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Every weekend Will Holland gets up and he looks out of the window to see hundreds of schoolchildren doing exercise classes.
The musician best known to Brightonians as Quantic lives on a plaza in Bogota, Colombia, and the authorities have arranged sessions in the square to encourage youngsters from the neighbourhood to get fit.
Last weekend he awoke at 7am to hear a group singing along to the ubiquitous South American sound of reggaeton – the grimy Latino take on hip-hop.
“There was a big soundsystem pumping out reggaeton and all I could hear were these seven and eight-year-olds singing along to all the profanities,” says Holland Reggaeton, he explains, is the music of the underclasses.
“It’s a type of music you hear on the buses in dodgy areas. It’s a sort of bling for communities who live in not very good housing in bad areas but dress very well.
“It gives them this bling feeling of luxury.”
The great shame is the sound is everywhere, when the country is filled with soulful indigenous rhythms.
“It is a crappy, simple rhythm in a country where the drums talk and have a language of their own.”
Holland made it his mission to show other styles from Colombia – cumbia, merecumbé, porro, champeta – when he was invited to contribute to a British Council project to represent Colombia at the Cultural Olympiad.
Along with a friend – Mario Galeano, from Bogota’s pioneering Frente Cumbiero – they put together a 14-strong band of musicians who, after two London dates, arrive in Brighton on Thursday.
Holland has been in Colombia on and off (Panama and Puerto Rico too) since leaving Brighton in 2007.
He says after successful records for Tru Thoughts, he’d become stale. And because a DJ always wants to find new records, he’d been thinking about getting abroad, exploring new musical landscapes.
When his father died in 2007, it cemented the decision.
“Through making music, I got to explore the world. I’d been to New York, Toyko: the polar centres. And once you do that a lot, you get interested in darker corners of the world, places where it’s more about upturning stones rather than walking on paths that have been trodden a lot.”
Once in Colombia – first Cali, now Bogotá – he began Quantic y Su Combo Bárbaro, through which he met some of the country’s great players.
After hearing of a project Galeano did with Mad Professor, Holland sought the producer out and the two became friends, united by an obsessive love for arrangement and production.
“We sat down and thought we could easily put some combo guys together, but this was a chance to turn what we’d been doing on a home-made scale over the past few years into a big band, in big sessions, in a big room.”
They rented the famous Disco Fuentes studio in Medellín and welcomed in more than 40 musicians of all ages over a threeweek period.
The result is a self-titled record, Ondatrópica,which dovetails with the Cultural Olympiad commission and references the coastal tropical styles born in the 1950s and 1960s, and made for the dancefloor.
Ondatrópica’s diversity (there is boogaloo, ska, funk and beatbox, as well as styles from the golden age of Disco Fuentes, the 1960s and 1970s) is matched by the skills and tastes of the players, many of whom played on records from the time when folkloric styles mixed with Western pop-rock and La Nueva Ola (the new wave).
Saxophonist Michi Sarmiento, whose father penned El Caiman y Gallinazo, sings a Black Sabbath cover, I Ron Man [“ron” is Spanish for “rum”] in homage to the drink.
“I don’t think any Colombia recording session is without a couple of bottles of rum,” Holland explains.
Multi-instrumentalist Fruko, who began playing Cartagena’s cabarets, casinos and cathouses in the late 1950s, and octogenarian pianist Juancho Vargas, who came straight from hospital to record Cumbia Especial after recovering from a stroke, also spent time in the studio.
A new wave of Colombian and South American musicians joined them. Chilean MC Ana Tijoux sings on Suena and Cartagena beatboxer El Chongo joins the old guard on Rap Maya.
“The great thing about Colombian society is in your 70s, you are prized,” says Holland, who insisted the recording be 100% analogue to capture the aesthetics (which have disappeared lately, with musicians recording at home or in neighbours’ houses) of the live dances.
“Especially Pedro Ramaya. He is 83 and amazing. He is still singing, with this powerful, incredible voice. He is really popular in his hometown, held as a great writer and musician.
“In some ways there could be a tendency to think we are dusting off cobwebs, but that is not the case. These musicians remain active and important.”
Ondatropica play Concorde 2 , in Madeira Drive, Brighton, on August 2 Doors 7.30pm, tickets £17.50. Call 01273 673311
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