El Sombrero del Abuelo are the first act from outside the States to release an album through Buenört Collective's label. Credit: Courtesy the artist

Since 2019 Buenört Collective have been using their platform to create welcoming spaces to explore multiculturalism—specifically, the fantastic variety of Afro-Latinx music. This Chicago-based group of multidisciplinary artists and DJs describe themselves as a record label, a booking agency, and a party incubator, and their latest project is Las Flores del Ahora, the long-awaited fourth album by avant-garde flamenco group El Sombrero del Abuelo.

Buenört cofounder Leopoldo Bello, better known as DJ and producer Bumbac Joe, refers to the collective’s territory as marginalized music from Latin America and beyond. Because El Sombrero del Abuelo are from Madrid, Spain, their release is a milestone for Buenört—the collective’s first album by an artist outside the United States.

Buenört Collective’s membership consists of DJs Jamie Hayes and Tanja Buhler, aka the duo Party Line; video artists Carolina Fernandez and Ronen Goldstein, who work together as Color Swim; videographer Peter Ponk; and Parlant Parlant, aka the duo of Bello and Tim McNulty. (Most everyone lives in Chicago, though Ponk is in Medellín, Colombia, and some artists on the collective’s label are based in Milwaukee, Venezuela, or Madrid.) Bello himself was born in Lima, Peru, and raised in Venezuela; he spent time in Madrid and Milwaukee before arriving in Chicago about six years ago. “We think cross-pollination is important when talking about culture, especially in countries like the U.S. where a lot of the culture is hard-core filtered by mainstream media,” he says. “Having input from different parts of the world is important for us, since we truly believe in diversity and multiculturalism.”

The idea for the collective, whose name is a Spanish-language pun on “Malört,” arose in 2018, when a group of four friends—Hayes, Buhler, McNulty, and Bello—realized they had similar philosophies about music, art, and nightlife. They decided to use their knowledge, tools, and time to introduce underground music to new audiences, creating fun atmospheres and experiences with uncommon sounds.

Buenört began with a series called Eclecteque, showcasing global music in an environment intended to evoke 1970s nightclubbing, with funk and disco vibes. A typical night might feature an all-vinyl set by the Party Line, an electronics-augmented set by Bumbac Joe with live percussionists, and visuals by Color Swim. The entertainment has also included poetry readings and visual artists displaying their work in whatever venue the event takes over. “We are a collective of music lovers, video artists, DJs, dance theorists, selectors, analog and digital experimenters, and a board-games lab, looking for the meaning of communication through the expressions of nightlife,” Bello explains.

Buenört member Jamie Hayes, half of the duo Party LineCredit: Courtesy the artist

“It was just this idea to create an artistic laboratory or space where you can play with a bunch of concepts,” he continues. “You know, nightlife tends to be associated with younger people, or barflies. It’s not considered a status of culture. I think it’s time to talk about nightlife itself as a way to approach culture and its connection to human relationships. We believe we can create spaces to have that point, to get together in a cool environment with amazing art, where a bunch of sensibilities are protected in that space.”

Buenört DJs might spin festejo and salsa brava from Peru; golpe larense and tamunangue from Venezuela; or bulería, “street flamenco,” and flamenco fusions from Spain. They often mingle these genres (and many more) with folktronica, jazz, Mexican and Colombian cumbia, calypso, Afrobeat, and global bass, often adding electronic elements.

“We want it to be progressive, a space where you will hear something like Kraftwerk remixes by Señor Coconut, or Las Chicas del Can, or Luis Miguel,” Bello says. “This is music you don’t expect, but it fits the narrative—it complements pop and disco and it’s not just from one source, it’s from a bunch of different eras and genres. I think its philosophical posture up-front is to dignify nightlife. That is the main focus.”

Before the pandemic put a halt to basically any artistic venture that gathered people in a space, Buenört were busily curating events, among them the ongoing Eclecteque series and a semiregular night called Heavy Salsa Mama with Bello and Daniel Villarreal (from Dos Santos and the Los Sundowns). When COVID lockdowns began, Buenört decided to expand their Bandcamp page to share music from artists outside the collective. They also used some of their unexpected downtime, in Bello’s words, to “reflect on what art and media mean in our actual reality, and how we can have a better understanding of the transcendency of human communication.”

Buenört members Parlant Parlant, aka Bumbac Joe (Leopoldo Bello) and Tim McNultyCredit: Courtesy the artist

Bello had developed a curiosity about the Latinx arts community even before arriving in Chicago. He started out here by DJing wherever he could, and in 2015, within his first year in the city, he got an invite from Cumbiasazo cofounder Itzi Nallah to play at that self-described “sporadic and nomadic cumbia and global bass party” (it had been a monthly fixture at Double Door since 2014).

Cumbiasazo drove home for Bello the spectacular depth and breadth of the city’s Latinx arts scene. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is the coolest party ever,’ and at that moment I knew the dimension of Chicago,” he says. “Being at Cumbiasazo, you discover how important this is. I saw the full energy, the full dynamic, the full range of Chicago right there. It was . . . well, few times in my life have I ever felt as comfortable as I felt there. More than just a party, it felt like being at a friend’s house—en la casa de tu familia.”

The collective are currently working on three music-related projects that will come to fruition this year. It’s still a little early for them to discuss details of the others, but the new album from El Sombrero del Abuelo arrives April 9. Its 13 tracks flirt heavily with jazz and postrock en español, and it features nearly a dozen players—including guest vocalist Desiree Paredes and two members of ska and rumba Catalana band La Pegatina, violinist Victor Guadiana and accordionist Romain Renard. Buenört’s press materials for the release say Las Flores del Ahora is “a lyrically-rich album of reckoning and quantum leap fusion.”

  • The video for “Que Se Va,” featuring La Pegatina members Victor Guadiana and Romain Renard

Bello says putting out this album is more than a business decision: it comes from transatlantic friendship, and from the collective’s love for music. “For a long time, we were looking for the chance to introduce the music of the band to the audience of Chicago and the Americas,” he explains. “It is interesting to see how few of these kinds of artists, artists with energetic and well-crafted lyrics that are unafraid of touching political topics in their songs, and especially coming from Spain, are presented to the Spanish-speaking audiences in the U.S. We hope we can open the same door in Madrid for a Chicago-based band.”

For now Buenört’s goal is to keep collaborating with artists interested in their concepts. They want to provide a platform to expose and explore global sounds incubated locally. “Latin music in Chicago has a great well,” Bello says. “Just seeing how the concept of Dos Santos, for example, has grown in the last years . . . is living proof of how far the local Latin scene can go. We hope our contribution will help to make it more robust and reflexive about its own identity.”  v