EXCLUSIVE: Meet La Yegros, the Afro-Argentinian Electro-Cumbia Badass

La Yegros
Nora Lezano

Cumbia and chamamé were the music of Mariana Yegros’ childhood. She remembers fondly the chamamés her father listened to at home and the cumbias that played all around her. The music she’s creating now is as much an outgrowth of her soul as it is the creation of something new.

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Yegros is the singer-songwriter behind La Yegros, the amazingly talented Afro-Argentinian mujer quickly becoming a powerful force in a new wave of musicians re-imagining cumbias and other Latin American rhythms.

Part of a larger movement of underground musicians who are weaving rhythms traditional to their regions with electronic genres, La Yegros is giving classic Argentinian folk music a makeover. “We’re working on the music of our continent, things that have to do with our origins,” said Yegros in an interview with Latina. “It’s an honor to be part of this movement. It’s a very revolutionary moment, to be part of this.”

Argentinian cumbias and chamamés are full of horns, accordions and drums – sonic evidence of the indigenous life, European colonization, slave trade and migrations that have shaped South America. Now, this music that has lived in folk and traditional spaces – music that has been primarily held and nurtured by Argentina’s lower socioeconomic classes – is mixing with elements of hip-hop and electronic beats, and making its way to dance floors across the world.

With her new take on Argentinian folk, La Yegros is providing young people all across the globe a connection to the cultural richness of these rhythms, all while reinventing and growing tradicion. “The traditional takes another form to reach young people. Reviving it in one way or another, but keeping it as something from our roots.”

Of course, La Yegros is one in a long line of young people re-inventing cumbia for their generation – some of us have been bailando esta cumbia with Selena for years, after all. But the last decade has brought a veritable explosion of artists from all over Latin America, putting new spins on the originally Colombian genre. From colombianos Bomba Estéreo, whom Yegros names frequently as inspirations, to mexicanos 3Ball MTY, nu-cumbia has exploded.

Adding to the phenomenon is "Magnetismo," La Yegros’ second album. She’s genuinely enthralled about her new work. “I love all these songs,” she says. “Every song has different condiments. Each song tells a different story.”

Once you take a listen, it’ll be obvious why. Infectious party jams, sentimental ballads, and everything in between pepper her sophomore effort, giving us a bit of something for any occasion.

She’s got jams for when you’re feeling particularly good about dumping your trifling boo (she sings “Ya amanecí de pié / no me arrepentiré / podría pasar la vida entera sola y sin mirar atrás” in "Hoy"). It’s the perfect thing to put on for your social justice reading club homies (“Dejate llevar y la rebellion nos va a iluminar,” she says in "Déjate"). She gives us songs for when you’re losing your mind with lust (“Atormentada estoy con tu mirada / como se apaga el fuego cuando hay llamas / como se apagan dios / como se apagan?” - "Atormentada"), or for when you’re short on cash but all you want in life is a drink, so you ask the señora to front you some (“señora chichera deme un trago de su veneno / despues le pago” – "Chicha Roja").

With her first album, "Viene de Mi," La Yegros established herself as a natural talent, the kind of artist who has the raw energy needed to make it. With her second, she shows us she’s willing to put in the hard work to create beautiful music for the long run. Written in between an impressive fifteen international tours over the last two years, "Magnetismo" not only solidifies her place in the genre, but also places her as a critical voice in the newest generation of Latin American underground musicians to grow and expand on Latino musical traditions.

Most importantly, La Yegros’ music shows us a multi-faceted representation of a badass Latina. Her songs give us a full picture of a woman who’s fundamentally human: she wants to party and she’s sexual, she’s tender and she’s humble, she’s thinking about a revolution for the world around her and she’s being introspective. And the woman’s not messing around. In "Frágil," she confronts sexist stereotypes head on, and clarifies very quickly for anyone who might be confused about her strength (“Piensas que soy fragil? Que no tengo agallas para soportar el dolor? / Cada vez que caigo me levanto / Soy un gato de madera que no entrega ni su alma ni su vida ni sus penas”).

When I asked her about the song, she doesn’t have to think twice. “Women are seen as tender and sensitive, and sometimes that makes me mad,” she said. “I needed to express that you can present yourself as tender and be strong nonetheless.”

If you’ve ever seen her perform, you’ll recognize this strength in the fire she brings to the stage.

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“That’s how we women are – mothers, grandmothers – we’re willing to give everything to what we love, and we have an interior strength that’s incredible. Don’t think we’re fragile. There’s a little warrior in there always,” she says.