For more than two decades Colombian metamusician Eblis Álvarez has been reviving, warping, reinventing, and experimenting with a cornucopia of Latin and South American dance styles, initially embracing the accordion-driven vallenato at a time when the style had fallen into treacly emptiness. He came from the underground rock scene and employed sarcastic tropes to forge a musical mystery, for despite the name Meridian Brothers, Álvarez has been the only steady member of the project. He plays every instrument in the studio even when he claims his group is joined by another mythical folkloric ensemble like Conjunto Media Luna, who were co-credited on the 2021 album Paz en la Tierra.
Álvarez blithely collides vallenato, cumbia, salsa, and other unexpected forms whether funk or Ethiopian soul with low-fi electronic equipment, perpetually confounding and confusing listeners, although he has put together and maintained a crack live band. The project’s focus on the music from Colombia’s coastal traditions has reaped rewards over time, more accurately portraying the nation’s multivalent culture. While Álvarez is serious in his aims through his composing and arranging, he nonetheless imparts a sublime, often absurd creativity into his work, crafting elaborate backstories and thematic conceits for each new recording project. His 2022 album Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento claims to be collaboration between his group and a Colombian hard salsa group that in fact exists only in the auteur’s imagination.
As Ed Morales wrote of the latest project in The New York Times, “It’s at once a psychedelic fever dream, a deep dive into salsa’s past, a critique of society’s surrender to technology, and a new musical encounter between Colombia’s sophisticated capital of Bogotá and its rustic Caribbean coast.” Which iteration of the Meridian Brothers will surface at Big Ears? The sense of surprise and play is almost as rewarding as the actual sounds.