Logan Phillips—widely known in the Old Pueblo, the Arizona-Mexico borderlands and beyond as DJ Dirtyverbs—got hooked on cumbia in the early 2000s while living in the central Mexican state of Querétaro.
Particularly Cumbia sonidera
(which has humble beginnings in the poorer barrios of Mexico City) became the unofficial soundtrack of Phillips' Querétaro life and the many other years he orbited through Latin America (including my homeland, Guatemala).
"Playing on the buses in Querétaro, there is something about the guacharaca (a fundamental percussion instrument in cumbia) that just pierces through the noise of the bus and the engine," he says. "It became part of who I was, but when I moved back to Arizona in 2011, I didn't find a space that felt like where I had been."
So he created one.
And for two years now, El Tambó pops up every couple of months or so at Club Congress to celebrate old school cumbia and to be a magnet for the culturally diverse minds that inhabit these desert grounds. But it hasn't been about, "Hey, it's Latin night, everyone else fuck off." It's been a space where Phillips gets to share music that has emotional meaning to his soul with us, no matter where we come from, regardless whether we have heard cumbia before or not, he wants people to visit, get to know each other, have a good time and expand their interests even if that takes us through routes we thought we'd never cross paths with.
"Also, I wanted to create a platform to connect Tucson into this national alternative Latino movement that is happening. There are amazing events in LA, San Francisco...(groups like) Quitapenas
...young alternative Latinos with a strong sense of identity," Phillips says over some afternoon coffee at Café Passé. "I really wanted to put Tucson on the map as far as taking advantage of that. Why is the sound of Tucson dusty twang, when we have this huge Mexican population and Chicano population or people like myself who just grew up around that."
What went on to become El Tambó started out with Phillips DJing every Thursday at the then-recently-opened La Cocina
. (DJ Herm took on Saturday nights.) That lasted for about three months, then Phillips left town and El Tambó went to sleep for some time. Upon Phillips' return to this land, Congress approached him about bringing some of his flavor there.
"I feel lucky that Hotel Congress would be open to have cumbia sonidera on a Friday night in the middle of downtown, that is a very strong cultural message, especially in the way downtown is changing so fast," he says. "I give credit to Congress and now the Rialto as well, who brought amazing acts like Ana Tijoux
, Café Tacuba
, Calle 13
, amazing, huge acts. Those two spaces are really working hard to advocate for inclusion."
He calls cumbia a genre without borders. Cumbia is created from Canada to the southern-most tip of Argentina, he says. "Arizona is also part of that experience. Arizona is part of Latin American regardless of the geopolitical borders that there are, through cumbia we can kind of find our heart in that as well...for me it is about a lot more than just a party."
On Friday, Feb. 6, at El Tambó, Phillips is dedicating a set to '90s cumbia sonidera. During our chat, he remembers the first time he scavenged for a cumbia album in the markets, mercados, of Querétaro. He said, "I want cumbia," and they gave him a '90s cumbia CD that featured artists like Los Ángeles Azules
, "and I just listened to it over and over again."
"I'm going to play a set of those songs, some of it is pretty heavy cheese, the '90s were a hell of a time for cumbia," he says.
El Tambó is still growing, but Phillips is pretty satisfied with what's been happening. He'd like to keep that "it happens when it happens" vibe, too.
"We need dance floors that really represent who we are as a community in all of our shades and linguistic varieties, it is really important," he says. "A lot of music has taken a very aggressive turn, very misogynistic and materialistic turn. (Although he is a fan of a lot of hip hop, these days) some hip hop has become a de facto pop culture instead of being a niche. Boiled down to its lowest common denominator of message, and I don't feel good dancing to misogynistic lyrics."
It's refreshing to walk into a place and hear songs that are like poems, celebrating life, people close to the land, "to me that is something that resonates a lot more than making money or whatever the theme is."
His long-time friend DJ Herm (an El Tambó virgin) will be joining, as well as the Los Angeles-based, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latin band Cuicani
(also El Tambó virgins).
After this, Phillips is off to the Phoenix Feb. 11 release of his book, Sonoran Strange
, and then going on a short tour.
El Tambó starts at 9 p.m. and is $6. For more info, visit the event's Facebook page