The upcoming El Tambó is going to be a multinational lovefest, featuring music by Chicago-based Dos Santos and New York’s Karikatura. Both are virgins to the Tucson scene, so come show them how the desert shakes it.
As cumbia and other Afro-Latin American, transglobal genres inspire a new sense of infatuation in the U.S., both bands knew this was the right time to get sucked into the Southwest. Being friendly with El Tambó creator, Logan “Dirtyverbs” Phillips, sparked talks to make their Old Pueblo debut at this special session of El Tambó presents...
Phillips will be spinning his usual goodness, too, of course.
I chatted with Alex Chavez, guitarist and singer of Dos Santos, and Ryan Acquaotta, Karikatura’s vocalist and percussionist, about what they’re going to be bringing to the Hotel Congress patio the evening of Wednesday, July 22. Music starts at 8 p.m. and admission is free.
Alex Chavez is really enjoying living through what he calls the curious return of cumbia. These days, bands and DJs in every corner of the country are headed that direction, but the OG golden age of cumbia happened in the 1950s and '60s. "Before salsa became salsa in the 70s, the one kind of Latin American style that you saw take hold in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Argentina...was cumbia," he says. "It was the backbone of Latin America."
In their respective home towns, the guys grew up listening to different versions of cumbia, and other Afro-Latin genres, so when Chavez and fellow band mates (Irekani Ferreyra, guitar and vocals; Peter "Maestro" Vale, congas and bongos; Daniel Villarreal-Carillo, drums; and Jaime Garza, bass) picked up their instruments and started making noise, adopting a cumbia-esque sound organically came to be.
Here's a taste of Dos Santos' background: Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panamá, the borderlands of Texas. Their Afro-Carribean, pan-Latin cumbia style filled a void in the Chicago live music world.
"Chicago is home to one of the largest populations of Latinos...the second largest of Mexicanos outside of East LA, but there wasn't this scene for live music similar to what we were playing, which I found interesting," he says. "There was Latin alternative stuff, a lot of Mexican roots, Puerto Rican, so a light bulb went off and we said 'let's follow this.'"
He describes Dos Santos music as the summoning of cumbia legends like Rigo Tovar and Xavier Passos. "In Mexico, you have everything from regional Monterrey to cumbia rebajada. In the '60s and '70s, along the border, people like Tovar and Passos playing this very working-class, blue collard cumbia...we draw inspiration from that," he says. In fact, in many countries, cumbia is known as "the music of the people" because of its origin in humble neighborhoods.
From the beginning—roughly about two years ago (but many of these guys have been performing with different acts or independently for more than a decade. Chavez has collaborated with bands like Grupo Fantasma and Antibalas)— the Chicago crowd responded positively. Dos Santos was different and people paid attention.
"Chicago is a very diverse place, an immigrant city, and we have been able to plug in these different communities," he says.
Unfortunately, Dos Santos won't get to stick around Tucson for too long. They have a show in San Diego the next evening, then LA, and returning to Arizona on July 25 for Clandestino at the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix.
A writer in New York once described Karikatura as "party music for smart people." Ryan Acquaotta doesn't know how to feel about that. He just knows that their music is loud, catchy and has conscious lyrics.
"People come dance but we get political and we get emotional," he says. "We talk about things, and we work that into the music. But not in a way that it feels like we are preaching. Music is a powerful thing. It brings people together and it can be a force of awakening for people."
These guys have hip hop, reggae, afrobeat, cumbia, Jewish music and Balkan sounds running through their veins. (Many of the members have roots in Ukraine, the Netherlands, and so on.)
The band was born in South India in 2009 from the mind of Ukrainian native and former metal guitarist Dima Kay. Upon his return to New York City, after traveling through three continents, he hooked up with Acquaotta, bassist Eric Legaspi, drummer Morgan Greenstreet and woodwinds connoisseur Joe Wilson. Since then, they've recorded two EPs, toured Europe, Asia and South America, played at SXSW last year, and recently released their first full-length album, Eyes Wide.
They've explored the East Coast, and this year got the itch to expand to the rest of the country. "We meet people and they say the West Coast is where it's at," he says.
If you're in New York, keep an eye out for their performances in the subway.
"We draw mixes of ages, gender, races, ethnicities, from all across New York City. There is something for everyone," he says. "We play cumbias, salsa, Balkan, we have some guys who are really into jazz, so we bring some of that. It's not that weird, though. We also have catchy melodies."
They're also headed to San Diego the day after and staying in California for the remainder of the West Coast tour. But Acquaotta hopes this is the beginning of many shows in Tucson. "There is a lot of joy in what we do. A lot of intense feelings," he says. "When you come, you are going to dance and you are going to feel things."
Check out Dos Santos' new video for the song "Corre Caballo." It premiered July 1:
And here's Karikatura's "Eyes Wide:"