New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: rock en espanol

Wild, Diverse Global Energy Overflows at Lincoln Center

Last night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors was an exhilarating if somewhat underappreciated mix of global sounds. Opening night of this year’s festival on the 20th of the month, a Pete Seeger tribute kicked off by none other than Judy Collins, was a mobscene rivaled here in recent years only by the overflow crowd at the 2010 staging of pianist Larry Harlow’s iconic salsa jazz suite, La Raza Latina.

A performance of some rather arch indie classical and contemporary ballet pieces this past Friday drew a smaller and less diverse crowd, but the diversity was back last night in epic force, at least musically speaking. Assembled by the prime movers of Globalfest, the evening had every bit of eclecticism and often delirious energy as their annual January Webster Hall celebration of mostly dance-oriented sounds from around the world, a spinoff of the APAP booking agents’ convention. Originating before the youtube era, the concert gives venue bookers and the public alike a chance to sample party music of pretty much every stripe throughout a series of what are essentially longform auditions. There’s literally something for everyone, as there was all over the Lincoln Center complex last night. Don’t like canned beats? Leave the underground parking garage (where the promoters had cleverly stashed that stuff away) and go to the park out back for a funky Indian jamband, or to the plaza for some Mexican brass music.

Around the corner from the opera hall, Colombian-American psychedelic cumbia band M.A.K.U. Soundsystem stole the show, and the crowd from Red Baraat – who were half a block south, in Damrosch Park – with their slinky, moodily triumphant grooves, reaffirming their status as one of New York’s best bands. And they left no doubt that at this point, cumbia has superseded reggae as this era’s default global party music. What’s coolest about cumbia is that a lot of it is pretty creepy, a quality underscored by keyboardist Felipe Quiroz’s sepulchrally tremoloing organ. Bassist/frontman Juan Ospina played bitingly catchy, hypnotically bouncy riffs and sang in tandem with multi-percussionist Liliana Conde, alongside guitar, conga, drums and a punchy two-trombone horn section (joined at the end by an esteemed Colombian tenor saxophonist whose introduction got lost in a flurry of applause). The band’s lyrics, mostly in Spanish, celebrate diversity and global unity in a surprisingly poetic way, without being either trite or saccharine, over loping, undulating minor-key vamps punctuated by animated percussion breaks and menacingly swirly keyboard riffs. One of the casually defiant tracks from the band’s latest vinyl ep, Musica Nunca Muere (The Music Never Dies) pretty much said it all. If the IWW had embraced cumbia instead of marching band music, maybe the Wobblies really would have taken over the world.

The evening’s single best performance – and funniest moment onstage – might have been from New Orleans “Russian mafia band” Debauche. Toward the end of their bristling, boisterous, hourlong set, given the “ten more minutes” sign from the sound booth, they responded by speeding up until they were going doublespeed and then even faster. More bands should do that! Frontman/acoustic guitarist Yegor Romantsov evoked another charismatic Slavic rock bandleader, Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz, as he made his way through edgy minor-key Russian-language romps about duplicitous women, deals gone bad, a love song reinvented from a lesbian perspective, and a mashup of a Jewish wedding song and a happy-go-lucky Mexican folk tune. Their was a distinct klezmer influence in many of the songs, from a sarcastically swaying hi-de-ho anthem, to a series of bouncily brooding, clarinet-and-violin-fueled shuffles. An attempt to get the heavily Russian crowd to sing along on Bublichki, the opening track on the band’s album Cossacks on Prozac – which would be better titled Cossacks on Coke – met with mixed results. But there was a big crowd down front dancing. And somehow the bull fiddle survived being climbed on by both the the burly guy who was playing it, as well as the coyly energetic woman playing standup bass drum and tambourine.

Sandwiched in between the cumbia and the klezmer rock were an eight-piece edition of Brooklyn’s Banda de los Muertos, who do both original and traditional Sinaloa-style brass music with trombones, horns, trumpets, woodwinds and drums. Most of their set had a breezy, good-natured sway, through a mix of ranchera waltzes, a Los Tigres del Norte cover and Marty Robbins’ El Paso reinvented as a mariachi brass theme. Trumpets and trombones got most of the solos and made the most of them, Ben Holmes and Brian Drye getting the choicest parts. Mariachi Flor de Toloache frontwoman Mireya Ramos took the music in a strikingly intense, imploring direction with her powerful, angst-fueled, melismatic vocals on a bolero, Te Quiero Tanto, written by the band’s frontman/clarinetist’s aunt. And then Ramos led the group back onto more upbeat turf.

Opening the night in Damrosch Park, Moroccan/Israeli crooner Emil Zrihan delivered an often riveting, impassioned performance worthy of a headliner, backed by his regular accordionist and an inspired pickup band who played seamlessly despite having been assembled at the last minute (the rest of the singer’s band were back in Israel, having been unable to get visas). Zrihan blends sounds from a millenium worth of Andalucian music as well as Sephardic cantorial themes, with an occasional detour toward klezmer or rai. His smartly dynamic, nonchalantly crescendoing take of the classic protest song Ya Rayyeh was well-received by the small but electrified crowd gathered in the shade toward the front of the stage. Zrihan and the accordion slowly jammed their way into many of the numbers, climbing to melismatic peaks that sometimes took on operatic exuberance or angst against a tightly swaying, rhythmically tricky backdrop of acoustic guitar, violin and twin hand drums.

And it was too bad that there weren’t more people in the park to catch Brazilian dub band BaianaSystem. Although a lot of what they had was on tape (or in the mixing board, or coming from somebody’s phone), their slow, slinky pulse made for an aptly nocturnal sendoff to the few who remained, ending the night with fat, tersely emphatic bass, long, ominously chromatic solos from electric guitarra baiana player Robertinho Barreto and rapidfire, reggaeton-style Portuguese lyrics from frontman Russo Passapusso.

Catchy, Hard-Edged, Surrealistic Metal Cumbia and Skaragga from the Butcher Knives

It would be easy to write the Butcher Knives off as Gogol Bordello wannabes. But they’re not. Their debut album, Misery – streaming here – puts them on the same carnivalesque, ska and punk-influenced latin rock turf as Outernational, with more digital production values but also more minor-key Balkan menace. They’re playing the Mercury at around midnight on July 26; cover is $10.

15 Minutes sets disco bass over a muted hardcore beat, with a catchy minor-key hook, a surreal lyric about driving through burning neighborhoods and a brief but tasty tremolo-picked Nikko Matiz guitar solo. “You have to run, you have to hide, can you imagine what that feels like?” frontman Nacho Segura demands on American Dream, a galloping highway rock theme juxtaposed with ska-punk. Butcher Knives Unite is the band’s signature song, a briskly bouncy cumbia shout-out to immigrants feeling the pinch.

Could Be the End starts out by nicking the intro from Elvis Costello’s Watching the Detectives and morphs into steady brisk spaghetti western rock, with a cool, offcenter Ethan Cohen banjo solo out. Drunken Down mixes eerie southwestern gothic tinges into scampering circus rock: the blend of Matiz’s guitar and Tal Galfsky’s organ textures is just plain gorgeous. The album’s title track is a rapidfire metal cumbia tune with a sarcastically marching edge and another brief, bizarre banjo outro.

Nobody Knows Me, one of two tracks featuring rapper Ephniko, also gets a lot of mileage out of that out-of-tune banjo, hitting a slow, slinky cumbia groove. Pigs is the closest thing to Gogol Bordello here, a banjo-fueled punk stomp with a chorus of “drop the gun, drop the gun.” Step on the Line mixes GB surrealism with gothic border rock fueled by a spicy blend of Melissa Elledge’s accordion, Galfsky’s swirly organ and Cohen’s frailing banjo over a pulse that’s just short of frantic. And Tell Me Why has a similar mix of southwestern gothic and punk propulsion. The band’s politics are solid: they’re not afraid to be pro-immigrant, their Spanish/English lyrics take an aptly cynical view of American “freedom,” and you can dance to everything here.

Ani Cordero’s Recordar Celebrates Freedom Fighters and the Anthems That Kept Them Going

Ani Cordero has a backstory as eclectic as her Puerto Rican heritage. She got her start as a drummer in a Man or Astroman cover band and then switched gears about as radically as a drummer can, propelling darkly cinematic Brooklyn rockers Bee & Flower for a few years. Since then she’s also played drums with both a reconfigured version of Os Mutantes as well as in Mexican-American janglerockers Pistolera while also leading her own increasingly jangly, tuneful band, Cordero, in which she plays guitar. Her new album Recordar: Latin American Songs of Love and Protest puts a new electrified spin on songs from across the Americas from the 30s through the revolutionary nueva cancion movement of the 60s. She and her sensational band – including but not limited to Springsteen keyboardist Charles Giordano, trumpeters Kelly Pratt and Omar Akil Little, Vieux Farke Toure percussionist Tim Keiper and Modest Mouse cellist Brent Arnold –  play the album release show on May 1 at 9:30 PM at Joe’s Pub. Cover is $15.

Cordero is as good a choice as anyone to tackle such a daunting if potentially exhilarating project, considering that she was mentored in college by Juan Allende, the nephew of murdered, populist Chilean President Salvador Allende. She opens the album with a gently brooding accordion-and-horn-fueled arrangement of Victor Jara’s pensive 1966 anthem Deja la Vida Volar, delivering its bittersweet carpe diem message with a calm-before-the-storm clarity. She reinvents Argentinian crooner Piero’s 1969 hit Tengo la Piel Cansada as a darkly lingering tango sicodelico, much in the same vein as Las Rubias Del Norte.

Cordero discovered Bobby Collazo’s 1948 Cuban bolero La Ultima Noche via cheeseball songbird Eydie Gorme’s version; this one gets a careful, dreamy but uneasy reading with echoey electric keys and resonant brass. Cordero’s lilting take of the Gilberto Gil/Caetano Veloso hit Panis et Circenses (Bread and Circuses) looks less to the Os Mutantes version than the 60s American paisley pop that influenced it. Then she picks up the pace with a brisk take of the popular, homesick 30s Puerto Rican plena standard, Choferito.

Macorina, a gorgeously jangly lesbian love song from 1968 Mexico recorded by Chavela Vargas, gets a lushly tender interpretation that does justice to the bravery of the original. Cuarteto Mayari’s 1942 Puerto Rican hit El Flamboyan is recast as a bouncily percussion-driven shout-out to Cordero’s great-great-great grandfather, a freedom fighter for Puerto Rico against the Spanish occupation. Aunque Me Cueste la Vida, a 1954 hit in the Dominican Republic for Alberto Beltran (Piero’s dad) has a gravity that more than hints at a possible subtext (music there was ruthlessly censored under the Trujillo dictatorship).

Cordero recasts Violeta Parra’s 1967 Chilean lament Volver la Los 17 as moody, echoey trip-hop inflected art-rock. An aptly dusky, skeletal version of Argentinian folksinger Atahualpa Yupanqui’s Che Guevara homage El Primer Verso (Nada Más) hauntingly suggests that sometimes you have to die in order to be reborn: “If you don’t believe that, ask Che Guevara,” is the punchline. The album ends up with a resolutely marching take of Ali Primera’s 1978 Venezuelan revolutionary anthem Una Cancion Mansa Par Mi Pueblo Bravo.

The implication of the album as a whole (the title means “remember”) is that all of this could happen here, whether that be a coup d’etat, a revolution or music celebrating it: perish the thought that we would forget this lest we repeat the same ugly cycle. And you don’t have to speak Spanish to appreciate the songs’ alternately delicate and rousingly plaintive music (Cordero’s meticulously articulate vocals are enormously helpful for those of us who didn’t grow up speaking Spanish).

So where can you hear this gem? Right now, live; it hasn’t made it to Spotify or Bandcamp yet.

 

A Gateway Drug to the Surreal World of Chicha Music

Most people north of Peru still have no idea who Los Destellos are. Credit Chicha Libre, New York’s funnest live band and America’s finest chicha group, for opening the floodgates for a generation worth of trippy, echoey, clangy Peruvian psychedelic rock by bands who from the late 60s through the early 80s played a surreal blend of surf music and rhythms from across Latin America. With their two Roots of Chicha compilations, Chicha Libre’s label Barbes Records were the first to release anything by Los Destellos outside of their native Peru. Los Destellos were the first to use the term chicha (a corn beverage that’s essentially the Peruvian equivalent of malt liquor; its slang meaning is “ghetto”) to describe their music. In that genre, they are what the Ventures are to American surf music, generally acknowledged as its finest and most prolific practitioners.

On the brand-new Rough Guide to Latin Psychedelia compilation, they appear once on the first disc and get an entire bonus disc devoted to them. While what’s here may not be definitive – for example, there’s only one track, the woozy fuzztone bossa groove Onsta La Yerbita, from their stunningly ornate 1971 classic Constelacion album – it’s still off the hook. El Boogaloo Del Perro morphs unexpectedly from a latin soul vamp into balmy Hugh Masekela territory and just as unexpectedly back again. Volando Con Los Destellos reinvents Oye Como Va as a blazing fuzztone jam, a showcase for lead guitarist Enrique Delgado to show off the chops that made him an icon in his native country. They take Flash & the Dynamics’ broodingly shuffling Guajira Sicodelica (which also appears on the compilation) and remake it as Byrdsy twelve-string rock, Delgado having fun with his echo pedal and a handful of stolen Ventures licks. Recycling that same Byrds hook for all it’s worth, Boogaloo De Los Destellos proves for all time how much the California band’s sound would have been enhanced by timbales. Among the rest of the thirteen Destellos tracks here, Noche de Garua has a Lullaby of the Leaves feel; La Cumbia Del Sol works a lo-fi take on early Santana; Soy Un Campesino rocks out a Peruvian folk tune; while the rest have a spiky, wickedly catchy, reverb-toned drive and intensity. Considering how tinny so much of chicha music sounds, the remastered sound quality is tremendously good. The rest of the compilation concentrates on soul grooves fused with many different south-of-the-border sounds, from the obvious (Joe Cuba) to the deliciously unexpected (Los Pakines’ stoner anthem Tomalo O Dejalo).

Chicha Libre are also represented, by an unexpected choice, keyboardist Josh Camp’s Number 17, a tribute to Fermat primes. The whole thing is streaming at World Music Network, a place you can get just as lost as at youtube except that there are no annoying commercials. Let the main page for the Rough Guides send you down the rabbit hole – if esoterica is your thing, you can check in any time you like and basically never leave. Salsa Dura NYC? Check. Music of the Sahara? Doublecheck. Desert blues, Russian gypsy music, the list goes on and on.

Sandra Lilia Velasquez A.K.A. SLV Flips the Script

Mexican-American songwriter Sandra Lilia Velasquez has released two albums of edgy, jangly guitar rock with her band Pistolera, most recently the 2011 song cycle El Desierto y La Ciudad, which explores the sometimes harrowing ups and downs of the immigrant experience in New York. Considering how eclectic her writing has been up to this point, infusing rock with elements of Mexican folk and ranchera, reggae and soul music, it’s no surprise that she would pull a surprise move and take a plunge into moody, hypnotic groove-pop. There’s a serendipitous backstory: Velasquez had wanted to work with Meshell Ndegeocello for some time and finally got her opportunity. The new ep, titled Dig Deeper and released under the band name SLV, is the result of Velasquez presenting Ndegeocello with nineteen songs, leaving the bassist/producer to choose her favorites.

Much as these songs are more polished, with more of an overt pop vibe than Velasquez’ previous work, they’re not particularly slick or heavily produced. The arrangements are artful and even minimalist in places, with layers of keyboards and percussion constantly shifting through the mix to create the effect that there’s more going on here than just vocals, guitar, keys, bass and drums.

“These days I want to stay inside and pretend to say I’m somewhere, but it will get me nowhere,” Velasquez broods on the first song, Enough, minor-key guitar ringing out over blippy synth in the background. As the song moves along, the bass moves toward the front of the mix, reggae-style, one of many production touches that don’t jump out but make just enough of an impact to change the song. It could be early 90s Everything But the Girl, but with more bite, trading that band’s English folk influence for a distant Mexican one. The second track, Sueño, is more upbeat, with contrasting light/dark keys, a little funk in the bassline and a neat trick ending.

The best song here is History: it’s also the darkest and most relevant one. “Like to know who wrote the book, because I like to check my sources,” Velasquez insists nonchalantly, over a catchy, Neil Young-tinged four-chord guitar progression. “Those of us who don’t have a voice, we’re stuck with taking your word for it.” Who was it who said that history is a lie agreed upon? The ep winds up on an optimistic note with Painted Pictures, moving from a moody, syncopated sway to dreamy, echoey ambience: Velasquez’ pensive, poignant, nuanced voice has always been a strength, so it’s a nice change to see her front and center for once without having to compete with the racket behind her, enticing as that racket has been. SLV plays the album release show for this one on Feb 4 at 9:30 PM at Joe’s Pub; $15 tix are still available as of today.

Good Imaginative Bands on a Cold Night in Gowanus

For once, a seasonably cold Friday night didn’t keep the Brooklyn massive indoors. Down the block from the trash truck depot at the edge of where Gowanus meets Sunset Park, a boisterously responsive crowd gathered at the unexpectedly lavish, relatively new venue SRB to see two of New York’s most original bands.

Karikatura were first on the bill, playing a slinky mix of latin rock and gypsy rock with some reggae and ska thrown in as well. Their frontman played beats on a conga head on several songs and sang nonchalantly smart, socially conscious lyrics over a fiery horn section (alto or tenor sax plus trombone), plus a guitarist playing biting, often flamenco-tinged lines on a nylon-stringed acoustic-electric over the rhythm section’s eclectic grooves. The most infectious of all the songs was Bailarina, which nicked the riff from the famous Algerian freedom fighter anthem Ya Rayyeh and turned it into an unexpectedly angst-fueled reflection by a guy who’s probably more infatuated with a dancing girl than he should be. It’s too loud to talk over the music, all my friends are drunk and I don’t like the idea of other guys hitting on you, the poor dude laments.

Celi, from the band’s most recent ep, Departures, was more hipswinging and seductive. Shortly after that they went into the edgy reggae liberation anthem Una Idea, a richly bass-heavy track from that release, then brought that idea back toward the end of the set with a soaring version of Some Kind Of (Free), a standout tune from their Muzon ep from a couple of years ago. They finally cut loose and jammed on their last number, with a hard-hitting bass break and then a blazing conversation between tenor sax and trombone. Karikatura are a popular touring act  in Europe and south of the border: it was good to see them on their home turf.

House of Waters are one of the most original bands on the planet. Their name is apt: frontman Max ZT, a national champion on the hammered dulcimer, played intricate, incisively rippling melodies throughout their set alongside cajon player Luke Notary and eight-string bassist Moto Fukushima. On the first song, Fukushima played through an octave pedal for a wry, techy tone that contrasted with the rustic feel of the dulcimer. Their music was as danceable as it was psychedelic: on the occasions when the dulcimer passsed off a rhythmic riff to the cajon, it was sometimes impossible to tell who was playing what. On a couple of tunes, Fukushima hit his pedal for a resonant, djeridoo-like drone; he also meandered through a Jerry Garcia-like solo on the high frets and then a wry disco bassline on one of the last songs. On another, Notary switched to ngoni lute as the drummer from Seth Kessel & the Two Cent Band joined them and played a slinky cumbia groove on guacharaca.

Max ZT is a force of nature and a lot of fun to watch, his hands a blur as he fired off supersonically shuffling licks that sounded almost like a mandolin in places. Bits and pieces of gypsy, Appalachian and soukous melodies rang out and pinged through the mix. The next-to-last song – a track from the band’s Revolution album – was intoxicatingly good, shifting suddenly out of  a slow, moody gypsy-flavored vamp when the band took it doublespeed.

Kessel and his Two Cent Band were scheduled to play their goodnaturedly high-energy oldtimey swing and gypsy jazz at some later point in the evening, but by then it was midnight in Gowanus and time to find out if the trains were still running (they were). Catch you next time, guys – they’re at Union Hall in Park Slope on Feb 2 and then at Radegast Hall in Williamsburg on Feb 6.

A Tale of Two Imaginative Sephardic Bands

Deleon and Jaffa Road are two good examples of the current crop of gypsy-flavored rock bands. Both sometimes get pigeonholed as Sephardic bands, but much as each is influenced by global Jewish sounds, each group’s sound is unique and incorporates a vast web of genres. Deleon’s Tremor Fantasma is the more consistently enjoyable of the two’s most recent albums; it’s streaming in its entirety here.

The opening cut is a bhangra groove with hypnotic vocal harmonies and keening steel guitar; later on, another track reminds of Indian-influenced British folk-rock from the 70s. One particularly killer cut here is the brooding Bie Sarika, with a luscious web of flanged banjos mingling with roaring slide guitar as it winds out. La Muerte Chiquita, a reggae tune with steel pans, has a similarly flamenco-inflected feel, followed by Los Bibilicos, another reggae cut that builds from spaghetti western ambience on the wings of a soaring brass arrangement.

Buena Semana kicks off by blending jangly soukous guitar, those steel pans again and hints of American country music and rises to a soaring, anthemic art-rock interlude. Lamma Bada works a haunting, slowly syncopated spaghetti western/Arabic psychedelic rock groove, while Ansi Dize la Novia takes a west African kora riff and makes bouncy Middle Eastern stoner rock out of it. With its echoey vibraphone and searing guitar leads, Para Que Quiero takes a French ye-ye pop theme and builds it into psychedelic reggae-rock..

Barrinam coyly finds the missing link between Mexican banda music and bluegrass. The album ends with A la Nana, an absolutely creepy, stately minor key banjo waltz and then a brave attempt to turn a Turkish folk tune into chicha.

Jaffa Road’s new Where the Light Gets In is just as diverse and should be just as good but isn’t. How come? The band are all excellent musicians, they draw eclectically and imaginatively from styles around the globe, they write interesting, counterintuive songs and they sound like they’d be a lot of fun to see live. What could possibly be wrong with this picture? Schlocky production. The stench of stale cheese pervades this album. Case in point: a pensive Aaron Lightstone oud solo can’t just be left alone as it it is, it has to have a useless synthesizer track grafted to it. Alto saxophonist Sundar Viswanathan, who adds an welcome unpredictable edge throughout the album, leads the band into the one interlude that they could take into genuine jazz territory…and suddenly a computerized drum track stomps the life out of it.

Cheesy canned beats, dated trip-hop cliches and halfhearted rap and corporate-rock tropes pop up like ads in your favorite video: they’re annoying to the point where you reach for the mute, or simply click off. Which is too bad, because at the top of their game this band is every bit as good as Deleon. Groups like this you root for, you want them to succeed, especially when they can come up with a track like the haunting rai-rock of The Mist of Your Eyes, or the lusciously swirling psychedelic Bollywood vamp Hamidbar Medaber. It’s frustrating when they don’t, especially since that may not be their fault – a manager or producer may be to blame. Memo to musicians: corporate pop is dead and has been for decades. Nobody over the age of eight wants to hear it, or anything associated with it. Nobody listens to corporate radio either, except for sports or the weather. We’re in a new century now. Get with the program.

The Ghetto Brothers’ Legendary Power-Fuerza Is Back in Print

A cult favorite prized for decades by collectors, the Ghetto Brothers’ legendarily obscure 1972 latin rock album Power-Fuerza has finally gotten a proper release forty years after it was initially put out on vinyl by a South Bronx storefront label that soon abandoned the project. It’s a revealing look at the kind of rock that was coming out of the Puerto Rican community in New York in those days, part Beatles homage (to the extent that it sometimes sounds like a Puerto Rican Rutles), part surreal, swinging psychedelia. Fans of the current wave of revivalist latin rock and soul, from Spanglish Fly to Damian Quinones, should check this out. Frontman Benjy Melendez harmonizes with his brothers, bassist Victor and guitarist Robert over a swaying groove propelled by drummer Luis Bristol and timbalero Franky Valentin, lit up by David Silva’s searing lead guitar.

What’s amazing about this album, most of it a rather haphazard live studio recording, is how tight the band is. Which actually comes as no surprise considering that the Melendez brothers had been child stars on their home turf, playing Beatles covers as Los Junior Beatles, even opening for Tito Puente at one point. Much as the Fab Four harmonies and Beatles 65-style jangle are spot-on, it’s Silva’s guitar work that makes this album. He hits most of the songs fast and ferocious, firing off savagely bluesy leads, scorching flurries of chords and rapidfire funk along with the occasional nonchalantly slinky George Harrison-inflected interlude.

The album’s best song is Mastica, Chupa Y Jala, 1972 South Bronx slang for chasing a hit of acid with a puff of weed. Silva’s fuzztone lead contrasting with boomy percussion and an evil Santana-esque bass groove as it opens is choice, and it just gets better from there. They speed it up, then slow it down a little; the title becomes a mantra, followed by a bass-and-drums break and a long, sunbaked guitar solo to a neat trick ending. “Sabor boricua,” right on!!

Another standout track is the nationalist anthem Viva Puerto Rico Libre, with its six-chord Arthur Lee-style vamp, slinky clave groove and hypnotically perrcussive swirl up to a raw, aching Silva solo that unfortunately gets buried in the mix. Girl from the Mountain, by the band’s friend and colleague Felix Tollinchi of the Harvey Averne Barrio Band, strangely evokes the surrealism of late 60s/early 70s Peruvian chicha bands like Los Destellos, with yet another screaming Silva solo on the way out.

The rest of the album draws equally on the Beatles and James Brown, often in the same song. There Is Something in My Heart sets crystalline harmonies to a funk-tinged verse with busy, blippy bass, while You Say You Are My Friend takes a Blues Magoos-style garage rock riff and adds Beatles harmonies and a latin soul beat. I Saw a Tear is basically a soul song, while the two remaining tracks, Ghetto Brothers Power and Got This Happy Feeling (the latter ad-libbed in the studio) work funky vintage JBs-style vamps.

The backstory here is bittersweet. The Ghetto Brothers began as a family gang, albeit one dedicated to peace rather than the violence that plagued their neighborhood. Then as now, gang membership was sometimes a survival mechanism in New York’s more impoverished areas. Much as it’s fraught with knuckleheaded turf battles and senseless antagonism, it can also mean shelter, and security, and community in the face of destitution, eviction, homelessness and harrassment from the police. The Ghetto Brothers earned considerable neighborhood cred by holding a gang summit in an attempt to stop the violence, a gesture more admirable than it was successful.

Good as this band was, the Ghetto Brothers arguably never reached the popularity the Melendez brothers had achieved earlier in life – and by 1975, the original unit was finished, Benjy having moved out of the neighborhood while his brother Victor went on to form Nebulus, a reputedly much heavier acid rock project, with Silva. Sadly, Victor didn’t live to see this album reissued, having died in 1995 after a long battle with addiction. But Benjy and Robert would go on to lead another popular Beatles cover project and continue to play Ghetto Brothers songs in a new version of the band, with Benjy’s son Joshua on bass and Robert’s son Hiram on drums, in their new neighborhood just over the Westchester line in Mount Vernon.

LoCura Bring a Smart Spanish Tinge to Reggae and Ska

Isn’t it funny how throughout much of the Spanish-speaking world, ska is the default fallback influence for just about evey kind of fun party music? Sure, cumbia and reggaeton are everywhere, but if you listen to metal cumbia, or skaragga, no matter how much metal, or hip-hop, or other stuff is going on in the songs, the band is still skanking! One good recent example is seven-piece Bay Area band LoCura’s latest album Semilla Caminante, which came out this past spring – it blends jaunty reggae and ska with dramatic, artsy flamenco-rock.

Frontwoman Katalina Miletich grew up bilingual in Spain, so it’s no surprise that she brings a strong flamenco influence to the music. As is typical of Spanish rock, the production on the album is digitally crisp and clean; it’s not as crazy as you would expect from a band with their name. Miletich sings with a somewhat stagy delivery, in both Spanish and English, often both in the same song. The album’s opening track, Prendela builds slowly up from a trip-hop tinged vamp, a rousing directive to get a move on. Guerrilleras, a celebration of latinas transforming the world, begins as a bouncy minor-key reggae song, then hits a lowrider groove lit up by a soulful horn chart and gets grittier from there.

Con El Viento, a bristling acoustic flamenco-rock tune, is a call to literally let some fresh air in. Squatters’ Song, another slinky reggae tune, sends a shout out to occupiers and Occupiers around the world: “Let’s repopulate all the empty boxes, one shouldn’t have to sleep on the sidewalk,” right?

Nuestros Caminos builds its way up to ska and then down to a brief dub-flavored interlude before starting all over again, while Desde Las Entranas makes towering art-rock out of a restless, angst-fueled traditional flamenco tune. The band follows that with the sarcastically chirpy ska song To’ Pa’ Mi’, a caustic sendup of narcissism and the culture it creates. Que Falta works a determined, slightly carnivalesque funk-reggae groove with an energetic break for timbales, while Te Sigo moves in the opposite direction into deep dub. The album ends with an epically crescendoing flamenco-rock anthem.

Miletich’s politics are unimpeachable – she wants change, now – although her English lyrics can be a work in progress. Happily, that’s not an issue when it comes to Spanish. And as solid as this band is – bassist Izzy and drummer Carrie Jahde are a powerful and nimble rhythm section, and trumpeter Danny Cao’s soaring lines never fail to elevate the songs, every time – there are places where the album could use more bite. A couple of flamenco-lite trip-hop interludes come thisclose to being tuneouts until the reggae or ska kicks in and makes you forget about them. But bands like this usually kick out the jams onstage: LoCura’s next show has them opening for Groundation at 7:30 PM on Halloween at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz.

Outernational Brings the Revolution with a Free Download

You have the new Outernational album, right? It’s all over the web. If you don’t, grab it for free (or throw some money at the band if you’re one of the few who have any). It’s a concept album about Mexican immigration: music doesn’t get any more relevant than this. Todos Somos Illegales: We Are All Illegals is an important moment in US rock history: many others (including Woody Guthrie, who gets covered here) have chronicled the cynical cycle of exploitation faced by immigrants from south of the border, but this album goes deeper than most. It’s also a good listen: as biting and insightful as the mostly English-language lyrics are, it’s a lushly produced, frequently gorgeous mix of brooding Mexican melodies set to rock and ska rhythms, along with some ferocious ska-punk and gypsy punk tunes and even a klezmer punk song.

“Why do people come here from all over the world? Because you’ve fucked up the rest of the world even worse than what you’ve done in this country.” That’s one of the many between-song samples here. The band alternates these between the songs, caustically and amusingly pillorying the cynicism and hypocrisy of the anti-immigrant movement. La Migra can demonize illegal immigrants til the cows come home, but in the end, somebody’s got to pick the strawberries. Through a mix of Gogol Bordello-ish oompah gypsy punk, an unexpectedly ferocious klezmer-punk romp, a majestic hip-hop/metal anthem featuring Tom Morello on guitar, and a creepy Mexican funk tune done as reggae (with darkly lurid vocals by Mexican rocker Ceci Bastida), the band paints a withering picture of the despair and disappointment that waits for anyone brave enough to go up against the Mexican desert, the Rio Grande and the rednecks waiting on the other side.

The best song here is First Among Equals, a brutally sarcastic arena-rock march lit up by an unhinged, noisy metal guitar solo, mocking the futility of American exceptionalism:

There’s blood on the streets and blood on your hands
The same blood that’s in my veins, as the blood on the sand
If these words draw blood,the emperor is doomed…
The first among equals are the worst of all alltime

There’s also a version of the Woody Guthrie classic Deportees, updated for a new century; a brooding backbeat rock song that might be a chronicle of the new generation of Americans, or just a parade of redneck Texans on their way to a revival meeting; a bitter account of an immigrant hidden away in a secret (and probably privately operated) prison; a surprisingly purist, oldschool soul song; and the triumphant Que Queremos (What We Want), a gorgeously accordion-fueled anthem for a new century.

Immigrants tend be smart people. They’re ambitious, they want a better life and they’re unafraid of drastic change. A cynic might say that drastic change is something they’ve become used to: after all, economic depressions always hit the third world harder than the first since the gap between rich and poor there is even worse than in the so-called developed nations. Americans’ choice now is either to embrace these people and the rich cultural traditions they bring with them, or face the consequences of failing to acknowledge the reconquista. That’s what some immigrant advocates call America’s shifting demographics. If we do this right, we can make this a reconquista for everyone and take back this country from parasites like Romney so that todo el gente – immigrants and nonimmigrants, Anglos and Latinos alike – can share in the promise of what America still represents despite all indications to the contrary.

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