Sonido Gallo Negro Live Show Review: Psychedelic Cumbia for Desert & Space Journeys

Before Mexico City’s Sonido Gallo Negro took the stage at the Nectar Lounge in Seattle, the evening had already been beautifully anticipating their presence.
Such anticipation began at the entryway, where the band’s swaggy merch – full of playful-yet-somehow-tasteful neon aliens – greeted visitors with kindness. DJs Gold Chisme and Albina Cabrera of KEXP also hyped up the band with interstitial music throughout the evening. Scene-appropriate standouts included the appropriately-named “Guaracha U.F.O. (No Estamos Solos)” by Meridian Brothers, plus a earwormy cumbia remix of the X-Files theme song.
I was ready! Take me to outerspace already!

Sonido Gallo Negro Show at Nectar Lounge

The evening served as a fundraiser for Freakout Festival, which recently turned into a nonprofit organization and will be hosting their multi-day festival in early November. Despite the fact that the event was a fundraiser, the festival organizers didn’t seem to push too hard. They sold raffle tickets for swag packages and commented a bit about how their goal was partially to connect local musicians such as the Seattle-based opener, The Cumbieros, with international acts such as Sonido Gallo Negro. As a nonprofit boob myself, I certainly appreciate a light-touch sales pitch, but I did find myself hoping that Freakout hit their fundraising goals for the eve.

When the time came, seven of the nine members of Sonido Gallo Negro took the stage dressed head-to-toe in black, with the exception of a giant white X on each of their t-shirts. They immediately set the mood with a krautrock-influenced instrumental, then dove deeper into their unique brand of psychedelic cumbia, with “Chaneque” from 2019’s Unknown Future EP. Throughout the remainder of the set, they pulled generously from throughout their catalog of five full-length albums and many more EPs, compilations, and singles.

Sonido Gallo Negro know how to honor the musical roots of Peruvian cumbia but also incorporate plenty of modern rock sensibilities, effect pedals, and dynamic timings to create a blend of old-world-meets-new that is singularly their own. Their use of multimedia elements also heighten their psychedelic production. Images projected behind the band began with a crudely-rendered cowboy hat animation that looked like it was being drawn in real-time; they later progressed to become more polished and graphical in feel.

Sonido Gallo Negro Show at Nectar Lounge

By the time they were five tracks in, Sonido Gallo Negro had ramped up the pace from slower grooves to something more frenetic. As they played “Yanga” from their 2022 record, Paganismo (Paganism), the band oscillated between surf rock riffs, funky basslines, scat-like vocals, and slightly discordant drum patterns. Meanwhile, images of a primary-colored monkey sailed behind them in a timewarp universe – and one couldn’t help but to think about the past and the future, all compounding upon each other at once.

Later in the set, the projections reached their most satisfying phase, as the repeating giant head of an Olmec statue appeared on-screen. Initially, they moved side-by-side neatly, as if on a conveyor belt. When tracks like “Cumbia Disco Energy” brought the dance to more epic proportions, the Olmec heads mirrored through a pulsating tunnel until they finally twirled upon themselves in circles, reaching infinity.

Even without projections, however, Sonido Gallo Negro’s music is evocative and cinematic enough. Their driving rhythms induce something akin to a playful trance state, encouraging comical visuals and loose storylines which flood into the mind’s eye as their sonic narratives unfold. Their theremin and swirling flute interacted with one another from across the stage. Though they sometimes played in similar keys and registers, the themerin’s wiggliness felt like a ghost embarking on a haunting, while the flute served to be the slightly more stable counterpart.

Sonido Gallo Negro Show at Nectar Lounge

Another highlight of the evening came with the track “The Model,” also from Paganismo (Paganism). The track felt something akin to a plodding cowboy in a Western movie, riding along in his horse – until alien vocoder vocals kicked in to bring said cowboy into outerspace.

“Cumbia Ishtar” from 2018’s Mambo Cósmico also took one on a journey, though its Egyptian-inspired imagery reminded one more of giant sand dunes. A most ridiculous moment emerged with the track “Cumbia de Las Picaditas;” I laughed to myself as I pictured some kind of Arabian Nights tale being retold through a wild organ solo conducted by the phantom in The Phantom of the Opera.

All in all, Sonido Gallo Negro have done such a great job with choosing their core sounds — and so many of them are multi-instrumentalists — that practically any mix-and-match they do yields entertaining results. Whether it be through vocal effects, pedal tones, playful musical instruments, or just the band’s general expertise and tightness, the dynamic way they navigate rhythm sets the stage for the curious mind to wander. The dancing body then follows suit…

This evening at Nectar Lounge, the room was at least half-Latin, with many Spanish speakers, buffered by folks of many other ethnicities. The mixed crowd was getting down, which can be a rare sight in some parts of semi-rigid Seattle.

For my part, I felt like a possessed little blissful dummy and literally couldn’t stop smiling the whole time. Sonido Gallo Negro took me on a dizzying, delightful journey — one which interchangeably swept my soul onto a horse, then a camel, then a UFO… and who knows where else. Afterwards, I floated out of the venue into the starry night, cumbia synthlines stuck in my head long, long, long after the last note had been played.

Learn more about Sonido Gallo Negro and see their upcoming tour dates on their website. You can also donate to Freakout Festival or follow them for information about their upcoming fall event.


Written by
Vee Hua 華婷婷

Vee Hua 華婷婷 (they/them) is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer with semi-nomadic tendencies. Much of their work unifies their metaphysical interests with their belief that art can positively transform the self and society. They are the Editor-in-Chief of REDEFINE, Interim Managing Editor of South Seattle Emerald, and Co-Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. They also previously served as the Executive Director of the interdisciplinary community hub, Northwest Film Forum, where they played a key role in making the space more welcoming and accessible for diverse audiences.

Vee has two narrative short films. Searching Skies (2017) touches on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States; with it, they helped co-organize The Seventh Art Stand, a national film and civil rights discussion series against Islamophobia. Reckless Spirits (2022) is a metaphysical, multi-lingual POC buddy comedy for a bleak new era, in anticipation of a feature-length project.

Vee is passionate about cultural space, the environment, and finding ways to covertly and overtly disrupt oppressive structures. They also regularly share observational human stories through their storytelling newsletter, RAMBLIN’ WITH VEE!, and are pursuing a Master’s in Tribal Resource and Environmental Stewardship under the Native American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

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