SA Vibes: Combo Cósmico takes listeners on a trip

SAN ANTONIO – A multicultural blend of sound, with an electronic twist and psychedelic visuals, guarantees a musical trip to space when you listen to the music of Combo Cósmico.

The band is a cumbia quintet from San Antonio, Texas “who take an out-of-this-world twist on one of the most popular forms of Latin American music. They take traditional cumbia to new heights by incorporating cosmic psychedelic influences to fully immerse audiences and listeners,” a press kit for the band said.

The band is full of veterans of the local music scene, all incredibly talented in their own right, so I was very excited to get the chance to feature them on SA Vibes.

Combo Cósmico started 2024 with a bang when they released and toured in support of their genre-bending debut album “Cumbia Ovnidera.” Since then, the San Antonio-based group has been busy developing new material – revisiting sounds and music that have influenced them over the years.

For this SA Vibes set, Combo Cósmico performs “Cumbia del Faraón,” “Hijo de Lobo,” “Cholos en Saturno,” “Lágrimas Mágicas,” and “Los Guapos suertudos, que saben el secreto.”

We asked a few questions about their inspiration and more.

What’s some background on the band?

Felipe Iruegas (bass guitar): We started off playing with Los Nahuatlatos, which is also a cumbia and fusion band with conjunto music, jazz, funk and cumbias. I would say that sparked our first times working together making cumbias, and it just came naturally. (We) did that for many years, and then we all came together one day, and Luis actually said, ‘Hey, we should go to the studio and record some songs.’ And we’re like, ‘Well, how many songs do you want to record?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, one or two.’

We went into the studio, Studio E, in San Antonio, and we ended up dishing out eight tracks. We (also created) a full album called Cumbia Ovnidera.

What’s your songwriting process like?

Joaquin Muerto (vocals/drums): There’s never really like a conventional way that we go about it. It’s usually like, ‘Hey, what about doing something with this?’ You know, we’ll make a sound, and we’ll kind of mess with it. And then it just kind of builds from there. There (are) always different layers. The first layer usually is a guitar part. And then we’ll like learn either the tones for the guitar part, but a lot of it is just kind of like, ‘Hey, I have an idea. What if we were to do this tempo, this fast, this type of drums or this guitar part?’ We also have brought in the Moog Modulator and different types of synth sounds. Sometimes, we’ll just start playing with a synth sound, and then that’ll be like, ‘What key is that?’ We’ll look for the key and then just start messing around with it. So nothing too normal about writing the music, we just kind of like throwing sounds at each other.

What’s the inspiration behind the unique sound?

Joaquin Muerte: I think the root of the inspiration comes from like, 1950s and 1960s Peruvian chicha, which at the time was considered psychedelic cumbia because they were stepping away from the orchestra style of cumbia and introducing electric and electrified music. But then we’re kind of fast-forwarding it or jumping into the future with synthesizers and seeing how we can take it a step higher when we talk about entering a psychedelic state.

Something that we do a lot is a drone; like, we kind of drone in sounds. The origins of this cumbe and traditional African sounds, you know, turning into the orchestras of Colombia and then Texas-style conjunto, cumbia, and then throw (in) a bunch of mushrooms on it and send it out to the space, you know? That’s kind of like where I would say (the) cosmic sound is like, where we kind of are floating in.

What’s the story behind one of your songs?

Arturo Bars (percussionist): One that really sticks out, and it’s one song that’s been quite a hit for us, I guess, is ‘Los Guapos suertudos que saben el secreto,’ which translates to ‘the handsome ones that are lucky and know the secret,’ right? Basically, the way that came about is I took a trip to Mexico, and I was there during the Festival Cervantino. Basically, it’s this big international festival, kind of like South by Southwest, if you would. But it’s international. So you get people from Iran, you know, Palestine, Italy, Germany (and) Korea, all those places. Usually, for these places, you have to get tickets (and) do a lot of waiting in line. You have to just kind of get lucky. And a lot of the times when we went out, we had no plan. The only thing we had was a pack of cigarettes and some drinks. That’s the only thing that we knew that we needed and we had. And every time we went out to the Festival Cervantino, we got close up. We got to meet the artists on stage. We got treated like royalty like we couldn’t understand it. And then one person said, ‘Oh, it’s because we’re good-looking.’ And then the other person said, ‘Oh, it’s because we’re lucky.’ And then the other person said, ‘Oh, it’s because we know the secret.’ So hence, ‘los guapos suertudos que saben el secreto.’

What’s your favorite part about the SA music scene?

Felipe Iruegas: The San Antonio music scene is very widespread. (There are) many different age groups, but they (are) in different parts of the city. Like where we are right now, we’re located inside The Starlighter here on Fredericksburg (Road) in San Antonio. It’s a great venue, and they have all kinds of different shows.

A friend of ours, Nicholas Valdez, actually put together a show called Proyecto PAX a few weeks ago, and we performed at it, and a lot of our other groups did. He has a project where he (is) interviewing folks and putting together a regional documentary about Chicano music. He was interviewing folks, just regular people (and) show-goers, and he showed me some of them. This one person actually made a really great point about it. She pointed out how things are pretty separate in San Antonio. There (are) a lot of different boroughs, you could say. A lot of different scenes, a lot of different genres happening. But, you know, to me, it’s amazing to see that there (is) music all over the city and there (is) a lot of talent everywhere. More now than ever before, a lot of these scenes are coming together. A lot of the genres are coming together, (with) different shows (and) different bands. It seems to be growing here in town.

Joaquin Muerte: It seems like a lot of younger folks will get their start at The Blue Star (Arts Complex), you know, walking into Blue Star going to First Friday. You know, they get a taste of some live music that might be happening there. Hey, well, we’re also going to be playing at Snake Hill. So then they’ll go to see live shows at Snake Hill. The one thing I love about San Antonio is that you have places like Stable Hall, for example, that will host bigger and more mainstream bands. Some of those bands may be not so known but (are) known in other places. And then, in that same area, you’ll have some of the most underground shows with some of the most creative younger folks playing music that is a part of, like, a sub-genre. Like hardcore versus rock and roll, right? Or even like psychedelic cumbia versus at Tejano cumbia, you know, and so there’s a big, dynamic jump all throughout San Antonio. But one thing that I could tell you is that there is so much talent here, and there was a lot of super, very talented people doing a lot of amazing things in this town.

Angel Garza (synth): We also cross-pollinate with a lot of the other creatives. I go and consume some stuff from the goth scene as well, right? Bewitched (for example), the other groups … the AV team, and the the DJs as well. We’ve done work with other psychedelic bands, straight psychedelic bands (such as) The Wizard. We’re all over the place, and I think that’s also the inspiration, and that’s also what motivates us as a scene. Even though sometimes it feels separate, sometimes we end up having shows together. I think it was about a year and a half ago, (maybe) two years ago, we did the release actually here for Felipe’s show, and it had different bands — even bands that you’ve had featured. So that (is) the beauty of San Antonio; it’s the whole music scene. And then also artists. I myself do a lot of the visuals as well for the band (and) other bands as well. But it all is one creative process that helps each other. It inspires each other.

What do you hope for the future of the SA music scene?

Arturo Bars: I hope that the music scene continues to be kind of like the food scene here in San Antonio. You know, it’s a melting pot. You can find all sorts of fusions. I hope that musicians and just creatives alike continue to think outside the box and stop putting themselves in these little categories. And if you want to feel like, ‘Hey man, I want to do goth cumbias,’ or, ‘I want to do rock-n-roll and country,’ or just anything, anything that’s not the norm. I would encourage that, and I would hope that this beautiful melting pot of a city continues to push out these beautiful projects. And there’s so much stuff yet to be discovered. You know, we’re lucky enough that we’ve all been in the scene for a long time. Some of us (are) a couple (of) decades in, and we continue to push the boundaries. I just hope that the scene kind of keeps up with, you know, not only with us, but all the other talented people in this beautiful city because we have a lot to offer. So, hopefully, nobody minimizes themselves and puts themselves in a box. You know, we got to be free. We’re that salsa in the taco, that spicy salsa in the taco, and we just continue to just do wonderful things in the city.

What’s coming up for Combo Cósmico?

Joaquin Muerte: (On) July 2, we (released) a new single, which (was) our take on The Smiths (song), ‘How Soon Is Now?’ psychedelic-cumbia style. ‘¿Que Pronto Es Ahora?’ is our version of The Smiths ‘How Soon Is Now?’ Which, you know the more that we learn about that song, the deeper the history is, the deeper the connections. We feel like we really did a good job of finding our own version of that history and putting it into this song. A big shout out to Bad Hombre Studios, Iram Reyes, Magnífico Media and Studio E, where we spent our time being creative about this and recording this and putting it out there. I hope you guys really enjoy it.

Look for us, Combo Cósmico, on Spotify, Apple Music, wherever you stream music. You can also find us on Bandcamp. Listen to our music, listen to this song and tell us what you think. Find us, and if you guys want us to play live, hit us up. You can just DM us for real.

You can find more information and music (including this new single) from Combo Cósmico on their Instagram or their Bandcamp.

About SA Vibes

San Antonio is well-known for its culture, but the local music scene has always seemed a bit hidden.

Unless someone takes you to a local show — at venues like The Lonesome Rose, Hi-Tones, The Mix, Paper Tiger and 502 Bar — chances are you’ll never even know our music scene even exists. That’s what made me decide to launch this passion project that we’re calling “SA Vibes.”

My name is Valerie and I’m a video editor at KSAT. I’ve been attending local shows for over a decade, and I want to put a spotlight on the great talent that San Antonio has to offer.

Each month we’ll be releasing a new “SA Vibes” video across all KSAT digital platforms and our YouTube channel showcasing a local musician performing live versions of their songs from the KSAT garden.

If you’re a San Antonio musician and would like to be a part of this project, please send information about your next show to our SA Vibes email.

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