Bomba Estéreo, the electronic Colombian fusion band whose beats coaxed Will Smith back into the musical arena, will be the first to admit they never in their wildest dreams thought they’d come this far.
But here it is. Their album, Amanecer, is nominated for a Grammy Award and has topped critics’ lists nationwide. And “Fiesta,” of course, was re-recorded with Smith.
While Bomba Estéreo is synonymous with singer Liliana Saumet and founder Simón Mejía, a key player in the group’s recent success is Ricky Reed.
The Bay Area-born, Los Angeles-based songwriter and producer has worked with Jason Derulo (“Talk Dirty,” “Wiggle”), Pitbull (“Fireball”), Fifth Harmony (“Bo$$”) and Jessie J (“Burnin’ Up”), among many other major mainstream acts.
Bomba Estéreo was definitely an outlier. But if the band was looking for a more mainstream edge, Reed delivered it with his bass-heavy, aggressive sound.
We spoke with Reed about his Bomba experience, “freaking out” with Will Smith, and his new love for all things Latin (food included).
Did you know anything about Bomba Estéreo before you worked with them?
Very little. I checked out a few videos online, and my first impression was they were masters of color and visual and I understood it was a revolutionary spirit and political and groove oriented. But it was still a very cursory look.
So, was there a directive as to what to do with them?
There was no direction from A&R. The band had some demos, but we all wanted to go in and do what felt good. Naturally what they do with what I do, it’s going to kind of come out the only way it’s going to come out when you blend those things together.
Which is… what?
You can hear all the Colombian elements of the sound. We used a lot of traditional instruments and traditional rhythms but you also hear my sound, which is loud and bass heavy and very upfront. So when you combine their sort of sound of Colombia with the sound of America you get this truly Pan American explosive genre-busting sound, which we didn’t really intend to achieve.
Was there any major shift to what they were doing?
I didn’t change what they were doing rhythmically because they are masters of rhythm and I was the student. But, I think a lot of it was kind of bringing more bottom in the sound. I worked more melodically with Lily. There were songs where I composed the melody with no words and she would put the words and it was really beautiful to get her emotions out.
I know you’ve worked with Pitbull. But this time, you actually recorded in Colombia. Was this a first?
Yes. It was the first time they brought me to South America to work. It was the first time I was immersed in a new culture and a new perspective on music. We started as strangers and ended up very, very close friends. It was transformative for all of us. Before the album Lilian was suffering from heartbreak and she’s now married and expecting a child. I also got married after the album.
Did you marry a Colombian?
I actually did not. But my wife is great friends with Lily!
Now, Will Smith. What was your reaction when you heard he wanted to work with the band?
The first thing I said was, ‘Fresh Prince’ Will Smith? I was in disbelief. The first time we opened up the files of his vocal and hit play, my engineer and I freaked out. I grew up watching Fresh Prince I can rap every word of “Summertime.” I actually cried when we were watching the video. It was so surreal. This project that started when I went to Lollapalooza ended with Will Smith coming back from his hiatus.
We’ve heard the story of how Smith fell in love with the music after hearing it during a trip to Colombia. He wasn’t pitched on it. Have you ever had a natural collaboration like this?
No, nothing like that. And it seems there’s a lot like that that surrounds them. Bomba is like the eternal underdog of a band. And Lilian’s spirituality and the way she sees the world: her philosophy is don’t push things, don’t rush things, doors open. We’ve seen it with this album.