Four on the Floor Vol.2 - Yu Sato

Four on the Floor Vol.2 - Yu Sato

Give percussionist Yu Sato some maracas and watch him get animated. The primitive beats transport him to a different time and space, one where dance and rhythm are currency. That place is called the island of Malphino. It’s actually the name of the band he’s in. Confused? From the horse’s mouth:

“Malphino are an outer-national, mystical band from an imaginary tropical island that has dreamt up a cinematic score and audio backdrop to their idyll. A promised land of hypnotic cumbia rhythms, subtle digital warbling, accordion textures, voodoo vapours and woodblock charm awaits the off piste explorer willing to step through the arch and visit Malphino.

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More confused? Yu, please explain…

“Well, Malphino started in east London, way back, maybe around 2009, something like that. I was DJing Wednesday nights in a pub called The Haggerston - I think it has changed now. I played Latin American music, especially a style called la cumbia. I met two musicians, Alex and David, and asked them to play live, in between my sets, and that’s how the seed for Malphino started to grow. They played the accordion and tuba respectively. The aim was and has always been to transport people to South America, using music as the conduit.”

The name Malphino is a portmanteau of the band member’s nationalities. Alex is half Filipino and David has a Malaysian heritage, hence ‘Mal-phino’. The band is like an imagined community of musicians. As they began to bond and play together, one abstraction led to another, and the concept of a mythical island of music came into being. What else but music can transport you to a different place after all.

“I live in Brixton. I’ve been there for about six years ago. My studio was there (Yu is an art director when he’s not playing la cumbia) so I just stayed. London is a great place to meet musicians from all over the world. You can sample every style of music here. In Maphino, for example, we are Japanese, Colombian, Malaysian, French, the Filipino and English! The Colombians must think ‘who the hell are these guys?!’

What is La Cumbia?

La cumbia's roots can be traced back to the coastal regions of Colombia during the era of Spanish colonisation. Its beginnings are a fusion of indigenous, African, and European influences. The word "cumbia" is believed to have originated from the Kumbé dance of African origin, which was practiced by enslaved Africans in Colombia. Originally, la cumbia was a courtship dance performed by both men and women. It involved graceful footwork, twirls, and a flirtatious back-and-forth between partners. Over time, la cumbia spread across Colombia and underwent regional variations.

In Colombia, it branched into different styles, such as cumbia sabanera, cumbia costeña, and cumbia vallenata, each with its own unique flavor. La cumbia's influence extended far beyond Colombia's borders. In the mid-20th century, it traveled to Mexico, where it merged with Mexican folk music to create cumbia mexicana. This fusion introduced new instruments like the accordion and infused the genre with a distinct Mexican flavour. Cumbia also journeyed to Peru, where it evolved into the vibrant and energetic cumbia peruana. This variant emphasized electric guitars and psychedelic elements, contributing to its unique sound. In Argentina, cumbia villera emerged in the marginalized neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. Driven by synthesizers and electronic beats, it became the voice of the working class and youth culture.

The instruments of La Cumbia

We were lucky enough to get a private rendition of some of Yu’s favourite instruments during the shoot, each entirely unique in the timbre of beat it produced.

“I play many percussion instruments unique to Latin American music. One of my favourites is the guacharaca, it’s an essential instrument of la cumbia. I’m not even sure what it’s made from, could be bamboo, cactus, I don’t know! I grew up in Japan so I’m not too sure, but I know that I love the sound that it makes. Maracas are another favourite. A lot of people, well in the west at least, probably associate maracas with kids, like they’re a child’s instrument, but they are not, they really lead the band. There are other really niche instruments too, like the kayamb, which comes from Reunion Island in Africa and uses seeds contained within a wooden construction.

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“I started playing with the band about 10 years ago, which is kind of a miracle - that’s longer than most relationships last! I stopped Djing because I love playing live music so much. I just taught myself, and picked things up from the band. Of course, I practise and practise the techniques, but once you’re proficient, it’s really about the energy you bring. I fell in love with Latin American music because it’s made to make people dance, I love that energy, because also, the energy I put into playing, I get back from the audience dancing, it’s very reciprocal like that."

Travelling to the Island of Malphino

You haven’t been yet? You’ve got to go! Malphino’s debut album, Visit Malphino, is a guided tour of their mythical fantasy island. Hop on a ride with soothing electric guitar and warming bass lines reinterpreting traditional Colombian banda with organ, accordion and tuba. Electronic sequencing, rapturous reverb and futuristic echo effects lace together vintage, often psychedelic vocals, progressive melodic lines and tropical animal calls. Yu’s percussion is wildly eclectic too: the wood and metal of marimba and guacharaca instruments provides accents to subtle digital warblings, familiar accordion textures, voodoo vapours and woodblock charm. Dancing is inevitable! 

Malphino's new EP, Sueno, is out now.

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