Being pigeonholed into a category, sound or style isn't something most musicians appreciate. Still, qualifiers like "we don't really fit into any category" sound nebulous and self-important--and could be the kiss of death for a genre-defying band trying to be heard.
But what if your sound really doesn't fit squarely into any category? Simple. You make a new one.
When Angel Garcia and Greg Hernandez of the Los Angeles-based band Mezklah are asked to describe their music, the simple answer they give is "tribal electronica." Their album, SpiderMonkey, contains the recognizable sounds of cumbia and afro-Cuban with heavy Latin inspiration. But the added element of electronic and jungle beats makes Mezklah too round a peg to fit in the square slot of the Latin genre.
"I know there are other bands who are going into the realm of electronica," Garcia says. "We're trying to do it in a different way. We're trying to inspire."
The term "electronica" might lead you to believe Mezklah is a techno band, while "tribal" is used to describe a subgenre of house music. Garcia says they picked the word "tribal" to refer to their drum-and-bass roots and the global inspirations they draw from, such as Middle Eastern, African and Mexican.
"My dad played guitar and accordion [music] of Mexican decent," Garcia says. "He was playing all the time. We always heard his songs and that carried through with me."
The first song on SpiderMonkey, "Fogata," leads in with Garcia on acoustic guitar, the sharp blast of a solitary trumpet and Cuban drumming, followed by an electronic beat and Garcia's passionate Spanish-language lyrics. It's a subtle introduction to an electronica-heavy album, which emerges later in songs like "Quiero Cocido" and "Passion in the Flesh."
Garcia says the vibe he hopes Mezklah kicks out is that of hopefulness and healthy rebellion. "I cringe sometimes when [people] say, 'Oh, this Chicano band.' And I think, 'Oh, why?’ It's not that I'm not proud of heritage. It's just that the minute that happens, it kind of separates it. Now you're [that Chicano band]. ... It's not just a Hispanic thing. It's not just a black thing. Fuck all that. It's just about people, about human beings."
Mezklah will play the Fourth Street Pub and Grill (109 Fourth Street NW) on Friday, Nov. 17, with Fitters and Concepto Tambor. The show starts at 8 p.m. and is 21-and-over. For more information, visit www.mezklah.com.