Ever since I wrote about the origin of nu-cumbia for the August issue of Latina, I’ve been listening (on and off) to the different mash-ups coming through Bersa Discos, a label that continues to fuse old and new beats with the sole purpose of getting us on the dance floor. I recently spoke to Bay Area DJ Disco Shawn, who, along with fellow spinner Oro 11, started the imprint:
How did you meet Oro 11?
We were both living in Buenos Aires as expats. We met up down there through the party Zizek. When I moved down in late 2006, the party was just getting started. They weren’t the first DJs to experiment with cumbia, but they were the first to present it as mash-ups.
When did you decide to start Bersa Discos?
Gavin [Oro 11] and I were both DJing at Zizek and at other similar parties. We realized that a lot of the music wasn’t being released. DJs were making music in their bedrooms and burning it on CDs. And we thought, someone should start putting some of these out. We didn’t have major expectations. As soon as I got back to the United States, we put out Bersa Discos No. 1 and we started a party called Tormento Tropical in San Francisco. We do vinyl and then we sell them as MP3s, but it’s all word of mouth.
Let’s backtrack a little: How did cumbia make its way to Argentina?
They actually had cumbia villera in the late '90s—music from the shantytowns. They had immigrants from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. This strain of cumbia started popping up and it was almost like gangsta-driven cumbia. It was cheesy cumbia beats, but the lyrics were about guns, having sex, parties. It freaked out Argentine parents because kids were listening to it. What resulted was a lot of producers and DJs who listened to it growing up—four or five years later, they were more inspired to say, ‘Hey, I can take cumbia and cut it up.’ And with the explosion of home technology, they could put new beats and do mash-ups.
Why do you think cumbia lends itself to experimentation?
The tempo is the same range as hip-hop. In terms of the pacing, it has a dub feel. It’s not oppressively electronic. People are more open to sounds these days. There’s a huge generation of Latinos whose parents immigrated here, and the kids have their feet in two different worlds. They think of cumbia as their parents’ music, but they love hip-hop. We’re combining those two influences.
Who are some of the more important players in the genre?
Zizek has its own record label. Toy Selecta has a release on Diplo’s label, Mad Decent. In New York, there’s a guy named DJ Rupture. He started putting some stuff out on his record label. In Argentina, there’s one kid, El Hijo de la Cumbia; he’s one of the most exciting producers. Up Root Andy, who lives in Brooklyn, has some tracks on Bersa No. 4.
How did it become such a global trend?
With the Internet and MySpace, people are starting to talk to one another. We get e-mails from people in Japan who say, ‘We love cumbia!’