Last summer was the first time I found out about Fantástica: Un Cumbia Happening. When I wrote that post, with only for a couple of weeks of blogging experience, I had been looking forward to go there all summer. I couldn’t have imagined that it would take another full year before I would finally head to Amsterdam to be there. It turned out to be the last chance I’d ever be able to have…
To get to the venue, I had to take one of the rusty ferries that move back and forth across the bay towards the northern side of Amsterdam. An old industrial area where apparently, cultural and nightlife activities have mushroomed over the recent years, drawing plenty of young folks away from, rather than into the city centre on a regular Saturday night. The girl who explained it to me had been living in Berlin for a while and it is this almost Berlinesque dynamism, which you won’t find much outside Amsterdam, that sets this city apart from much of the country.
She was a fan of Analog Africa and since the moment I told her about cumbia, Fantástica and Generation Bass, we lit up the night with sparks of music talk. “Are you sure you don’t want to join?” I asked, as the ferry approached the quay. The venue was already in sight and the sparkling lights, reflected by the rippling water, radiated warm vibes into the dark, cold night. “If I wouldn’t be on the brink of collapse out of tiredness, I definitely would,” she answered.
I’ve said it before, Fantástica is the best cumbia party on the European continent since 1969 and all of this has been created by just one man: the Amsterdam based Argentinian tropicalist Hernán Ambrogi, a.k.a. Makina, a guitar-player-producer-dj who performs with a velvet tiger on his head. In the early days of the ‘cumbia happenings’, it started as a jam-session, where people would get their instruments together and improvise around the classic themes of Colombian traditional cumbia, chicha, sonidera and villera. This developed into La Banda Fantástica, a cumbia band whose live performance has remained the main act of the night ever since.
The jam-atmosphere has never left the band. When they’re playing, happiness and fun buzz around the place and once in a while the crowd bursts out, loudly singing along one of the all-time classic themes.. “Nunca, pero nunca, me abandones cariñito!”
The terrace outside had a magnificent view on Amsterdam’s nocturnal skyline. After the performance, chilling there with one of the band members, talking about the current state of the cumbia scene in Western Europe, I heard that Hernan will so0n move back to Argentina, and that this edition of Fantástica was sort of his goodbye party. I realised that an era of cumbia in Amsterdam had come to an end and that I was, at least, lucky enough to attend its apotheosis.
I decided to use this final chance to put Hernan in the spotlights of Generation Bass.
GB: For the readers who don’t know you yet, could you first introduce yourself? Who is this tiger called Makina?
H: Hey hi! Makina is a producer and Dj who makes electronic music and who also happens to play guitar in a cumbia band. I also work as a producer for other artists, but I do that work under my real name, Hernán Alejandro Ambrogi.
GB: You’re a very versatile musician. You play the guitar, you dj, you produce different kinds of music, you organise events. Is there any ‘common denominator’ in what you do, a main passion that comes back in your different activities?
H: I’ll try not to be corny, but yes, the passion for music, hehehe.
I do indeed do lots of different things connected with music and they all demand different processes. Some of them I enjoy more than others… Like I have started organizing parties so I could play, but it is something that takes a lot of energy and time. And sending emails it’s definitely not my passion! I love playing guitar and ‘singing’ with ‘La Banda Fantástica’, because it is a very straight forward activity. I plug the guitar, check the mic is working, and play for hours …
The work I do in the studio is completely different. It’s more about the ‘sound’ and not so much about live performance. I am usually alone and completely sober hehehe. I also produce other people, which is something I like to do very much. I am currently finishing an album with Fusée Dorée, really cool deep down tempo songs.
All in all is pretty much and I think I would like to start focusing on one or two activities… rather than doing 20 things at the same time. But I am not sure this will work, hehehe…
GB: There is a big Latino community in the Netherlands and there are many Latin parties, but there seems to be very little cumbia. Why is that? How would you describe the scene here?
H: I can’t talk about The Netherlands, because I actually never go out of Amsterdam hehe But I think there are some nice parties and Dj’s that are into cumbia over here. El Búho (who also organises the SubTropikal parties), Cafe de Calaveras, UMOJA, Seb from the Rebel Up! Soundclash crew, Dj Rengo Estar, Dj Rodrigo, Dj Larva… There are even free cumbia lessons at the OT301 on Sundays! It’s not like there is a huge scene, but they are all great Dj’s and we are also friends, which is also a nice thing.
I would really like to organize a cumbia festival someday and invite them all; and also to bring all our friends from Germany, Spain and Latin America. But Like I’ve said, I don’t enjoy sending emails that much so… Maybe one day!
GB: Would you say Fantástica has put cumbia on the map?
H: I don’t know, hahaha.
People come to dance, get drunk, try to find a boy or a girl, experience the live band, listen to lots of great Cumbia Dj form around the globe, eat some empanadas or bananas, drink some more, and when you want to realize what time it is, you are already been kicked away by the dutch closing time laws, hehe…
I’ve always tried to make a happening and not just another party with a guy behind a laptop playing .mp3’s. So from the cumbia jam sessions we organised in the begining, the band came up. Next to that we always have dancers, fruit, cocktails, dj’s, vj’s, jungle decoration…
GB: What kind of people are coming to Fantástica, is there any target group?
H: I am not a big fan of the term ‘latin’ so from the beginning we’ve always try to make it accessible for everyone. Anyone can dance cumbia and you don’t need to be dress in any specific fashion, so in the end everybody feels welcome.
I think that one of the nicest things at the Fantástica is that everybody is smiling, there is a really nice vibe each time and they all leave happy!
GB: Now you’re moving to Argentina permanently, can we expect any fresh Makina projects over there?
H: Well yes! I am now busy with my first album that I am going to release under the name ‘makina y orquesta’. It’s a conceptual album for electronics, bandoneón and guitarra criolla. The style could be described as deep-organic-argentinian-electronic-music (!!!!). I’ve been listening to lots of Atahualpa Yupanqui and Murcof. Together with Deep House I guess are the biggest influences on the album.
The idea is to perform it live with Lisandro Silva Echevarría on guitars and Patricio ‘Tripa’ Bonfiglio on bandoneón. They are really amazing musicians so I can’t wait to start jamming with them!
Meanwhile, one half of the Dutch tropical duo UMOJA (the other half had a booking in Portugal that same night) had settled behind the desks and heated up the dance floor with warm-blooded, nostalgic vintage Latin from original vinyl records. Think about Frente Cumbiero, Nacho Paredes Y Su Combo De Oro, Alejandro Duran, or Los Corraleros. And for the final hour before closing time, Makina himself climbed the dj booth for a fresh blend of some more nu-cumbia flavours.
The people I talked to were indeed a very diverse mix. Some were personal friends of the artists, others had roots in a cumbia-country and were happy an event like this existed in the Netherlands, again others had ended up at the place randomly and were amazed by all the warmth, happiness and delicious grooves.
“When I came here for the first time,” a Romanian girl told me, “I’d never heard of cumbia, but when I heard the rhythm I felt it right away, as if it’s in my blood!”
Another girl told me about her memories of Aruba. “On the island, you hear cumbia on the radio all year long. There’s no better music for me to bring that feeling back..”
A girl who danced like a true cumbia dance queen happened to be a Dutch girl from Amsterdam who was just freestyling.
An era of Fantástica: un cumbia happening in Amsterdam has come to an end. But I’m happy I’ve been able to experience it to the fullest. Let’s see what the future holds.