By T.J. English
One year ago this week I had the pleasure of producing and hosting an event in NYC called the Irish-Mexican Alliance. The night was designed to call attention to the plight of journalists, both Mexican and American, who put their lives on the line while attempting to report on the narco war in Mexico. We raised money for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which has set aside a special fund for legal representation of Mexican journalists forced to flee across the border into the U.S. seeking asylum from harassment, death threats and murder.
My interest in the issue came from reporting I had done in the Ciudad Juárez-El Paso borderland region for an article I wrote entitled NARCO AMERICANO that appeared in Playboy magazine (January, 2011.)
While in El Paso in the summer of 2010, at an outdoor plaza downtown, I happened to hear a local band called Frontera Bugalú. The band was relatively new, having been pieced together from a couple different local bands, but I was immediately struck by the originality and sabor of this band that mixed traditional cumbia (from Colombia) bugaloo (from New York City), and norteño music, which is specific to northern Mexico and the borderland region of South Texas and New Mexico. They also mixed in mambo and a few other Latin styles that were new to my ears. Led by the ubiquitous accordion of bandleader Kiko Rodríguez and the soaring vocals of Amalia Castro, they were fun and infectious, an eclectic mix of folkloric music, but with a sound and musical point-of-view that was very contemporary and hip.
I returned to NYC with the idea of devising a fundraising event that would call attention to the infernal narco war in Mexico. I also brought back the sounds of Frontera Bugalú in my head and in my heart. I knew that if we were to stage an event calling attention to the hardships being shouldered by people in the borderland of Northern Mexico and the Southwestern U.S., then it would need to have the appropriate soundtrack.
The Irish-Mexican Alliance event was sponsored by an organization called Irish American Writers & Artists, Inc, of which I am a co-founder and co-director. Earlier in 2010, we had organized a highly successful fundraising event for earthquake relief in Haiti. That event, called Island People Supporting Island People, created the template that we hoped to reproduce by using Irish and Irish American entertainers (musicians, bands, writers, and poets) mixed with the particular culture with whom we were interfacing for that event. For the Haiti event, we had some great Irish bands, both rock and traditional, on the bill alongside a muscular 20-member Haitian rara band that blew the roof off Connolly’s Pub in Times Square.
For the Irish-Mexican Alliance, again, we had some fantastic Irish music; a traditional Mexican mariachi band with members from around the NYC area; and, much to my delight, we were able to fly in all the way from El Paso the one and only Frontera Bugalú. Everyone in the room that night, which included not only Irish Americans but also activists from NY’s Latino Diaspora (Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, etc.) marveled at hearing what we knew was an authentic voice of a very unique region of the U.S that is rarely represented in popular American culture.
THE NEW CD
All of this is a very discursive and round about way to inform you, dear reader, that Frontera Bugalú now has released its first CD, entitled simply FRONTERA BUGALÚ. If you happened to catch this band in NYC at the Irish-Mexican Alliance event, or if you are a fan of Latin dance music in all its many shadings, or simply a lover a great percussive instrumentation and vocals, than you must check out the new 7-track CD. You will want to be among the growing number of people who can honestly say, “I discovered this group! I have their very first CD!”
From the opening track, “Sácame a Bailar,” the band announces itself as something fresh and original. A cascading piano solo by Joel Osvaldo leads in to a brief duet with the harpist, Adrian Pérez, and then – bam! – the band’s signature instrument, the accordion, played by Kiko. The vocals are spare, as the entire 8-piece band coheres around a sultry, sensual groove that continues through every song of the CD, regardless of tempo.
“Embarazar” is a classic cumbia, with lyrics written and sung by Amalia, whose voice ranges from the folkloric to jazzy, with an extended scat (yes, you can scat in any language) right out of the Ella Fitzgerald playbook. On this cut and others, the musical transitions are tight, based around the funky Latin bass of Ramón Villa-Hernández and smoking percussion by Jesús Güereca (congas and timbales), Mykol Nelson (guiro), and Louis Speaking Eagle Sarellano (bataría.)
BOOTY SHAKING, CHICANO STYLE
Frontera Bugalú is, above all, a dance band. It is nearly impossible to listen to their music without moving, the rhythm taking hold of the body like a spectral spirit, as was certainly the case at the Irish-Mexican Alliance event in NY. The dance floor that night was a rainbow-colored, multi-cultural mix. In some ways, to get the full Bugalú experience you need to see the band live, but, on the other hand, the CD – with the benefit of studio time and multi-track recording – is layered with instrumentation and depth of sound not present at the live shows. This is most apparent on a cut like “Rompe Las Cadenas” – my favorite on the CD – which is rooted in Cuban son, familiar to most New Yorkers as salsa (and I don’t mean the condiment!)
Without being preachy or pedantic, Frontera Bugalú is, by nature, a political band. Comprised mostly of Chicanos, they have chosen to preserve certain cultural traditions in their music, to honor those traditions, to promote and celebrate them, which is, by its very nature, a political statement. The fact that they can do this and still be, first and foremost, a contemporary party band dedicated to the principles of rhythm and booty shaking, is a testament to the power of the music. Frontera Bugalú is a celebration of life in the most universal sense, meditative music, hypnotic, designed to inhabit the spirit, work its way through the body, and bring about a physical expression on the dance floor that will leave you with the sweet kiss of human perspiration on your brow.
To listen to a few tracks and to purchase FRONTERA BUGALÚ, as a CD or a computer download, go to the following link: http://fronterabugalu.bandcamp.com/