Bomba Estéreo’s Li Saumet on Helping Bad Bunny Find Love in ‘Ojitos Lindos,’ and Her ‘Feminist’ Solo Album

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As Bad Bunny rampages across North America on his “World’s Hottest Tour” and his “Un Verano Sin Ti” tops Billboard’s albums chart for a whopping 10 weeks, one of the set’s more unexpected collaborations, “Ojitos Lindos,” feat. Bomba Estéreo, has proven to be a leader of its own.

“Ojitos” was one of seven tracks from the album to reach Spotify’s most-streamed “Global Songs of the Summer” playlist — and of the 20 songs on the list, half of them were Spanish-language hits. It’s the type of staggering statistic that has catalyzed the Latin music landscape in 2022, but for the Colombian duo — instrumentalist Simón Mejía and singer Liliana Saumet — the reach of “Ojitos” highlights their versatile, collaborative essence while also spotlighting the continuing emergence of modern-day Caribbean music onto the global stage.

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Their most recent team effort comes with veteran Barcelona-based musician Manu Chao for their new single “Me Duele,” which arrived Sept. 14 alongside a colorful Gustavo Cerquera Benjumea-directed music video. A portion of the song’s royalties will be donated to Costeño Social, a school in Guachaca, near Saumet’s home.

Long before they were Grammy and Latin Grammy-nominees, Bomba’s story began in Bogotá some 15 years ago. The Colombian music scene hadn’t yet caught the reggaeton wave, and instead, sounds and styles like the popular folk-driven vallenato ruled over the country’s airwaves.

“Many bands have paved the way for Colombian music to be front and center,” Saumet explains to Variety. “When we were starting, there wasn’t much alternative music. The scene was very limited, so we played a lot outside of Colombia, and I think that was what helped us. Bomba became a band that internationalized and opened up the market. A path that at that time did not exist, or was very limited, within alternative Latin music.”

By the time the group had started releasing music under the moniker Bomba Estéreo, alternative Latin music was dominated by the thriving rock en Español genre. Fellow Colombian native Juanes and Mexican rockers Maná rose to prominence during the genre’s boom in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Bomba is currently on a headlining tour with 33 dates across North America, Europe and Mexico, with upcoming shows from New York’s Palladium to Berkeley’s Greek Theater, in support of their full-length studio album, 2021’s “Deja.”

A few days before the release of “Me Duele,” Saumet spoke with Variety about the music scene in Colombia and her own artistic goals, as she plans to release her own “feminist” project as a solo act.

What was your reaction upon hearing “Ojitos Lindos” on the album for the first time?

I was very surprised because I listened to the song [for the first time] five hours before it came out — it hadn’t been sent to me. I sent my part first and I came to listen to the Benito part on the last day. I was very surprised — for positive reasons, of course. Everything fit so well together.

Why do you think the song has resonated with so many people?

The collaboration was very natural. It’s a very beautiful song and romantic too, very heartfelt. I feel like it’s one of those songs that people fall in love with, and that’s a very important aspect of it. Like, sometimes music goes beyond. It’s not just music — it is an energy, an energy that spreads. And I think that this song, above all, is on this album because it is the only song that really talks about love about being in love, and I think its different from all the other songs he’s made. So it was very nice to be the ones to add those elements of romantic love, and really bring that out within him.

What kinds of feelings were attached to the song for you?

Just pure happiness, because Bomba has been working for a long time and it’s great to see the fruit of our labors and knowing that it’s a band that people love and respect. Although we are considered an alternative band, it is a band that can also collaborate with very big artists and with smaller artists. I feel very happy with how our history has flowed and how far we have come without losing our essence.

Who are some of your favorite Colombian artists coming from a similar musical space?

There are many interesting things happening in Colombia. There is a girl from the Pacific [coast] that I love whose name is Verito Asprilla, and there are some girls called Las Añes too. It’s like another type of music, but at the same time it’s also very Andean [from the Andes mountain chain in South America] music, like mountain music. It’s also very Latin, but within another level.

What would you say is your personal recipe for a solid collaboration?

Respect what each person does, admire each other’s work, and let them be. I feel that when one limits the art of the other, then it is no longer a collaboration.

I mean, I’ve worked with artists who tell me “I want you to do this, I want you to sing like [how you sang in] ‘Fuego’,” and I’m like but “I already sang ‘Fuego.'” I’m not going to make the same song three more times. Most of the time, if an artist is bringing you to a project, it’s because they know you can contribute something — it’s like adding energy. It’s not like I want you to do what I want, but adding the energies of each one.

Many artists say it’s hard to write and record music while on tour — but what’s your experience been like?

Always working on music. In fact, this year we have done the most collaborations that we have ever done, and we are continuing to do so. We have a lot of new music coming out soon too. I also have my project — I’m going to release my own album.

Without giving too much away, what can we expect from that record?

It’s a very feminist album — there’s a lot in the works. But this will be all mine and really, I just wanted to explore and experiment, so this is me doing that my way and in my own process.

You recently performed alongside Bad Bunny at his Puerto Rico stadium show, what was the energy like there?

Those shows were incredible because there’s a lot of love there. It was really nice to be a part of that and obviously when we go out to sing “Ojitos,” it’s amplified. Someone proposed during one of our performances — it’s like a lot of feelings — really special.

What can you tell us about your collaboration with Manu Chao?

Well, really this happened a year or more ago. We have known each other for a while so we were at my house, on the beach, just spending the days relaxing, and I showed him a song and he started playing the guitar. I wrote lyrics and then he added his vocals.

Why have you decided to release it now?

Bomba is more or less a “recent” artist and Manu Chao is the kind of artist that everybody knows — he’s a legend. The song is really good, I think it’s a hit. I think it’s the perfect song to end the summer and just dance and forget everything, like the song says “Hasta que no me duele más,” [Until it doesn’t hurt me anymore]. It’s interesting to mix these generations and opinions together for a song that is catchy and, again, centers around love.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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