Quitapenas pick five tropical favorites
by Pacho Mentecato
Head an hour east of Los Angeles and you’ll find yourself in the Inland Empire of San Bernardino/Riverside, where a thriving Latinx DIY music and art scene is on display to a melting pot community and audience. It is out of this grassroots local scene that Quitapenas developed their unique rhythm and following. At the heart of the group is a tropical Afro-Latin combo, brewed under the warm California sun with a certain liberation in their sound as summed up in the meaning of their name: Quita (remove) Penas (worries). With this carefree openness the crew has honed a distinct and hypnotic take on the influential guitarra/tambora roots of golden-age soukous, chicha, compa, and champeta.
As Quitapenas prepares to release two new tracks in collaboration with Brooklyn-based label, Names You Can Trust, drummer Eduardo Valencia and guitarist Daniel Gomez rundown a selection of influential records that helped define the Quitapenas sound, as well as expand upon the beginnings of the scene that is now taking shape in the Inland Empire.
Abelardo Carbono “Muevela”
“The music I make is Afro-Latin music,” Abelardo Carbono explained to us when Eduardo met him under the statue of Joe Arroyo in Barranquilla, Colombia, in August of 2016. Carbono pioneered a unique style that blended rhythmic psychedelic guitar riffs with Afro-Colombian rhythms. He is hands down own of the most influential artists to our “mas tropical” sound. His compositions guided us to create our own interpretation of what tropical music is.
Cumbia Siglo XX “Naga Pedale”
Cumbia Siglo XX reinterpreted a Haitian folk tune entitled “Naga Pedale” that was then released on the influential Colombian label Machuca. This was Afro-Indigenous music from an ensemble that explored different rhythms from the Colombian diaspora, truly diverse. The introduction to the tune was unlike any other we’ve heard, a reflection of a typical style from Colombia that includes a call and response singing throughout the track. It also solidified our approach to treat each instrumentation and sound as a drum. “Play it like a drum!” is a constant suggestion in our rehearsals. Here you can hear various instruments, including bass guitar, treated as such.
N’goma Jazz “Mi Cantando Para Ti”
N’Goma Jazz blew us away with this tune. The track starts and the language sits somewhere between Portuguese and Spanish (our mother tongue). Often we heard African music in French or indigenous languages, but in this case it was funky, sweet poly-rhythms in a language we could understand. Music from Angola was a big influence on how to make our music appeal to an audience. Components that we found made the Angolan music known as Semba attractive: there were catchy melodies, room for improvisation, a rhythmic beat that made people move, and often a political or social statement that made the songs even more important.
Antonio Dos Santos “Djal Bai Si Camin”
This album is one that we’ve been exploring more and more. Music from Cape Verde known as Funana and Coladeira is being heard for the first time now to a much larger, global audience. We mostly really dug into ’70s and ’80s tracks that began to feature electric pianos and organs. You begin to hear more effects in guitars and vocals and it starts to create a more modern psychedelic-funk-disco feel. This track is our favorite from the compilation Space Echo and is a pretty good reflection of the style of music.
Calixto Ochoa y Los Papaupas “Lumbalu”
Calixto Ochoa played some of the funkiest accordion in Colombia. In “Lumbalu,” he gives his respect to San Basilio de Palenque, one of the first free African slave settlements of the Americas. In 2013, our drummer Eduardo Valencia took a solo trip to experience San Basilio de Palenque during its annual drum festival. The Lumbalu is the name of the nine-day mourning process and funeral processions for a deceased community member. Calixto references the Palenque culture with a line that says “en San Basilio el que muere, se despide con tambor” meaning “in San Basilio the deceased are departed with drums.”
These global selections were paramount to Quitapenas creating their own niche in San Bernardino/Riverside. Where there has always been a local scene of musician and bands in that area, there was never much of an outlet for a new breed of musicians to push the afro-diasporan aspect that lays at the heart the Latinx sound. As drummer Velencia points out, when they “began booking [their] own shows and throwing DIY house parties in Riverside,” the immediacy of social networking brought them in contact with LA-based Buyepongo who embraced the group’s refreshing take on the music. From that moment, the band was able to start playing in collaboration with other outfits in LA to a wider audience. After they recorded their own “super, low-budget” demo, the band connected with another LA-based afro-pop band called Fool’s Gold. They played a gig together and immediately made plans to record a single on the White Iris label that was run by Fool’s Gold guitarist Lewis Pesacov. That single turned out to be “Mas Tropical,” a newly coined term by the Quitapenas members that incorporated, for them, a wider, global understanding of the tropical music landscape. Since then, that term has been a call-to-arms for the group and other bands in the scene, shedding unappropriate genre cliches like “world music” or not-quite defining terms like “cumbia.” Although “cumbia is a huge influence,” to the group, the scope of what Quitapenas is playing and recording needed to have a wider definition—and thus “mastropical” was born.
Now, the group is poised for another entry into their discography with their new release on Names You Can Trust. It drops worldwide March 31st on digital/streaming and vinyl formats. Hear the A-Side now, Ya Veran, and enter to win a copy of the vinyl edition made in tandem with visual artist Deladoso. Wax Poetics readers can enter by emailing contest[AT]waxpoetics[DOT]com with the subject line “Ya Veran.”
Quitapenas is currently preparing for their debut at the world-renown Coachella festival. They’ll be performing two shows on consecutive weekends April 15th and 22nd, sharing the bill with dozens of global artists and talent in their own backyard of their own Inland Empire.
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