If fusion is the concept that informs the modern era as much or more than any other, then so it is in music, too. The more influences the better. Purity is a lonely existence. Nothing is truly novel. Hybrid vigor rules. For a non-native lover of “latino music” it’s a tough row to hoe, anyway, trying to mentally categorize the sometimes-subtle distinctions between flamenco, salsa, mambo, merengue, bachata, cumbia, and tango as musical DNA jumps from Europe (and Africa) across the Atlantic to North America with a hop skip and a detour across the Caribbean on its way to the lower haunches of South America in some rough zigzag path of evolution.
Fortunately the more obvious genres of mariachi, reggaeton, ranchera, tejano, rock en espanol, and musica andina (huayno) stand out as distinct whether due to geographic or stylistic isolation, because when you get to the more individually localized, obscure, or cross-genre smaller styles of trova, vallenato, chicha, punta, son cubano, son jarocho, son huasteco, danzon veracruzano, mambo Mexicano, boleros, trio, cha-cha-cha, cumbia sonidera and canto nuevo it all starts to get a bit confusing. Of course if you want to get technical, “the Northeastern part of Mexico is home to another popular style called Nortena, which assimilates Mexican Ranchera with Colombian cumbia and is typically played with Bavarian accordions and Bohemian polka influence. Variations of Norteña include Duranguense, Tambora, Sinaloense, corridos, and Nortec (Norteño-Techno)”—Wikipedia. Whew! Thank God for tequila! Are you ready for fusion yet?
Enter a band called LoCura from
San Francisco (I think I got the capitals
right, still easier than tUnE yArDs). Good
ol’ San Fran; God knows I love it and
miss it. A band this eclectic could only
come from San Fran, which even in the year 2012 still has more hippies, free-thinkers,
and general-purpose weirdos than Nashville has cats. At the front of this group handling lead
vocal chores is one Katalina Miletich, who was raised in Spain, albeit
of an American father (no doubt a northern Californian). The group’s other principal founder is
guitarist-bassist-and-flamenco-aficionado (try saying that three times fast)
Bob Sanders. Add in a tight cast of journeymen
tunesters, the cultural quirkiness and political in-yo-faceness of SF, and you’ve
got the potential for something pretty unique.
Now LoCura has an album coming out called “Semilla Caminante (traveling seed)” and it’s pretty darn good, I’ll have to say. If it didn’t hit me right at first, it came on strong the second time. The album starts off slowly in the fogs of mystery with “Prendela,” juggling languages like so many emotions. “Got a glimpse of you dancing, it’s got a way…to move me, to soothe me into breathing, to move me, to light me up in fire… Que uno le da fuego al otro, que uno le da fuego (let each give the other fire)…prendala (light it up). Then “Gueriller@s” (women warriors) punches up the rhythm without lightening up the mood, not too much anyway, only this time it’s political and existential, not romantic or sexual. “Y donde vengo y a donde voy (now where do I come from and where do I go?), ‘cause I’m looking to learn my roots…guerillera, mujer magica, curandera (woman warrior, magician, shamaness, etc.)…vamos ya (let’s go!),” all in lively beat with full brass accompaniment, made for dancing…and occupying San Fran’s Mission district carnival-style. This is good stuff.
“Con El Viento (With the Wind) continues in a similar vein (yes, THAT vein), calling for love, freedom, and justice, or so I imagine: “abre la puerta, abre la ventana, con el viento venimos (open the door, open the window, we come in with the wind)…somos movimiento, somos el agua y el viento (we’re motion, we’re water, we’re wind),” with one important addition. This song has some pure pop hooks. The English political back-story is nice in an explanatory way, but almost distracts from the rhythm and verbal cadence that’s already been established in Spanish. “Squatters' Song” doesn’t make that mistake. The story of squatters, “paracaidists (que) aqui cai’… a buscar un major futuro…un hogar para vivir (‘parachutists’ (who) just dropped in…looking for a better life…and a house to live in)” requires no long-winded explanation or PhD in economic theory, neither Keynes nor Mills nor Marx. It’s a sign of the times, and they capture it spot-on, without breaking stride nor style. If I can hear some Lila Downs in the previous song, then I can hear some Manu Chao in this one. Having some political smarts and some musical chops is one thing; having some pop hooks to make it go down easy is another. That’s pure gold, and these guys have got it, when they’re at their best.
There are other influences, too. If “Desde Las Entrañas” is pure flamenco, or almost anyway, then “To' Pa' Mi” has got Café Tacuba written all over it. And if “Reflections” has echoes of Violeta Parra, then “Te Sigo”is pure pop en espanol, maybe even Shakira, a reminder that these guys may still have a job even if the whole fusion thing doesn’t work out. Of course sometimes you have to break stylistic barriers before you can fuse them. LoCura may not be for purists who like their flamenco with at least eight guitarists and the sound of several dozen hands clapping. But you know what we say about those people. If they can’t take a joke, then… you know. These guys rock…and flamenco, and tango, etc., etc. That’s “Semilla Caminante” by LoCura, due to be released… tomorrow. Check it out.