Meet La Sonora Dinamita, headline band of the 2021 Indio International Tamale Festival

·5 min read
La Sonora Dinamita poses with an audience at one of their sold out shows. The cumbia band is headlining the Indio International Tamale Festival for 2021.
La Sonora Dinamita poses with an audience at one of their sold out shows. The cumbia band is headlining the Indio International Tamale Festival for 2021.

The 2021 Indio International Tamale festival this weekend is sure to be filled not only with tamales but also plenty of dancing given this year's headlining musical act, the cumbia band La Sonora Dinamita.

Through the band's 61-year trajectory, La Sonora Dinamita's sound has become a vital part of Latino music history and celebrations. When one of the band's hits, "Escándalo," starts playing at a party, people know they're in for a good time.

The band's name means "dynamite sound," and they live up to it. La Sonora Dinamita originated in Colombia and uses elements of the country's folklore sounds as well as African and Indigenous music to create what they refer to as 100% Colombian cumbia.

La Sonora Dinamita is heavy on the trumpets and intertwines bongos, cowbell, drums and güiros with the lead vocals of Vilma Diaz, 58.

Though the 11-member line-up has rotated members through the years, they've always had a female vocal lead and Diaz has been in the role since 1987. Decades of La Sonora Dinamita's music have spawned many imitation bands under similar names that alter the band's hit songs, but people know they're listening to the original Sonora Dinamita when they hear Diaz's voice.

The Desert Sun sat down with Diaz to talk about what the band has planned for its performance on Sunday, at the Tamale Festival's Fantasy Springs stage, from 4 to 5 p.m.

Vilma Diaz of La Sonora Dinamita performs at the 2019 Tropicália Festival in Long Beach, Calif.  The band will headline the 2021 Indio International Tamale Festival this weekend.
Vilma Diaz of La Sonora Dinamita performs at the 2019 Tropicália Festival in Long Beach, Calif. The band will headline the 2021 Indio International Tamale Festival this weekend.

Desert Sun: What has La Sonora Dinamita been up to recently?

Diaz: We've mostly been performing in the United States. We're traveling constantly and recently, we've been in Wisconsin, Minnesota, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Arizona. We were also in Mexico for a bit, celebrating our 61st birthday.

Desert Sun: To what do you attribute the band's decades-long success?

Diaz: La Sonora Dinamita has a distinctive cumbia pattern that doesn't sound like all the other cumbias. It's hard to explain the pattern, but it's a rhythm that you hear and immediately know, that's La Sonora Dinamita.

The essence of our music comes from Colombia and from working with people that know what that musical influence is. I think of it as La Sonora Dinamita having its own DNA, its own personality — and people recognize that it's unique and only we have it.

We also keep up with modern rhythms, with young people, but that Colombian folklore sound is the basis of our music. We try to have our music form part of a sort of family record collection that grandparents, aunts and uncles and young people can enjoy together.

La Sonora Dinamita makes a pit stop during a musical tour in 2018. The cumbia band will perform at the Indio International Tamale Festival on December 5, 2021.
La Sonora Dinamita makes a pit stop during a musical tour in 2018. The cumbia band will perform at the Indio International Tamale Festival on December 5, 2021.

Desert Sun: How does the band decide what songs to sing at an event like the Tamale Festival?

Diaz: Sometimes we can anticipate what songs a given audience wants to hear: We know which cumbias they like in El Salvador. But here, it's a multicultural festival where people from many different backgrounds will attend, so we're going to stick to our hits.

I can't say for sure, though, because sometimes I also take in the mood of the audience to decide what will work next, what will get them moving. Sometimes we have a setlist ready and we don't even follow it because the people ask for the songs they want to dance to.

Desert Sun: Do you have a special vision for the performance at the festival?

Diaz: Our band represents not only Colombia, but all people of Latino background and we want them to feel proud. I also think Latinos are in for a surprise in that they won't be the only ones having fun dancing to music in Spanish.

There will be people there that don't know about La Sonora Dinamita. My goal is to get those people to dance! Even if they don't understand the lyrics, they will enjoy a rhythm that perhaps before they hadn't.

Desert Sun: Before headlining, had you heard of the Tamale Festival?

Diaz: Oh, yes! Many years ago, we just hadn't had the honor of attending. But, of course, we know about it, it's a festival for tamales!

Desert Sun: What tamales do you think you'll get?

Diaz: There are really good tamales in Colombia, especially in Medellin. They make the tamal paisa and the tamal tolimense, which is the best in Colombia. They are enormous and can feed two people. Maybe I'll find a Colombian tamal there.

Desert Sun: Do you have a favorite show or memory from your performances through the years?

Diaz: All of them are special memories. We've been at excellent events and festivals.

There was a performance that we did in Canada that really stuck with me, though. A woman that attended was quite ill and fragile, but it was her dying wish to ask me to sing a song I recorded years back, "No Te Vayas Nunca." As best as she could, she was dancing to all of our songs from her wheelchair. I did not expect that someone that was sick would want to go see La Sonora Dinamita, that impacted me.

Desert Sun: What's next for La Sonora Dinamita?

Diaz: We were recording an album in August from Colombia. I wish we could play some of our new songs, but we're waiting until the album comes out in 2022. But we have some other little surprises in store for the festival!

Eliana Perez covers the eastern Coachella Valley, including the cities of Indio and Coachella. Reach her at eliana.perez@thedesertsun.com or on Twitter @Eliana Press.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Who is La Sonora Dinamita? Headliners of 2021 Indio Tamale Festival

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