Leo Salvo on Fusion Music

An incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist and vocalist.  Has probably played in or led more Latin music gigs and groups (including institutional big band Rumberos) than most other living musicians in Melbourne.

Leo Salvo could just be the Papa Bear of Latin music in Melbourne. Leo Salvo - www.beaveronthebeats.com This is his take on fusion music

Nothing exists without fusion. From the moment a note came out of a voice and someone hit 2 rocks together, it was a form of fusion music.

Just like the first time and til the present day, we still find ourselves with only 2 types of music, no matter what we add or fuse with this or that…

The 2 types are Good and Shit!

Leo also told me he thinks the world’s best Latin fusion music is from Uruguay. I’m waiting for him to share some with me.

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Dr Baz on Fusion Music

Dr Baz (Australian Musician & Musicologist) adds this to the collection of thoughts on fusion music.

Take it away Baz…

Dr Baz

Dr Baz

When I was asked about what Fusion Music is my musical brain immediately thought of Jazz Fusion…a genre of Jazz that was coined in the late sixties and seventies that described the way Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul and other jazz heavyweights incorporated Funk and electronic musical instruments into improvised Jazz music. Think back to Miles Davis’s ‘Bitches Brew’ and Joe Zawinul’s Weather Report Muzak and you are in the ballpark about what Jazz Fusion sounds like.

It’s not the only fusion though.

In reality all music is fusion….every single style we know today as different types of Music is a coming together of different types of Music due to specific historical circumstances.

For example German classical composers combined European folk music to create their Symphonic master pieces.; Ancient Australian Indigenous Yidaki/Dijeridu Music is really derived from Indonesia; Indian Classical music has its roots in Persia and the Middle East.

The contemporary music of North and South America is a clear example of different fusions and the histories of Salsa Samba Rhumba Reggae Calypso Jazz Blues and more recently Hip Hop and Reggaeton can be clearly traced thanks to the well documented records we have of the historical development of these musical styles.

As human beings we like to put culture under glass….we like to freeze a musical recording in time and call it something…we relate our identity strongly to the music we like and then set up rules about the musics we don’t like according to our own tastes. We develop stereotypes: the black jazz man, the sexy Latino salsa band, the wild gypsy violinist – and start to make up rules about what is an authentic expression of these favored styles. We crave authentic musical experiences that relate to these self imposed definitions. And therein lay the dilemma….

One persons fusion is another person’s jazz…one person’s hip hop is another person’s pop music sellout.

For me as a musician and a musicologist who sees a direct relationship between the development of music and cultural histories, fusion music is where it’s at… it’s musicians from different cultures and backgrounds sharing their creative differences and jamming together to create something new. Whenever and wherever musicians can get together and jam new musical fusions are born.

Photo by Beaver on the Beats - Dr Baz, Musician & Musicologist - www.beaveronthebeats.com

So what is fusion music?

It is the hybrid musical styles that we can’t fit in our glass cased museum definitions. At various times in history its has been a gypsy guitarist performing with a African Drummer – or a rapper dropping rhymes in Korean and topping a billion views on YouTube – or a Slave providing a beat to a Spanish brass band on the docks of Havana in the 1600s.

Fusion music reflects the shifts in our collective musical consciousness and these shifts are in turn triggered by the wars, famines, slave trades and digital technology revolutions that shape history.

A fusion music used to serve an apprenticeship to an established style before being recognised as a style in its own right. The internet has changed all that. Today musical fusions are appearing so fast that the very concept of an identifiable musical style complete with similar rhythm harmony and instrumentation is under threat.

Dr Baz - Beaver on the Beats

So all music is fusion… it’s what I love about music as I will always encounter something new in this world.          

[me too Baz..Beaver]

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Fusion Music in Jamaica? “Nooooo way Mon”

A fusion music question at the Music Mart in Kingston, Jamaica

Beaver: Do you have any Jamaican music that’s a mix of reggae and other music genres?  Like jazz, or funk or hip hop?

Store Woman: Nooooooooooo.  You can’t mix reggae with other things.  Reggae is reggae.

Beaver: They do it in other countries, a lot.

Store Woman: Nooooooo way mon. Not here we don’t. Reggae is Reggae.

Beaver: Well lucky I love Reggae that’s Reggae.  Give me some of that.

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Colombian Fusion Music – A Different Perspective

Is Colombian fusion music being created for the purpose of making Colombian music edible for foreigners?

A couple of people in Bogota have recently expressed those sentiments to me.

One of them is Julian Mosquera Muñoz, Operations Manager at Fundacion Gilberto Alzate Avendano in Bogota.

He says that for him, fusion music is:

  • Like a cheap handicraft to sell on the street rather than a unique, one of a kind piece of art. 
  • Ignorance of, and a form of shame about one’s own traditional music, instruments, beats and rhythms. Maybe the use of non-original instruments in fusion music is because artists lack the ability to create those sounds with traditional instruments.
  • A desperate way of getting new audiences for one’s music – of making one’s music ‘listenable’ for those who don’t know it – especially for foreigners.

Is there truth in that cynicism?  I like to think not, but who am I to say?  I am just a foreigner who loves Colombian fusion music!

I will leave you to ponder this perspective on Colombian fusion music, while I leave Colombia for a bit to explore what’s happening in Jamaican music.  Kingston first, then on to Montego Bay for Reggae Sumfest 2013. 🙂

Caribbean Waters - Beaver on the Beats

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Electronic Fusion Music in Bogota is….

Diana Torres, Director of Fundación Cultural Arca, based in Bogota, says this about electronic fusion music in Bogota:

What we have found about fusion in electronic music in Bogota since we started ´Conectados´ (Connected) – a program of live electronic music concerts – is that it take us to the cultural heritage of local sounds of our culture and other cultures of the world, in a space and time where the artist and the audience connect with a universal language: THE SOUND.

Diana Torres - Director, Fundacion Cultural Arca

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Colombian Fusion Music For The Minority – Lesson 2

Silly misconceived Beaver. How wrong I was.

Since my first trip to Colombia in 2007 I had thought that Colombia has a huge amount of fusion music – loved passionately by a huge number of Colombians. “Why wouldn’t it be?” I thought, “It’s so awesome”. Plus I had found lots of it, well maybe about 10 bands anyway – so I thought that there must be a lot more to be found, and that it must be very popular.

Apparently not so, as I have learned the past week in Bogota from speaking with some people in the know.

Talking with a Colombian Ethnomusicologist (Simon Calle) and three members of Colombian fusion music group Papaya Republik, I learned this…

  • Yes, there are more and more bands in Colombia creating fusion music.
  • Whereas once upon a time fusion bands were mostly found in the capital Bogota, they also exist in other major Colombian cities, more and more so – Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, and even Pasto.
  • No, modern Colombian fusion bands are not really listened to or even well known by the mainstream population of Colombia. It is listened to by a minority of Colombians and is actually the ‘alternative’ music scene here.
  • The two biggest forms of popular music in Colombia are Vallenato and Reggeaton. The mainstream radio stations play pretty much only that. I don’t have much to say about Vallenato.  There is good and bad Vallenato music, and most of it is not to my taste.  I will however criticise the musical plague that is Reggeaton every chance I get.
  • The Colombian ‘alternative scene’ that enjoys fusion music bands consists of the “middle and upper classes” (Ethnomusicologist, Simon Calle), or the “Colombian intellectuals” (Batori from Papaya Republik).
Papaya Republik live

Batori – Papaya Republik

Well, surprised I was at this news about the popularity (or lack thereof) of Colombian fusion music.

In hindsight I guess my misconception was based on two things:

1. My own luck and circumstance in finding lots of fusion music on my first time in Colombia. My Colombian friends took me to gigs (they are not in lower socio-economic classes by the way) – and once I found some, I went looking for the rest.  I thought what I found must be a small portion of it, but now it seems it was actually a large % of all fusion music that existed.

2. My assumption that because I thought it was unique and awesome, everyone in Colombia must think that too! I forgot that when I look at most mainstream musical tastes everywhere around the world today, they are generally (I think) pretty shite.  It’s all subjective I guess.

 Disappointed at this news I was too…

*Disappointed for mainstream Colombians missing out on home grown unique and interesting music; and

*Disappointed for Colombian fusion music artists largely unappreciated (and unrewarded financially) in their own country.

I’m happy that Colombian fusion music exists.  I´m happy that I know about it.  I´m happy that I can share it.

I´ve already posted some, and will post more, rundowns and sample music of some contemporary Colombian fusion bands….Check them out and let me know what you think.  Is mainstream Colombia missing out on the good stuff? I think so.

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Colombian Fusion Music History – Lesson 1

How did contemporary Colombian fusion music come to be?

That’s the question I’ve been asking people in the know in Bogota.

My first lesson came from a Colombian Ethnomusicologist, Simon Calle.  He has completed a PHD on this subject and works for the Colombian government in a role designed to support and promote Colombian music artists.

My second lesson came from three members of a talented and unique Colombian fusion music band based in Bogota – Papaya Republik.

Papaya Republik

Papaya Republik

What did I learn?

In a probably over simplified nutshell, the history goes something like this:

  • Once upon a time in Colombia existed only its indigenous peoples in different regions– with their own musical styles and instruments.


  • Later to Colombia, at the start of the 16th century, came the Spanish colonisers – with their own European musical styles and instruments.


  • Soon after that to Colombian coastal regions, came slaves bought from Africa – also with their own musical styles and instruments.

marimba de chonta - www.beaveronthebeats.com

The result is a Colombia with an incredibly diverse mix of peoples, cultures and forms of traditional folk music: Champeta, Cumbia, Vallenato, Porro, Curalao and Bambuco for example – and dozens more.

Those diverse groups of peoples were mostly segregated within their own regions, with little or no exposure to forms of music from other regions. Much of that was because of Colombia’s incredibly diverse geography – including the Amazon Rainforest in the south; a Pacific coastal jungle; and three Andes mountain ranges going up through the country.

So how did all these different musical styles start mixing together?

I’m told it’s actually been a pretty recent evolution – in the past 2 to 3 decades.

Again in a probably oversimplified nutshell, it happened because of different social, political and technological factors:

  • Issues with drugs and internal civil war, bought Colombians from the different regions to Colombia´s capital Bogota (located in the middle of the country) – and to a lesser extent to begin with, to other Colombian cities. People also came from the regions to the city to study or to work.
  • Increased diversity of the people living in Bogota meant that musicians started hearing musical styles from other regions of Colombia never heard before. They liked the styles, and so they started playing them, combining them and reconstructing them.
  • Some Colombians travelled overseas and had exposure to other forms of music there.
  • Improved technology, and access to it, meant that more Colombians were exposed to contemporary international musical styles, and started to incorporate them into their music.

And finally, it seems that once some music artists started combining distinctly different styles of music, other artists were influenced by that and started to do the same.


Sidestepper Live @ WOMADelaide

The band Sidestepper is touted as one of the pioneers, and one of the most influential, but I understand that there were also others that came before. Sidestepper initially fused traditional styles of music with electronic music – and apparently there was a generation before of traditional styles fused with jazz – and before that a generation of traditional styles fused with rock.

There you have the crude and simplified Beaver version of the history of Colombian fusion music and how it came to be today. 

I welcome any comments that correct my version, or add to it!

Stay tuned for Lesson Two – me learning a bit about where the fusion music scene is at now, and how misconceived I was about a few things.

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“Fusion Music is…

…a laboratory.”

Mauricio Guapacha - Papaya Republik





Mauricio Guapacha – Drummer from Colombian fusion band Papaya Republik.

Check out Fusion Music Is for ideas from other Papaya Republik band members (+ others). Stay tuned also for more info about this great band.

Papaya Republik

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