La Revancha del Burro, Systema Solar
By Monika Fabian
A sophomore album carries an ungodly amount of weight. An act can be boxed in by past achievements, pressures to innovate, expectations of growth—all the while negotiating the slippery path between retreading past terrain and losing one’s way in experimentation. Perhaps it’s poetic then that Systema Solar’s second LP, La Revancha del Burro, elevates a creature known for withstanding burdensome loads and long distances as its mascot. The real intention behind it, of course, is to convey the Colombian septet’s philosophical commitment to being a people’s soundsystem. Like Velandia y La Tigra before them, Systema adopted the burro as a metaphorical icon for the working man.
Judging by the 12-track release, it would seem that the burro’s revenge is to make the people dance. A noble and storied tradition, to be sure: from ancestral Colombian cumbia to South Bronx-born hip hop, el baile de los pobres (#NoCalle13) has been nourishing dance music for time immemorial. Revancha’s strongest tracks tap into that dignity and universality of dancing in spite of everything. “El Botón del Pantalón,” a champeta about economic woes, is obviously rooted in the Afro-Colombian Caribbean but its rhythm guitar unearths, or maybe even grows, a family tree limb between champeta, Congolese soukous, and Peruvian cumbia.
Systema also ventures into unexplored sounds to varying success. On “La Esquina del Movimiento,” a collabo with La Sonora Matancera, Systema channels El Joe and his fertile, Afro-Caribbean “Joe Son.” The urban bachata-opening duet between vocalist John Primera and Blondie’s Debbie Harry, “Artificial,” is a mostly-favorable, cross-cultural foray into mainstream Latin pop. (The ironic juxtaposition of a punk legend and a raspy-voiced rapper crooning about fakeness and materialism in a genre rife with sleek and showy production values is worth the Play button click alone).
However, whereas Systema Solar champions the collective, Revancha mostly opts for a cohesive voice. As Carlos shrewdly observed in 2009, “Systema Solar works better when all its members unify and explode than with individual tracks that fail to be memorable.” Primera has impressively malleable chops, but its exaggerated moments are at times overwhelming when untempered by more voices, as evidenced on “Maria Casquito.” Also, Systema Solar has gifted lyricists in its ranks. We hear some clever rhyming in “Eso Ke Es?” and “Antena” but the LP generally favors EDM-y production and shorter, catchier choruses and mini-flows over proper hip hop verses (a la “Mi Kolombia” or “El Amarillo”). “Machete,” for example, which is reportedly about a Colombian law requiring farmers to use genetically-modified seeds, almost feels like a genetically-modified Systema Solar track.
The albums definitely belong in the same verbena (party) though. Systema—with its incisive socioeconomic commentary atop Colombian hip-hop and dance music—would be the tone-setter that gets the crowd amped and thinking. Revancha would play much later, deep into the night when dancing is all that matters, and finish right around when a burro begins its day.