Meet Son Rompe Pera, Mexico’s Best Psychobilly Marimberos
A crowd gathered around the young men playing marimbas, sweating in their studded leather jackets, the exaggerated pompadours of their flat, floating quiver hairstyles. The antiques section of Mercado de Lagunilla is one of the best places to get drunk with towering micheladas in Mexico City, and this is where Son Rompe Pera’s Gama brothers went with their friends that fateful day in 2013. One times wasted appropriately, their band began begging them to jump on the marimbas that some older street musicians had brought to the tianguis.
Kacho, Kilos and Mongo Gama had learned from their father to play anywhere: at weddings, birthday parties and most certainly in the streets. And that day, they accepted. This is how tour manager and booking agent Timothy “Timo” Bisig saw them for the first time, Kilos on the güiro and Kacho and Mongo on the marimba.
“When the old folks finished a song, two of the punks left the band and started heading for the marimba,” Bisig recalls. “They asked for their mallets, then dropped incredible punky cumbia on the old instrument like I had never heard before. I was stunned.
“Cumbia is like punk,” Mongo later reflected. “It’s barrio, it’s working class, it’s people with dreams.”
This wasn’t the start of Son Rompe Pera, but later the Game brothers would realize that they had laid the groundwork for the group’s rebirth that day.
Five years later, the Gamas have just released their first album Batuco, from the name of the person who formed the group in the first place.
The family is from Naucalpan, a mountain town on the western outskirts of Mexico City, and Son Rompe Pera feeds their repertoire in the house they practice in, located a few blocks from their home.
“Cumbia is like punk. It’s barrio, it’s working class, it’s people with dreams.
The building is full of energy. It is also rented out for AA meetings, which is convenient, as the Gamas have long left behind their drunken days in Lagunilla. After training, down in the yard, a friend of Son Rompe Pera cuts the band members’ hair one by one.
The roaring music of Son Rompe Pera’s workout also does a lot of things at once. The group’s repertoire is loaded with traditional cumbias they were taught to play in their youth, but also ska, garage and psychobilly that captured their attention in their late teens. Everything revolves around the imposing wooden instrument on which Kacho and Mongo Gama moan.
The original Son Rompe Pera was created by the father of the Gamas, José, an affable drummer born in Veracruz, but who learned the manners of the instrument on Calle Ramos Millán de Naucalpan, once the center of Marimba culture in the region. As José was a baterista, he was known as Batuco.
For Batuco, the marimba was the key to the family’s livelihood. He taught Mongo and Kacho to play the instrument at the age of 11 and 13. The boys were distributing the family’s business cards in the street bearing the name of Son Rompe Pera. The “son” because Batuco loved Cuban music, “breaks up” in honor of his wife’s brutal way of treating his rowdy boys and “Pera” because it’s the common Mexican shorthand for his name, Esperanza.
The family played a lot of weddings and birthday parties, playing in the marimba-loving markets and tianguis of Naucalpan when they had no event planned. But the boys felt the allure of rock ‘n’ roll. They joined psychobilly and punk bands, and although they stuck with their family responsibilities, “We were in other scenes and we didn’t want anyone we knew, we were playing the marimba,” Mongo remembers. “We didn’t appreciate it.
Batuco enjoyed their rockero leanings, but was upset when his sons took low paid gigs just to rock. “He got mad at us and told us that what we were doing was not good, that our future was in the marimba,” Mongo explains. “He was right, but we were young and we wanted rock and roll and punk.”
After their chance encounter in the market, Bisig shared the suspicion that the boys’ future lay in the marimba. He introduced them to his client, the singer of Chilean cumbia band Chico Trujillo, Aldo “Macha” Ansejo. In 2015, the Gamas performed with Chico Trujillo at CDMX’s classical dance club, Salón Los Angeles, and were invited to record with the group at the Crocodrilo Solitario studios in Colonia Roma. Batuco arrived and together they created a unique version of the ‘Cumbia Algarrobera’ by the Venezuelan musician of the 1960s, Tulio Enrique Leon, replacing Leon’s organ with the marimba.
Their father passed away the following year and for a time the Gamas completely lost interest in playing music. But in 2017, Macha decided he needed them for his Chilean tour. The Gamas invited their friend from the psychobilly era, drummer Richi López (whose cousin, bassist Raul Albarrán, would later join the group) and found themselves playing 40 concerts in two months with the three Masha bands; Chico Trujillo, La Floripondio and Bloque Depresivo. To top it off, they were signed by ZZK, the Buenos Aires-born label specializing in modern fusions of traditional Latin American sounds. Son Rompe Pera is the first Mexican issue of ZZK.
“We came to these two months with a really basic repertoire, mostly cumbias that we knew before,” says Mongo. But inspired by the cumbia fusions they heard, they got the idea that they too could be pioneers in the genre. “We started to experiment,” Mongo continues. “In Chile, the project took shape. Calling themselves Son Rompe Pera as the newcomer to Batuco’s original idea, the band released a 10-track album in Macha’s home studio.
The album is named after their dad, and Batuco is present more than in the spirit on the LP. “Cumbia Algarrobera” made the final cut, joining other cumbia classics that Son Rompe Pera absorbed in his whirlwind of fusion.
Powered by these sounds, Son Rompe Pera is now preparing for international tours, details of which are still being kept secret. But Mongo says the core of Son Rompe Pera has remained unchanged, through the generations. “We were, and we are, a marimba street band. “
Listen to ‘Batuco’ here. And check out the mini-doc on the group below.