Alibi V.28 No.37 • Sept 12-18, 2019 

Music Interview

Dancing with Baracutanga

A groovy movement forward through cumbia and kindness

Baracutanga
Baracutanga
QQ Jade
At some point, you’ve got to dance. Why even the former folks strutting their stuff—or what’s left of it—at the opening of the Seventh Seal get to knock off a jig or two before being transported lovingly to the other world. And though life may be brutal, one is constantly reminded of the beauty all around—and the beauty we can each create ourselves through creative endeavors like listening, singing, painting, playing and, of course, dancing.

In a world where complexity is constantly reminding us of a chaotic universe complete with serious mierda—like a massive global failure of human rights while the whole of Western Civilization is perched on the precipice and parts of the Third World are really on fire—it’s more than good to know that there is still much goodness within our reach.

Local postmodernist polymorphic, Latinx hipsters Baracutanga are like that. No, don’t hide away from the profound truths that their lyrics lay upon you. It’s la neta, me intiendes? Instead take it all in: The complex rhythms, the circular, mythic melodies and the stories that come along with new clarity. It’s possible that you might be happy and outraged at the same time. Well, that just means you’re alive, dang it, and that you have the power of beauty—just like the septet called Baracutanga does—to see the world, do something about the world while dancing your arse off in a very human discourse that’s really all about the soul of humanity.

I guess that’s a good enough summary of what I think about the band I interviewed this week. They’re totally excellent, by the way, and will be celebrating their 10th anniversary this weekend—as well as premiering the compelling single and video for a song called “Cuida tus Espaldas”—at Sister on Friday, Sept. 13.

Anyway, here they are, here’s Baracutganga—well, three of the ensemble, actually, comprising multi-instrumentalists Kilko Paz-Rivera, Carlos Noboa and Micah Hood—in conversation with me, August March. We’re talking about all that stuff, homie, so saddle on up and let’s go for a ride. Afterwards, we can dance.

Weekly Alibi: Your band has changed the entire dynamic for popular music in Burque, bringing Latinx music to the fore. What’s your history like?

Kilko Paz-Rivera: Well, we started in 2009 as a all-percussion Brazilian band. It was just for fun. We got together with some friends, most of them were Latin or had Latin influences. We started playing drums like kids, you know. You love to play drums as a kid. And then we started playing together and after a while it started sounding like something we could do. We had our first performance in the Spring of 2010 at the Uptown Bar. We only had four songs, but we managed to play for two hours.

Was there a lot of improvisation going on back then?

Totally. We were jamming, people were dancing; they were dancing nonstop. Even after they closed the venue, the people kept on dancing. We took all those people out onto the street and had a street party. That was amazing. That was the first time we did something that was Brazilian because I’m from Bolivia, Carlos is from Ecuador and our vocalist [Jackie Zamora] is from Peru. No one is from Brazil. We started like that, found it was fun and decided to keep on going. The band evolved. I play charango. Carlos plays bass and Andean flute. Blake Minnerly, one of our founding members that moved to New Orleans, played saxophone and guitar. At that point, we decided to go deeper, past our roots, to try to find our sound as a band. Currently we have some Brazilian influence but now it’s mostly Andean and Afro-Columbian in nature.

What about your compositional style?

The compositions are original. I think that we—of course this is a never-ending journey—try to find what the essence of our band is, what our sound means. This is really a difficult process because we all have such vast and divergent influences.

Micah, how did you get involved with Baracutanga?

Micah Hood: I got involved about 4 or 5 years ago. And it was because a sax player that was with the band back then invited me to sit in at a show they were performing at Sister. They were just starting to write original tunes, getting things settled for their first record. It was perfect timing, I guess. We all got together, exchanging ideas in the process, and I helped develop some of the horn parts, too. It was a great collaboration. After that came the first CD. It became clear that we had a structure to work with. I signed on as the trombonist, but I also branched out to other instruments as needed.

You also do the arranging, que no?

Yes, the arrangements. Now, for this latest record, we all have a major part in contributing; I’ve been doing all sorts of stuff.

So is Baracutanga more like a musical collective and less like a traditional band?

Yes, very much so. We all have our own backgrounds that we inject into that. That’s part of what makes us sound the way we do. We do have our roots in South American music, Afro-Columbian music with an Andean kind of flavor, but we mix up the rhythms in interesting ways. We’re trying to bridge this gap between different South American styles, too. It’s awesome that I get to have that kind of creative input and that my influences come out, too. Baracutanga is all about collaboration, about building on mutual influences after years and years.

And your background is in art music, I’m told.

Yes. I studied music and have a master’s in trombone performance and theory/composition. That’s mostly what I studied, Western art music.

Kilko, what do you think about that?

Kilko: You know, it is truly amazing. We’re always influenced by North American music. We love rock! We have our brands of hip-hop that we dig in South America. But I’ve never had the opportunity to work like this, with such diversity around. The possibilities are endless; we can build a new music.

What do you mean?

Well, let’s say we start with a cumbia. Then Carlos says he has as flute part with a rhythm from Ecuador that he wants to include. So then Micah arranges that result with a string quartet. Oh, my God! I never even dreamed about such possibilities.

Carlos Noboa: We’re hoping to bring every idea we have to life. We have so many rhythms that make the songs sound fresh and different.

Cool. Let’s talk about your new single—which comes with a video called “Cuida tus Espaldas,” or “Watch Your Back”—that you’re bringing into the light with your Fiesta Mayor at Sister on Friday, Sept. 13.

Kilko: We started filming this video in 2017. It’s curious, the fact that it presaged some events much like the CD we released in 2015, before the 2016 election. We kind of felt it was a premonition. As part of the immigrant community, we’re really sensitive about what’s going on. Anyway, the concept behind the song and video started in 2017. But the actually theme started coming together recently in the face of all the deportations immigants in the country are facing.

Everyday we read about more tragic travesties of human dignity made through Trump’s immigration policy. How does the video speak to these issues?

The song and the video are intended to spread a positive message. Both try to illustrate that, behind every immigrant who has been deported, there are thousands of others in the shadows. We want to show that we want to act as a whole, do whatever we can to help. Our music is a way to communicate solidarity and to protest, too. Music has been used like this for centuries. We want to keep that political nature as our core. We’re always going to say something in our songs. It’s not just shaking it. Of course, you can shake it, too.

Is the tune danceable, then?

Oh yeah. Shake it and think.

What can we do to engender better lives for immigrants as well while cultivating an understanding for what you all are doing through music?

Micah: I think first off, we have to keep our finger on the pulse of culture, of what’s going on in the world. Things are changing all the time, yet the theme remains the same. Especially with this administration. It’s been really rough. But showing compassion—we tend to do charity gigs for the immigration groups we support for instance—the real way to help is to be as inviting as you can. People want to listen to music and our music is a way to enliven the senses.

Well said.

For us, as a band, we have to be able to keep up with the news—not so we can stay relevant—but so that other people won’t get caught in the dark. The whole point behind “Cuida tus Espaldas” is that, yeah, there’s a lot of injustice going on, but for some people it’s a total surprise. We went up to Colorado when ICE raids were going on, when people were being separated from their loved ones. And we played a concert knowing that we were helping and were part of the community [calling the administration into account]. Our music invites others to be members of the community, too. We have this one cause together, locking arms in a positive way.

How have audiences reacted?

We’ve started to get some push back. There have been a couple of instances. After we released the video for “Cuida tus Espaldas” and wrote about it on our email newsletter, we got some fiery push back. Someone wrote back about the immigrants “who come here illegally” and why didn’t we talk about that. You can’t win them all, but the fact is this is really going on and we don’t want people to be blind to it or to turn away from it. For us, even the push back is a positive thing. It encourages us. It’s one of the things that has to be done if you want to put the truth about injustice out there.

Musically, what’s going on with the groove in the tune?

Kilko: It’s a perfect example of the collaboration we do. It’s a song where we each bring something unique from our own culture. It’s started with a riff by Randy Sanchez—he’s not in the band anymore, but he’s still part of the family—it’s very catchy, very nice. Simple but really catchy. Anyway, I thought this riff could go very well with a rhythm that is called caporal, from the Andean region of Bolivia. We did it and then we changed it by adding some cumbia. Cumbia goes with everything, it’s like green chile.

Wow, it’s like postmodernism totally makes polymorphism cool!

Exactly.

At the end of the show, what does Baracutanga mean?

Well, I’d go back to the green chile analogy. It’s like eating a big bowl of green chile stew with a lot of corn from South America folded in for texture. It’s really difficult describe our music, so come to our show and decide for yourself what we mean. The common denominator is that Baracutanga means “People Dancing.” People dance. They dance everywhere and it’s exactly the same all over the planet; they even dance where they shouldn’t, it’s that much fun.

Micah: I think that it’s true what Kilko said about it being a sort of stew. At first when you go to one of our shows, you might not know what to expect other than it’s Latinx music of some kind. But that’s an oversimplification. When you hear all the influences, taste all the flavors and feel the different rhythms coming and going, it really is something thoroughly enjoyable; there is something really special about how this particular group of people writes, performs and embodies their music.

It’s sorta like the quintessential American experience, right? We want to see everyone dancing together in a big melting pot.

Kilko: That is exactly what I was going to tell you.

Baracutanga
Baracutanga
Billah Muhammad

La Fiesta Mayor • 10 Years of Baracutanga
Sister • 407 Central Ave. NW
Friday, Sept. 13 • 8pm • $10 • 21+.