Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rumba Psicodélica

Come one, come all, to our Rumba Psicodélica!

Party In The Jungle - Ranil's music reviewed

Ranil's Jungle Party

Ranil's music is the missing link between the Latin rock of Santana and the lost civilizations of the Amazon — on this expertly compiled album, you'll discover wild and graceful electric guitars, tropical Afro-rhythms, haunting indigenous melodies, exotic Spanish and Asian flavors, 60s psychedelic surf, and garage salsa, all from the semi-mythical, almost imposible to believe if you haven’t been there jungle city of Iquitos, Perú! Mike Piggot has dug up an obscure but very deserving artist here, and I am sure once you hear this for yourself, you’ll be saying – damn, how could this guy go unrecognized for so long?

From the first track, the great instrumental “Andalucía”, with its beguiling flamenco-enriched guitar that conjures up exotic lands, to the last cut “El Rondador” that sports a funky beat, Cuban melodies, and an envigoratingly raw sound, this record is a real gem all the way through. For me though, the best cut is one Ranil penned himself, “Denuncia A Tu Patrón”– a “message” song if you will (Talk Back To Your Boss) – that just happens to also have a massive, irresistible funk hook buried in it and some nice jazzy guitar (remix anybody?) – definitely the right track to get your jungle party started – people will be galloping to this one.

Ranil was a D.I.Y. guy – he saw the inequities happening in the established music business and decided he wasn’t going to let anyone exploit him – so he became not only a vocalist/musician, but also label owner, promoter, manager, and distributor, deciding to go “indie” himself right from the start – and his independent spirit shines through with grace and dignity. He’s won the hearts of his fellow citizens in Iquitos, and now with this record, he’s reaching a wider audience, so hopefully they’ll give him the love he deserves! I hear he’s breaking out of Peru and performing live again in Berlin – hopefully he’ll also travel some more and play in a city near you.

Mike Pigott, Victor Zela, and Tunchi of LimaFotoLibre have teamed up to make this Masstropicas first full length release (limited to 1000 copies), with beautiful graphics and informative liner notes (in Spanish on the LP, I have decided to translate them for my blog visitors). Plus, in the insert sheet, there’s a fun “album gallery” that just makes my mouth water – makes me hope there’s got to be more Ranil reissues in the future. In the mean time, I have to salute Mike P’s own indie spirit in sticking to his guns on this – only vinyl, and only 1000 pressed. Mike’s also fierce about making sure the money gets to the artists – he only releases stuff that’s fully and legally licensed – so you can rest assured that Ranil’s getting his due in every way with this release. Mike not only wants us to enjoy this music, he wants to help these musicians who often were exploited in the past. Do your part and order the record today – Light In The Attic are distributing it, you can check it out there and several sites have samples to listen to if you are interested.
—Pablo "DJ Bongohead" Yglesias

Translated liner notes from the LP:
Peru is a single country with many faces. Geographically, there is a very marked division between the deserts of the coast, the high mountains of the sierra, and the deep jungle; all of which influenced the country so that a wealth in variety of cultural manifestations were formed, obviously including music. Natural contact with their neighbors in Colombia led Peruvian musicians to experiment with cumbia in the 1960s, mixing it with sounds originating from rock and folk influences in particular from each corner of Peru. From that period hence, Peruvian cumbia would seek its own style and would develop in different zones. In the jungle, it is fitting to emphasize as important the musical areas San Martin and Pucallpa. From the alter come – just to mention a few - Los Blackbirds, Los Trionix, The Dexters, Siglo XX, Sonido 2000; while in Pucallpa there were Juaneco y su combo, Los Royals, Lod Tierra Roja, Los Claveles, etc.

But then, during this early development in the domestic cumbia music scene, would come a turn for the largest city in the Peruvian jungla to shine: Iquitos, which in those years had a great boom in its economy from petroleum drilling exploitation, and was enriched culturally by the influences of nearby Brazilian music. Among the largest groups that took their first steps in Iquitos are Los Rogers and Los Yahuas; a little later a legion of excellent bands would arrive on the scene: Los Zheros, Los Wemblers, Los Silvers, Los Diferentes Kennedys, and Ranil, protagonist of this anthology.
Ranil (born Raúl Llerena Vázquez), a well-known celebrity in his native land, had his first musical experience as the vocalist of Los Paisanos, a group that played “criollo” music. Ever since then he has tried to understand the music business, and his innovative spirit caused him to undertake his own projects as musician, businessman, and promoter.

During the second half of the 70s Ranil decided to form his own tropical group and gathered the best musicians in Iquitos. Among the most emblematic guitarists to pass through the group was Lamber Zumba – who came from the group Los Silvers originally – and Betto Gaviria – who later would pass through the rock group Pax. Ranil formed his own called record label Llerena and recorded his albums in the famed studios of the great MAG record company in Lima. During this period, Ranil managed to record more than a dozen long plays and various 45 RPM singles.
After the disintegration of the group, Ranil followed a path in journalism and politics, trying at present to be elected as the mayor of his district (Belén, Iquitos). Our best wishes for him.
—Victor Zela, La Cumbia De Mis Viejos (translated by Pablo E. Yglesias)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Live Afrobeat with Zozo & Shokazoba

Hey hey y'all - be sure to come on down to Northampton's Elevens Bar this Saturday July 24th and check out 2 great live afrobeat/afrofunk orchestras!! Zozo Afrobeat are my friends from NYC (check 'em out on Country of Guns, the bonus CD to the compilation Andujar & I put together for Rough Guide). Speaking of which, I'll be selling those very same CDs, plus Andujar will be DJ-ing (with live percussion) and local photographer and video artist Andrew Greto of Bell & Howl will be providing the visuals with his wild projection show!!

More info at

The Rough Guide To Afrobeat Revolution compiled by DJ Andujar (b. rule) and myself

Composer, musician, vocalist Kaleta, leader of Zozo Afrobeat (played with Fela, Femi, and King Sunny Ade)

Zozo Afrobeat


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Grupo Fantasma Live July 13 7 PM

Grupo Fantasma
& DJ Bongohead of Latin Night
Iron Horse Music Hall
July 13 • 7 pm
Tickets: adv $12.50 door $15

Grupo Fantasma is the funkiest, finest & hardest working Latin band to come out of the US since Ozomatli. Their trademark sound is guided by the deeply rooted traditions of cumbia, salsa, funk, & psychedelia. This masterful 11-piece Austin-based ensemble has forged a fresh new standard of excellence in Latin music. This show will celebrate the release of their new album which features liner notes by Iron Horse Latin Night DJ Bongohead! Bongohead will be spinning old school salsa, merengue, cumbia, and Latin funk to open for the band. stay around after for Latin Night, 10 PM - 2 AM (free) - celebrating our 10th Anniversary!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Grupo Fantasma's José Galeano, Man of Many Talents

Interview with José Galeano by Pablo E. Yglesias
Photos © 2010 by Mark Mantegna

© 2010 Bongohead Productions – Text and images used by permission.

A few months ago I got in touch with José Galeano - timbalero, composer, vocalist - and we chatted a bit about the new Fantasma album and got into a bit of history and philosophy. If you are interested in this great band, you will most definitely want to find out about Mr. Galeano. Having contributed writing credits to four tracks on El Existential, as well as several memorable cuts on albums past, and playing percussion and singing on many more, it's pretty clear that José is an integral member of the band and contributes to it's sound in a meaningful way. On stage, José is often the guy you see front and center in the 'Tito Rodríguez role' as it were - being both a timbalero and vocalist - though it's his uncle, José "Chepito" Areas - famed member of the original Santana band - whose spirit seems to hold sway when things get cooking and Galeano lets fly with some mad drumming. But without further ado, let's have José share a little about himself, his roots, and his creative process.

Where did you grow up, and how did that influence you as far as music is concerned?

I was born in the capitol city of Managua, Nicaragua but lived in León, one hour and a half north of there. Growing up, I was lucky to hear and be exposed to all kinds of music. Mainly Afro-Caribbean sounds, but also lots of American music, Rock ‘n’ Roll, R&B, Blues, Big Band, Pop, and the rest of Latin America's different styles, from Folkloric to Brazilian. The mixture of all these types of music made a giant impression on me because now I apply the different ideas from all those influences, and I try to draw from all of them to create a special hybrid kind of music. I think I'm doing that with Fantasma.

Yes, I think you are, and very successfully José. So do you like rock influences in tropical music then?

I think that today as musicians/composers, we have to reach out to anything that is going to make our music hip and appealing to our audience, and since I do like Rock ‘n’ Roll, I’ve applied that element to my music with Fantasma. It certainly works. You'll hear that element in some of the songs from our past albums as well as some of the compositions on our brand new album.

How did you meet the members of Fantasma and how did you get involved with them?

I was introduced to Grupo by an ex-member of the band. At that time I knew him from playing around town with different salsa bands and Fantasma needed a conga player. He invited to play with them, and I did check it out, and I thought I could bring my ideas to the band. I was lucky that the everyone was receptive to them and the rest, as they say, is history.

What are your biggest influences, musically speaking?

My biggest musical influences have been bands like: Santana, Led Zeppelin, Earth, Wind and Fire, plus Fania Records and their individual stars, as well as lots of R&B artists, and anything that has been well written, really.

What is your favorite instrument?

I’m a percussionist, and that means I’ve embarked on playing lots of different instruments in my career that I enjoy. But I would have to say my favorite one would be the timbales. My uncle, José “Chepito” Areas, percussionist for Santana [in the early years], I would say, is responsible for my choice.

(L to R) Carlos Santana, Jose "Chepito" Areas, and Michael Carabello at Woodstock

Yes, you mentioned he gave you lessons in addition to inspiration; you share a first name as well as an instrument in common with Chepito! He is an amazing musician, and I'm told that like Tito Puente, he is a great arranger and was responsible for a lot of those early Santana arrangements. I can see him there on the back of the first Santana album, playing trumpet and wearing a hair net! On the second album he contributed "Se Acabó" and the tune "El Nicoya' which means "The Nicaraguan" - a referenece to your home country. The main difference between you and him perhaps is that Chepito is not known as a vocalist, though he did some singing on his solo album from back in the day (reissue that one please, Colombia Records!). And speaking of vocals, talk about how you share the mic with Kino - do you do backing vocals (called "coros" in Spanish) for each other only? Or do you share leads on any songs? Who decides which vocalist will sing lead on a song?

We do a lot of background vocals for one another and we do split the lead singing, although I think Kino is singing more lead vocals now, especially in the new album, after all, he is the singer/percussion player. I'm the timbalero and percussionist-singer, so if I bring a tune to the band, I usually sing it, but sometimes if I think a song is more appropriate for Kino's voice, then he sings it. For the most part, he's the lead vocalist.

I see you share credits for the lyrics in "Montañozo" so you must collaborate some. How do you work on the vocals when you record - do you make it up on the spot in the studio or do you practice it and work it out with the musicians first?

It goes both ways, sometimes lyrics are done beforehand and sometimes lyrics are done on the spot. A lot of times the music is created first, then we go home and think about the topic and we write lyrics accordingly.

Do you write music or lyrics?

I do both. When I bring a song to the band, I have everything done, lyrics and music. I like to have all of it finished. It's a challenge for me and I've been doing it for a while now.

Yes I see that from the credits on the new album. So what are your themes?

My themes revolve around two things: Women and Food (usually but not always).

Do you consider yourself political or socially committed?

I would say I'm on the social side of my lyrics, yes. Once in a while I'll write something semi-political. Honestly, politics is not my thing (or theme). There are plenty of writers doing that in the world. Maybe, as I get older, I might venture into that arena.

Is romance (emotions, relationships, sex, obsessions, love) a big part of your lyrical theme?

Some of my lyrics are romantically “charged”. Like I said, I've been known to write about women I like or love. It's inevitable....

Where does your inspiration come from?

I believe my inspiration comes from all of the experiences and different styles of music that I've been exposed to in the past: my family, my relationships, all of the amazing musicians that have made an impact in my life. I'm so thankful for all of it. Thank you, God!

Do you think the new album is dark? Please explain...

I would not necessarily call it “dark”. If you listened to the lyrics, a lot of it is “positive, deep, personally meaningful, encouraging” themes. For me, it's a “bright” album/CD.

What was it like to work on the album in a rented house?

It was a great idea to record in a “studio/house”. It gave us the opportunity to be more creative individually and as a band. We did not have to worry about time too much. We also did not depend on “outside” help, we did it all ourselves.

What does your family think of Fantasma?

My Family is very supportive and happy for me. They think it is wonderful that I'm doing what I love doing. They enjoy the “Fantasma sound”....

Is music an obsession, or is it just for fun?

I believe that because is so personal for me, I have an obsession w/my music. I try to better myself and the music I create, constantly. What can you do as an artist to make an improved product? That's my challenge... And If you do that, the music should be super fun to play.

Well it's super fun to listen to, and the fans thank you for your contributions, José. We'll be looking forward to seeing you and the rest of the guys soon in concert!

Thanks, Pablo!

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Kinetic "Kino" Esparza of Grupo Fantasma

Interview with Rodolfo “Kino” Esparza
by Pablo E. Yglesias
Photos © 2010 by Mark Mantegna

© 2010 Bongohead Productions – Text and images used by permission.

I recently caught up with "Kino" Esparza of Grupo Fantasma while I was researching for my liner notes to their new album El Existential that was about to be released on Nat Geo (it's out now!). Señor Kino is a very talented musician, vocalist, and composer. He's also fun to talk to and full of humor and shares some interesting anecdotes. Read on if you are curious about what makes him tick, where he's coming from and where he's going. There's some nice shots by Mark Mantegna from a couple of years ago when they played the Iron Horse. ¡Vaya!
- Pablo Yglesias aka DJ Bongohead

"Here you go bro. Feel free to tweak it a little if you have to. Just don’t let me sound bad. Ha, ha. Have a good one."
- Kino

Where did you grow up, and how did that influence you as far as music is concerned?

I was born and raised in Eagle Pass TX. a small town close to the border of Mexico. I would say the biggest influence was the Hispanic culture that surrounded me.

Do you like rock influences in tropical music?

Yes, it's different and gives it a unique "raw" and heavy flavor.

How did you meet the members of Fantasma and how did you get involved with them?

Back in the day when I was at Texas State University, I was involved in the salsa band ensemble, Salsa Del Rio. In that band was also the Fantasma conguero, Sweet Lou (Matthew "Sweet Lou" Homes) and ex-Fantasma alto sax player, Gene Centeno. I became really good friends with these guys. Anyway, on Dec 28, 2005, around 3 P.M. I was having lunch with my family at home, in Eagle Pass Texas, when I received a call from José Galeano (vocalist/timbales player) asking me if I was interested in auditioning for a vocal spot in Fantasma. With no hesitation, I said, "Hell yeah!!". That same week I drove to Austin Texas, went to one of their rehearsals, did my thing, and the rest is history. I think because I was good buddies with Gene and Lou, and knew I could sing, they mentioned my name. Thanks Gene and Lou!

What is your biggest influence, musically?

The number one influence would be my grandpa, Rodolfo "Kino" Esparza.He is the reason I wanted to be involved in music as a kid. I always enjoyed watching him perform and loved the stories he would tell me about his music life. I just want to be like him. He is my role model. That's why I go by Kino....

What is your favorite instrument?

That would be the trumpet. For four reasons.

1) That's the instrument I've been playing for 12 years. Someday I'll bust it out in one of the Fantasma performances
2) its rich sound
3) the clarity of tone
4) I love the fact that the sound cuts through anything when you rip some high ass notes.
I feel like playing trumpet now, please excuse me....

Talk about how you share the vocals with José - do you do backing vocals for each other only? Or do you share leads on any songs? Who decides which vocalist will sing lead on a song?

We used to do our own backups for a while, but recently a few guys like Adrian, Gilbert, and Speedy have stepped up and been helping out on those. This is awesome 'cause now the coros have more body to them, and there are more voices/harmonies that we can play with. I don't know why it took them so long to do this, but they are doing it now and that's all that matters...maybe they were scared? Hmmm. As far as deciding who sings lead on what, it's all on the individual who wrote the piece. He decides.

How do you work on the vocals when you record - do you make it up on the spot in the studio or do you practice it and work it out with the musicians first?

It depends. If it's music we've been playing for a while, that stuff gets recorded quickly. The only thing we change for those tunes will be who sings backups and what voice/harmony that individual will have. For the music that has never been performed, which in this album's case was like 80% of it, we, the vocalists would take the rough tracks home and practice them for a couple of days. This allowed us to get comfortable with the tune and gave us time to change the lyrics and/or melody a bit, if needed, before recording it. We've had a few "make it up on the spot" moments too.

Do you write music or lyrics?

Yes, I do both.

What are your themes?

If it's my song, I like to write any theme based on experiences I've had in my life in a form of a story whether its love, hatred, difficult moments, good times, life changing moments, etc. If there is a song someone else wrote and they need help with lyrics, they usually come to me with a theme in mind. Their themes suck most of the time...I'm just kidding, they're cool.

Is romance (emotions, relationships, sex, obsessions, love) a big part of your lyrical theme?

Not as much as I want it to be but it's there. It's hard for me to write anything with that theme in mind without making it into some type of slow ballad. I love singing romantic ballads and would be really lucky if I could sing one of those in this band someday. Oh wait, I do, “Juan Tenorio”. Although that one is not romantic. It's very dark, BUT I love that it's a slow piece.

So where does your inspiration come from then?

When it comes to writing music, I get inspired by the music I listen to, or even ideas shared by the Fantasma guys. As for lyrics, anything I've experienced, or someone I know has experienced, and everything around me: friends, wife, family, places I visit, and even movies I watch, believe it or not.

Do you think the new album is dark? Explain.

It is definitely the darkest one we've recorded that's for sure. Not all of the songs are dark, but the few that we have are based on personal experiences or just a story that came to mind. Examples :someone going through some type of emotional depression, life crisis, on the run from the law, and even killing somebody. Let me make the killing story, “Juan Tenorio”, clear. That one is definitely a story my uncle came up with. I don't know how he came up with that one. My guess would be he had finished watching some type of movie or soap opera.

What was it like to work on the album in a rented house?

It was fun and a great learning experience. The vibe was pretty laid back and we
had so much time to brainstorm, collaborate, and experiment with different styles. I think that house became our 2nd home during those 3 months. Most of us were always there even when we didn't have to be. I miss that house already.

What does your family think of Fantasma?

With the exception of my mom, they all love it. Not saying my mom necessarily hates what I do for a living but you know how moms are, they just want what's best for you...In my case, she prefers for me to go back to school,get a degree in music, and teach. Every time we touch the subject I always end up telling her. "Look mom, school will always be there. Fantasma on the other hand, won't. I'm sticking with Fantasma for as long as it goes."
*sigh* I love my mom.

Is music an obsession, or is it just for fun?

Obsession. There are so many things around it that you just can't get enough of. Such as writing music, performing, traveling around the world, the fun you have on stage, the energy you feed off from the crowd and vice-versa. I can go on forever here, there is just so much.

Thanks, Kino. See you in a couple of weeks!