The roots of modern cumbia trace most recently to Colombia in the 1920s, where it evolved over generations after arriving from Africa centuries earlier via the transatlantic slave trade. From there it went viral; today it’s the musical lingua franca of the Latinx diaspora. Cumbia’s defining characteristic, a shuffling 2/4 rhythm, moves millions, from after-hours nightclubs in Buenos Aires to quinceañeras in LA, with variations endemic to Latinx communities around the globe.
In Seattle, it’s the basis of an unprecedented new project: Terror/Cactus is the first homegrown psychedelic electro-cumbia band this city has ever known.
“Cumbia is appealing to me because it’s a unifying thing between countries,” says Martín Selasco, the main mind behind Terror/Cactus. “It lends itself to mixing with dub or surf guitar or other elements. It doesn’t have to be just one thing. It can evolve.”
Terror/Cactus’ cumbia is an atmospheric immersion into sounds from Selasco’s childhood in Buenos Aires and Miami, his later-in-life travels throughout Mexico and South America and a prevailing sensation of heady, pan-Latinx fantasy. Released last November, Terror/Cactus’ debut LP Cerro Invisible swirls with acoustic and electric guitars, electric bass and digital gilding, wildly diverse percussion and samples. With heavy studio-enhanced effects and field recordings from rainforests and open-air markets, Selasco creates a hallucinatory soundtrack for a time and place that’s both real and imagined, everywhere and nowhere.
Just as Terror/Cactus’ fully instrumental style creates an impressionistic listening experience, the live band, which includes a drummer and a keyboardist/projectionist, perform wearing masks and sprayed with eye-popping visuals. No lyrics, no faces. It’s as if there aren’t individual personalities behind the music and instead only ideas, feelings, morphic suggestions.
“Part of making it instrumental and hiding the face had to do with not making the music about me as an individual,” Selasco says. “It’s not about my story, or what I’m going through emotionally. It’s more open-ended to experiences or moods or states of consciousness.”