He founded Bomba Estereo in 2005 as a sound system that featured a series of guest DJs, visual artists, and musicians. Among them was Liliana, who collaborated on the track "Huepajé" from the act's 2006 debut album, Vol. 1.
Li had left her native coastal city Santa Marta to study photography and eventually found her way to the capital in her 20s. But her first exposure to hip-hop was at age 11, when some New York-born Colombian friends introduced her to 2 Live Crew and other hip-hop of the era.
"I remember one of the songs went 'F**ck Martinez, F**ck F**ck Martinez,'" she recalled. "But I was super-influenced by that and started to turning songs, even love songs, into raps." Another of her major early influences is Joe Arroyo, who she grew up listening to and whose image she recently tattooed onto her arm. Nicolás Cano Vallejo, editor of Colombian music mag Shock, said the first Bomba effort was very electronic, experimental, and almost as if Simón was searching for the right formula.
"But in 'Huepajé,' you feel a song," he explained on Skype, in Spanish. "There's a chorus and Li's lyrics are felt as well as that super indigenous cadence that she gives Bomba Estereo's music."
Simón and Li found their musical chemistry too good to pass up and she joined the group.
Blow Up!: Hitting It Big "Liliana and I practically made Blow Up! all by ourselves at home," explained Simón. "Then when we went to record it in the studio, Kike was already playing drums and Julián was our sound engineer so he also recorded guitars and then became part of the group." Bomba's ascent from alt-underground outfit to international band began shortly after. It was the result of a combination of savvy decisions, good fortune, and nonstop touring.
In 2009, the group hit Austin's annual music showcase SXSW and began generating stateside buzz.
"There was this desire for the existence of other music that wasn't salsa, merengue, or tropical," Liliana explained. "Something that we Latinos would identify with but that gringos would also get."
Blow Up! came out on the reputable U.S. Latin-alt label Nacional Records, whose roster includes alt-rock icon Manu Chao and pioneering Colombian outfit Aterciopelados. Tomás Cookman's muscular imprint insured the quartet one of the best introductions to the U.S. market available to a Latin-alt act.
Bomba played a string of sets at that summer's Latin Alternative Conference (LAMC) in New York and became its breakout act. A fact that was confirmed when they were tapped as the last-minute fill-in opening act for Puerto Rican alt-rap band Calle 13 in one of the LAMC's marquee concerts at Central Park Summerstage.
The fortuitous gig proved to be a pivotal, "door opening" moment, Simón said. "We've practically been on tour with that album since then going from festival and festival." Bomba Estereo in Buenos Aires in 2011.
For the next three years, they hit the festival circuit. Hard. Bomba has played Coachella, Bonaroo, Vive Latino (Mexico), Lollapalooza Chile, Rock Al Parque (Colombia), Roskilde (Denmark), Paleo Festival (Switzerland), Primavera Fauna Festival (Chile), Sonar (Spain), and Expo Shanghai.
"Word spread--to festival bookers, through the internet and MySpace, by giving away music, especially to deejays, who would play it at their parties," he continued.
Meanwhile at home in Colombia, Bomba Estereo's success had the ripple effect of piquing national and international interest in the country's musical scene.