Dancing along the vibrant murals of Balmy Alley, Bululú vocalist Sofia Magdalena invites newcomers to grab tacos and agua fresca in “la Missión,” go to “el Bay to Breakers,” and watch “los hippies” in the Haight. Shot across iconic destinations like the Castro and Chinatown, the promo video for “El Big Bang Bululú”’s title track is a love letter to both San Francisco and the Latinx diaspora looking to make it their home.

“Living in the Mission District, you can feel that fusion of cultures, especially the Latino ones,” said Magdalena. “This song, like the boogaloo, is a mixture of genres, and San Francisco and the Mission bring all that.”

Led by percussionist Lali Mejia, the group’s second album, “El Big Bang Bululú,” is charting a new direction. “It’s about what happens here,” said Mejia, who was born in Venezuela. “I’ve been here for 30 years, and the Bay Area is now in our DNA … [the promo video] “It’s all about San Francisco, the people, the culture, and the diversity that only happens here.”

Rooted in Venezuelan and Caribbean influences, the album is an enticing array of original songs in Salsa, Soca, Reggaeton, and traditional llanera flavors.

The lively song “Ajé” is a “good example of the band’s musical vision,” said Mejia. “It’s a gaita de tumbara that comes from Sur De Lago de Maracaibo and a specific set of towns in Venezuela that play this music once a year… These are very soulful flavors! So why not have Bululú do a gaita de tumbara and see how it shakes out.”

In “Ajé,” the sounds of the traditional Venezuelan cuatro, a four-string instrument similar to an elongated ukulele, emerge in the song’s texture. With its rhythmic strums and a light accordion background, it provides a folky sonic bed for the expressive contra-alto voice of Norma Kansau Chavez.

“That is the most valuable aspect of this project,” adds Mejia. “Not just sticking to fundamental approaches but reimagining what it could possibly be in the future.”

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Bululú performs at The Women’s Building in San Francisco, Calif. on June 27, 2024. Photo: Bob Kinoshita

Bululú’s Latinx ensemble

Mejia’s musical journey began as a child at the Colegio Bellas Artes in Maracaibo, Venezuela, where she played flute and cuatro. “I arrived in the Bay Area in my early 20s and started going to La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley,” said Ella Mejia. “They had amazing classes on Afro-Venezuelan percussion and cuatro given by Jackeline Rago at the time. “I explored the possibilities of colors, techniques, and sounds.”

Her studies and talent have taken Mejia far, having toured throughout the US, Caribbean, South America, and Asia, performing at prestigious jazz and world music festivals.

Cumbia del Laundromat - Bululú (Promo Video)

Magdalena didn’t start singing tropical music professionally until she arrived in the Mission District, where she connected with its thriving musical community. “My Cuban grandmother was a piano teacher, so she got me started on piano, which I played until age 16,” said Ella Magdalena, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Dominican Republic. “I used to sing for myself until my parents heard me. “My dad was a guitarist, and we started singing in duets, and that’s where I started understanding that my voice had a feeling.”

The rest of Bululú is made up of a gifted collective of musicians and singers from both the Bay Area and Venezuela. Names like Christelle Durandy, Jose Roberto Hernandez, Omar Ledezma, and Kai Lyons breathe life into the pieces. The album’s producer, Agelvis Sánchez Daza, a noted figure in Venezuelan folkloric music and pop, solidifies its authenticity and color.

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Bululú is made up of a gifted collective of musicians and singers from both the Bay Area and Venezuela. Courtesy Photo: Lali Mejia

So what is a bululú?

“In Venezuela, a Bululú is a large gathering, a buzzing party with lots of excitement and a lot of fuzz,” said Mejia. “It’s a word of truly Venezuelan origin that’s friendly and kind of cute, even the way you spell it phonetically.”

At a time when there is a major exodus of Venezuelan people fleeing the economic and political hardships of the South American nation, San Francisco has become a destination for new immigrants seeking a better life.

“One of our biggest responsibilities as a band is to work in favor of the Venezuelan and Latino diaspora,” said Mejia. “People come here, and they are far away from their homelands, and it’s up to us to provide that continuity, that care as a community through our live events.”

From its food to its music, Venezuela is increasingly adding new colors to the rainbow of Bay Area Latinx expressions. “It’s not just about making good music but bringing people together,” said Mejia. “And we take that very seriously in Bululú.”

For more information, check out www.bululusf.com.