by Tom Nguyen
Seems like folks really enjoyed my last blog on 6 upcoming Los Angeles Latin Alternative bands to watch, so I wanted to follow up with my favorite Afro Latino bands, heating up dance floors all over SoCal with their tropical rhythms (in alphabetical order): Buyepongo, Changui Majadero, El Santo Golpe, La Chamba, QUITAPENAS, Tropi Corillo and YANGA.
Now, I’m not an ethnomusicologist…I’m not qualified to give you an academic lecture on what makes each of these bands different, from which cultures and regions of Latin America they derive their music, and so on. What I do know is I’m a sucker for percussion and tropical beats, and music like this gets me into a non-stop frenzy on the dance floor!
But beyond that, I’d rather you hear from the musicians themselves, to let them tell you in their own words what their band and their music is all about. And let’s talk about labels again…”Afro Latino”…it seems like everyone wants to throw that term around these days. African descendants and roots in Latin America have been so historically unacknowledged, and in Los Angeles, there’s a tight knit community of bands reclaiming and honoring African contributions that bleed deeply through their music.
Because Afro-Latino heritage has been so suppressed and unacknowledged in home countries and communities here in LA, I wanted to know what drove each band’s interest in this music and why they think there are so few musicians of Afro-Latino descent in LA. I wanted to especially hear from some of the bands who’ve used their music and platform to highlight anti-blackness in Latino communities and to work towards more solidarity between Black and Brown communities. Folks in these bands are passionate about their music and its history, but also willing to talk frankly on heavy issues that go beyond the music. I want to thank each of them for their time and make sure you catch them at one of many upcoming shows: All of them are playing free shows, with 3 of them at Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles starting this weekend and 2 of them at South LA Power Fest on September 2nd!
“Buyepongo is riotous mash-up of influences, which absorbs hip-hop, funk, and jazz into unique blends of tropical rhythms from across the Latin American diaspora. #notanothercumbiaband
[On why there are so few Afro Latino musicians in LA?] That’s a complex question with many angles.
We consider our music to be Afro indigenous but use the term “Latin” for industry’s sake. Afro because most music (in our opinion) has some sort of African influence in it. American music such as Hip Hop, Jazz, Rock etc. would not exist if there was no African diaspora period. Same thing with Afro Latin music.
This music has been suppressed and unacknowledged in mainstream popular music to some extent. If there is a marketing angle, the mainstream will acknowledge it and go with it (Aventura or even Despacito). 20 years ago nobody cared about bachata, now even Justin Beiber is trying to get a piece. Our drive is to break these barriers and build bridges instead. Erasing what the norm is and attacking the wack! We dig deeper and learn the history and respectfully dissect the music and rebuild it with our flavor. Understanding our duty as Afro indigenous musicians and who we represent.”
~ Edgar “Meshlee” Modesto of Buyepongo. They perform Saturday, August 26, 5pm at LACMA (Free, All ages), Sunday, September 3, 7:15pm at Made in LA Music & Arts Festival ($30, 21+), Saturday, September 16, at Open Arts & Music Festival (Free, All ages).
“Yes, Changüí definitely has Afro-Cuban roots as well as Afro-Haitian. The beautiful thing about changüí is that its roots are a migration of different Afro-Latino cultures coming together to create this genre changüí. Unlike other Afro-Cuban genres, Changüí has musical and cultural influences from Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic.
The reason for this is because Changüí comes from the eastern side of the island, Guantanamo Cuba. Guantanamo Cuba used to be the biggest exporter of cane and cane sugar. There was a lot of migration to Guantanamo from the nearby islands to work the cane fields.
I think that may be one thing (out of many) that sets us apart from other bands; that our music is a migration of different Afro-Latino cultures.
I think that there is Afro-Latino/Afro-American/Afro-whatever influence in today’s music everywhere, just people are unaware of it. From rock to hip hop, to bachata and reggaeton, it all has its roots in Africa. I think one important reason that people may be unaware of that important link is because over the years, the music industry has re-appropriated the music with out giving credit to where its due.
I think that there are alot (the majority) of bands today that are of Afro-Latino descent, but there is a lot of unawareness, ignorance maybe, (or just lack of education into the subject matter) of the history of the music, its roots and where it comes from.
As far as the lack of Afro-Latino musicians in LA: I think that the majority of Latinos living in LA are of either of Mexican or Central/South American descent where those countries themselves don’t recognize their Afro-Latino heritage. Just barley did the Mexican government officially recognize that it has an Afro-Mexican population/people/race. So Mexicans or Mexican-Americans living in LA could themselves have Afro-Mexican ancestry and may not even be aware of it. History has been molded or filtered through the eyes of a people/society who have been in power. For that reason, a lot has been lost. A lot of knowledge and history has been lost. Or just one side of history has been taught.
As far as what drove our interest in changüí music? That is a great question, complicated with more than one answer.
Why Changüí music? Why not cumbia, funk, hip hop, rock, reggaeton, etc.?
For one, love. The love of the music, its culture, its history, its people, its origin. I think that with out love, the band wouldn’t be where it is today. The music/genre itself is love.
Another reason is that Changüí is a hidden treasure; no one (or very few people) outside of Guantanamo is doing it. We feel the need to help keep the genre relevant, known and alive.
A great example is me (as musical director/manager of Changüí Majadero). I came across this genre very late in my life. I did not grow up listening to Changüí nor even knew about this genre. I played and made a living off of (still to this day) other styles of music that has nothing to do with Changüí (i.e. Latin Pop, reggaeton, boleros, corridos, english pop, jazz, top 40s, rock & much more). Although I can perform other styles of music and do it very well (and initially there was no money or work in playing changüí), I still chose to do changüí anyways. It’s like a calling. Love is the key.”
“El Santo Golpe is a multicultural group born from the inspiration of traditional music from several parts over world. With main influences from son jarocho, cumbia, Garifuna and folklore making the group create a unique and very catchy sound. One thing that sets El Santo Golpe apart from other groups, is not only the music but also the live performances, where we mix Mexican, Cuban, Colombian, and African folklore to the dances and zapateado foot work.
What inspired this Afro-Latin project is in fact the lack of cultural groups in LA and United States in general. We believe that by creating a group that involves, not only music, but traditional dance as well, we can influence and inspire kids, adults and new generations to explore the world, its different cultures and mainly, open their minds to welcome these cultures into their communities and close that gap [between] races and beliefs that we are working so hard to unite.”
“We are electrifying Afro-Latin rhythms with psychedelic guitars & gritty/soulful organs inspired by 60’s & 70’s Peruvian Surf Pop music known as “Chicha”.
The majority of us grew up in East and South Central LA (from migrant families in multi-cultural neighborhoods), which mirrors the working-class reality in which “Chicha” music was born. Our interest in Chicha came as a natural progression for us, because it not only represents the many sonic flavors we love, it’s also the music of the barrios in Lima, Peru. It combines psychedelic surf rock, with indigenous melodies grooving over heavy African rhythms. Chicha mixes several musical genres and cultures in one hypnotic and swirling cauldron of sound, which in many ways, truly represents the musical brew of Los Angeles and it’s people.
[email protected] identity is one of deep roots, struggle and musical richness, especially here in Los Angeles (which was founded by Afro-Latinos in 1781). As the music scene grows in this city, we hear the influence of more [email protected] dance flavor in L.A. bars, clubs and festivals, which is building more and more pride and interest in the styles of music we perform. Several bands and musicians identify as one nationality or genre, and in many ways they are breaking out of rigid boundaries, and accepting the fact that we come from a mixture of sounds, rhythms, flavors and cultures from all over the world.”
“QUITAPENAS is Afro Latin Tropical music reinterpreted by the sons of immigrant parents living in the Inland Empire, CA. Each song echoes a remix of history and invites one to engage in the liberating of Angola, Peru, Colombia, Brazil and beyond in order “to remove worries”.
QUITAPENAS’ interest in the tropical music from the Afro Latin diaspora is fundamentally because we enjoy the music. The band is composed of sons from immigrant parents from Guatemala and Mexico. The Afro Latin diaspora carried elements of music that were familiar but also unfamiliar. The slang, the cadence and the energy were a few of the things that really made the music memorable. This led to a genuine interest in understanding different rhythmic combinations which in turn led to a pursuit of understanding the history of the people that developed the genres. Los Angeles may have few musicians of Afro-Latino descent but I believe it has much to do with the history of how these people created communities on the East Coast of the U.S. Anti-blackness within Latino communities must also be considered. When referring to QUITAPENAS, you have a band that reinterprets rhythms and music from the lens of first-generation youth that grew up in beautifully diverse southern California. Where corridos and tamborazo share the same block with punk and hip hop. QUITAPENAS loves the music, studies the music, but then lets it flow.”
“Tropi Corillo aspires to preserve Afro-Tropical music and culture by honoring their roots as they write innovative music that will transcend those traditions into today’s times.”
“We believe in pushing the boundaries of rhythm and melody through the lens of our experience — a natural coexistence of traditional, progression, and self-expression.
‘There is a superficial familiarity many people have with many genres of Latin music such as salsa, bachata, merengue, son, and one of the most popular, cumbia. When we began to explore the roots of cumbia, we found ourselves delving deep into numerous Afro-Colombian rhythms and traditions (chalupa, garabato, puya, tambora, zambapalo etc.). These rhythms left us feeling reborn and deeply inspired.
Though Afro-Latino culture and music is often suppressed and underrepresented, things have been changing. On the west coast, you have bands like Buyepongo, QUITAPENAS, and YANGA. On the east coast, you find bands like Combo Chimbita, M.A.K.U. Soundsystem, Bulla En El Barrio. Not to mention labels like NYCT (Names You Can Trust) and events like the Afro-Latino Festival NYC that help to keep Afro-Latino music and culture thriving. When groups and events such as these reflect the community, the community continues to reciprocate through creativity and joy.”
~ John D’Alessandro of YANGA. They perform on Friday, August 25, 7:30pm at Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles (Free, All ages), Friday, September 1, 10:30pm as part of Mi Poco LA at LA County Fair at Fairplex ($12 after MPLA discount, All ages).