Every Monday night at the Konex Center in Buenos Aires, a bit of magic happens: hundreds of people come together to experience La Bomba de Tiempo, a group of seventeen drummers who, within minutes, have the audience swaying back and forth to the beat; within the hour, their bodies are no longer their own, totally given over to the pulsating rhythm of the drums.
Needless to say, it is not to be missed.
The first time I went, I could hear the beating of the drums long before I saw the massive, warehouse-like Konex Center from which the mesmerizing sound was emanating. The street outside is an experience unto itself, with numerous venders offering baskets of sweet-smelling breads and empanadas, Bomba fanatics dancing in the streets, and my personal favorite, two hippies – with bell bottoms, fringed vests and Windsor sunglasses right out of the 60s – who were selling jewelry, “playing” a wooden recorder, and quietly stealing all the alcohol that people had to leave behind before entering the venue. (My second trip was a bit more treacherous and included my first encounter with a prostitute, which I’ll save for another time.)
Inside, the drumming was well under way, the steady rhythm persistently building to an inevitable climax: a frenzy of heart-piercing sound waves and oscillating bodies, moving together with unstoppable momentum and an energy so fierce and concentrated it seemed as though the earth itself might open up around us, sending ripples and quakes in every direction from the epicenter.
And it gets better. La Bomba de Tiempo – literally translated, “The Time Bomb” – is completely improvised, and they switch conductors and positions throughout the set. Every week, they invite one or two other musicians to jam with them, adding yet another mesmerizing layer to the already enthralling performance. The first time I went, the invitados were a jazz singer and a trumpet, who played one after the other and were both improvised as well. The singer had a beautiful voice, but it was the trumpet that really got me. His notes moved up and down my spine, combining with the relentless beat of the drums until I was in a trance. It was like he was a snake charmer; and we, his snakes, swayed from side to side as we rose up, spellbound, into some new state of consciousness in which the music and the moment was all that mattered.
As fate would have it, the trumpeter was back again when I came back for more the next week (how could I stay away?) this time joined by an enormous double bass. This time the energy was different – every experience here is different, and I’m always impressed by the variety a few lone drums can produce – and where my snake charmer once stood was now a mad marionette puppeteer, who, led by the drums, teased the beat faster and faster until the whole warehouse was in a fury.
True to the porteño reputation, the party doesn’t stop with the end of the concert. As the audience floods out of the center and takes to the streets, they’re joined by a haphazard parade of drummers, and within minutes everyone is dancing again.
Reading this over, I feel compelled to assure you that I was not on drugs during this experience – just high on life and strung out on La Bomba, I guess.