Colombia’s Monsieur Perine reinvents swing music

Swing is making a comeback in the most unlikely of places: Colombia. The upbeat rhythms and infectious melodies of classic swing have been reincarnated in the form of Monsieur Perine, one of the most innovative bands to come out of the country in years.

When four young university students began playing together in 2007, they didn’t know they were embarking on a musical collaboration which would lead them from a small colonial town to the frontier of their own stylistic movement. While many modern Colombian artists were starting to incorporate new electronic methods into classic Latin styles, Monsieur Perine looked backward to jazz manouche, the French adaptation of American swing which filled Parisians cafes and dance halls in the 1930s. But Monsieur Perine remained faithful to their Colombian heritage, and they incorporated many Latin styles into their music including bolero, samba, son cubano, cumbia and tengo. With the addition of a bassist and two percussionists, the band’s sound took on a greater depth and urgency. The result of this eclectic mash up was a harmonious and distinct style, which the band dubbed Suin a la Colombiana (Colombian Swing) and which has quickly moved out of its well carved niche and into the forefront of Colombia’s diverse music scene.

Monsieur Perine sat down with Colombia Reports and gave an insider’s perspective on their evolving sound. “Our music, if it has changed over time, it is because we have always experimented with music together, trying to put in as many different elements and new instruments,” said lead singer Catalina Garcia. “It sounds like something much more concrete than four years ago when we were only four people.” Over the past two years, the group’s popularity has increased exponentially and they have won numerous awards at festivals and radio stations all over the country. But the band does not credit their stylistic progression to their budding fame. “I do not think our sound has changed because we’ve been on the radio but because we have always done this process of exploration,” said Garcia.

The band has developed such a large fan base in Colombia’s second largest city that they were asked to headline the Second Annual Medellin Music and Beer Festival held on May 5. “It was an honor for us to headline this show,” said guitarist and violinist Santiago Prieto. “It was very nice to know, since it was our first time in Medellin, that we have already a great amount of people who like our music. That was a nice surprise.”

The band played to a packed house at Medellin’s botanical gardens along with popular local acts Puerto Candelaria and Crew Peligrosos. Garcia came out looking radiant in vibrant blue eyeshadow and a striped neon dress. With her striking beauty and elegant voice, she is the sort of performer whom one might despise purely out of envy, but her carefree swing steps and baby pink sneakers immediately endeared her to unfamiliar viewers. The rest of the band sported bright uniforms accentuated under a kaleidoscope of lights which made the whole stage appear as a toybox come to life. The costumes were Garcia’s idea who said they were meant to represent “the kind of characters that could play the kind of music that we do, fantastic characters full of color because we are Latin and we are doing Latin music but that also have great elements from European aesthetics from the 30s.” The crowd may not have understood the symbolism, but they met the band’s dazzling performance with equally bright enthusiasm as they sang along to the group’s YouTube hits “Suin romanticon” and “La muerte.”

Monsieur Perine’s unique sound is also starting to prick ears overseas. In late 2011 the group opened for Norwegian band Kings of Convenience and earlier this year they played with big name acts MGMT and TV on the Radio at the Estereo Picnic Festival in Bogota. The group also played their first two shows in the United States in March, including one show at the famous South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. “The United States was great because we learned that they like our music but also that we have a lot more to learn,” said Garcia. “They had great musicians and here in Colombia we have great musicians but we don’t have, like a consolidated scene, dependability, a defined way to make music. (…) So to go to the U.S. and see how everything is ordered and how people have distinct relationships with music, it made us want to change a bit.” But not too much. The group is very committed to maintaining their roots. Although Garcia speaks four languages (Spanish, English, French and Portuguese) she said she wants to keep singing primarily in her native tongue, bravely disregarding the greater marketability and international appeal of English music.

Next year holds great promise for Monsieur Perine. They will tour Mexico in May, Peru in August, and hope to head back to the United States in September. The group also just finished recording their self-produced debut album which they hope to release by early June. The album is tentatively titled “Hecho a Mano” (Handmade) and will feature 12 original songs, including some reworked versions of the group’s YouTube hits.

From Colombia Reports


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