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Meridian Brothers collaborate with an imaginary salsa band on new album

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

El Grupo Renacimiento was born in 1977 in the streets of Bogota. And as the story goes - if you choose to believe it - the salsa band led a lively celebration of Latin American folklore and socially conscious lyrics in their heyday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA POLICIA")

MERIDIAN BROTHERS: (Singing in Spanish).

SIMON: But they fell on hard times decades ago. Now they're making a comeback album with the modern Colombian band Meridian Brothers.

Eblis Alvarez, who is the mind behind the band Meridian Brothers, joins us now. Thank you so much for being with us.

EBLIS ALVAREZ: Thanks. Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: We need to understand this because people are going to, you know, immediately Google and wonder why none of their recordings are available. This is a band you made up.

ALVAREZ: Yeah, exactly, exactly. It's a combination between storytelling and reality inside the studio, within real musicians and modern musicians.

SIMON: Tell us about the backstory you - I guess you invented, you devised for El Grupo Renacimiento. How did they come together? What broke them apart?

ALVAREZ: Well, so the story goes as follows. It was Artemio Morela (ph) and Walditrudis Urango (ph), a couple of guys living in Las Tinas, Magdalena, which is a small village in the north of Colombia. They wanted to try to go to Bogota and do music. And they used to have the influences of Italian ballads, for example, of the old soneros from Cuba and from New York. And once, they listened to the Lebron Brothers, which is a Puerto Rican band. And that made a click in the head of Artemio. He said that's the thing they want to do. So they decided to go into salsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POEMA DEL SALSERO RESENTIDO")

MERIDIAN BROTHERS: (Singing in Spanish).

ALVAREZ: They were kind of famous. But then, they started to party too much and then fell into drugs, and so...

SIMON: That's happened to a lot of groups, hasn't it?

ALVAREZ: Yeah, that's an archetype almost. So then they found religion, and they began to play again in the church.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POEMA DEL SALSERO RESENTIDO")

MERIDIAN BROTHERS: (Singing in Spanish).

SIMON: Does creating the band in your mind and then doing their music give you an artistic license to go places that you might not discover otherwise?

ALVAREZ: Yeah, kind of. I mean, this psychologic figure really helped me to go inside another, like, way of seeing things in music apart from the self, actually.

SIMON: That brings us to the song that this group you have created do called "Metamorfosis."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "METAMORFOSIS")

MERIDIAN BROTHERS: (Singing in Spanish).

SIMON: Tell us about that song because it seems to be about the way we make technology a part of our lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "METAMORFOSIS")

MERIDIAN BROTHERS: (Singing in Spanish).

ALVAREZ: It's just this song since salsa singers in the '70s, they used to sing about, you know, like, actual problems - social problems, political problems, human problems of emotional problems. So I decide to imitate that attitude - "Metamorfosis" - that tells about this dystopian world where technology takes over the human brain, takes over the human body, takes over the human societies and control it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "METAMORFOSIS")

MERIDIAN BROTHERS: (Singing in Spanish).

ALVAREZ: And Grupo Renacimiento sings about that as maybe a problem.

SIMON: The music is very rich and embroidered with so many different themes and places and traditions. I wonder if you can walk us through the cover song, "La Mujer Sin Corazon" - the woman without a heart.

ALVAREZ: Well, I'm very fond of jibaro music, which is traditional music from Puerto Rico mainly done with the strings, with tres.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA MUJER SIN CORAZON")

MERIDIAN BROTHERS: (Singing in Spanish).

ALVAREZ: So this is "La Mujer Sin Corazon," a jibaro number, I wouldn't say updated, but put it into the salsa format with El Grupo Renacimiento.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA MUJER SIN CORAZON")

MERIDIAN BROTHERS: (Singing in Spanish).

ALVAREZ: The influence is basically jibaro, but then jibaro music was also copied by some salsa bands. So I replaced the instruments with the congas, the timbal and the bass.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA MUJER SIN CORAZON")

SIMON: Does going back and discovering old music - does that in any way change what you do as the Meridian Brothers when you make your next album? Because you're known for doing music that is very futuristic.

ALVAREZ: Definitely. We have a collective of friends that are, you know, making the same things. And one of our activities is to collect records and to try to rebuild the story of our discography - not only Colombian, but Latin American, but also, you know, some other places - African, European. So this is really an inspiration. It's quite an inspiration and a contribution to culture, I guess, in our country, taking these recordings and the past as a departure point.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOMBA ATOMICA")

MERIDIAN BROTHERS: (Singing in Spanish).

SIMON: Eblis Alvarez of the band Meridian Brothers. His new album, new old group, is "El Grupo Renacimiento." Thank you so much for joining us, and our best to the group.

ALVAREZ: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOMBA ATOMICA")

MERIDIAN BROTHERS: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.