” Jackson, drummer “Inspector,” acoustic punk musician Juana Chang and lead singer Ali “Guaguanco.” This pastiche of a band "cumbied" out in Santiago and Valparaíso on its South American tour this year.
(kumbia-05.jpg Photo courtesy Kumbia Queers)
The group has developed quite a cult following in Santiago and beyond. On their first night in Chile, the Queers played at Opera Catedral, a swanky Lastarria restaurant. Despite the plush leather couches that kept anyone from getting close to the stage, the band still managed to get people up off the couches to dance. They played a long set featuring re-interpreted AC/DC, The Cure and Madonna songs, among others.
(kumbia-14.jpg Photo courtesy Kumbia Queers)
The group formed in Buenos Aires in 2006 and plays classic pop songs to cumbia rhythms while making the lyrics absolutely "queer." Their hit "La Isla con Chicas" ("The Island With Girls") is a hit akin to Mariah Carey's "I Can't Live (If Living Is Without You)" and a fantastic take on Madonna's "La Isla Bonita." With new lyrics and a cumbia beat, the band has managed to produce a better song than the original.
I had the opportunity to talk with charango player Juana Chang about the group's name, loaded with two particularly weighty terms.
"Queer," she explained, was a term that included everyone who didn't want to box themselves into one category. "It's not about being gay; it's about being queer," Chang says. In light of this, we have the Kumbia Queers, who produce a kind of music that can get just about everyone on their dancing feet.
Cumbia's presence in Argentine music is largely popular, but mainly among lower classes. Its content is largely derived from lyrics about violence, drugs, hardship and sex, much like North American hip hop. But the Kumbia Queers do something totally different with cumbia: they make it queer, singing about islands filled with beautiful lesbians.
Some people compare the Queers to lesbians on ecstasy. I don't, though the two do have one thing in common: They're not there to give you politics of the plight of living as a queer person in a not-so-queer-friendly world. Instead, they give you the initiative to dance, sweat and forget.
Thanks for coming to Chile. The Kumbia Queers will be back in Valparaíso this month for a New Year's Eve show at El Tebo.