Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bang This!

View of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge on my last trip. Photo by YayaDeLeon
There's something calm and intimate about San Francisco and its surrounding areas. One of my first visits was a road trip with my girlfriends to see Quetzal perform at the Fillmore. I can't remember details but I do remember the quietness of the city and the way locals carved out serene spaces within its tiny boundaries. A little garden here, a farmer's market stand there. People moving about their business in internal contemplation. Even the Golden Gate Bridge sits quietly in the foggy haze.

Perhaps that is why I am surprised to have been introduced to who has easily become my new favorite Latino hip hop/rock band, straight out of the Bay area, Bang Data. I have to credit my friend Maria for pushing me to get to know their music. I saw them play at La Cita in downtown LA but didn't pay much attention to the style or lyrics. I remember having a great time but being the music snob that I am, I didn't want to follow yet another band of a bunch of dudes who think they're the next rock gods of a generation . . . or at least that is what I think some of these new kids with guitars think of themselves, but I could be wrong.

After my most recent December trip to San Francisco to see Ozomatli, the homies from LA, I felt reenergized. One of their opening bands was an energetic group of young guys called Cumbia Tokeson also from the Bay area. Their music was loud and bold, not typical of cumbia, but it worked. It was fresh, new, yet traditional, and I loved it. Band expert Maria then took us to brunch to listen to a few members of the band Bayonics and their smooth sound was the perfect soundtrack for daytime in San Francisco. I began to wonder what made these groups so different from my near and dear LA bands, and why could I not get enough.

When I got back to LA I downloaded whatever songs were on itunes which were only a few by Bang Data. Although I was disappointed not to find more I was jammin' to Bang Data's "Maldito Carnaval". Lyrics like Ay mira mama muevase mi linda mulata . . . made you want to get a tan and shake it up in the car while driving. Drivin' Steady is the perfect car song, En mi carro, ay caramba, en la calle con mi ranfla, mi sistema 'ta bufalo . . .  I'm driving steady. Most of the songs are bilingual but if you live in a bilingual world like I do, you don't even notice the switch. It's so natural.

After playing out the first download of seven plus the one bonus Toro Mata with Eva Ayllon, (which is a total genius combo of a traditional song with some fresh hip hop beats and rhymes) Bang Data announced a new album. By this time I was blasting their music in the car, at work, and at the gym along with the too short Cumbia Tokeson cd of 5 songs. "La Sopa" comes out this month and has been on heavy rotation ever since I got my hands on it. What strikes me the most about Bang Data is their solid foundation of traditional Latin rhythms and songs that are then taken to a whole other level with the addition of hip hop and driving rock beats and lyrics. In theory, it shouldn't work as well as it does. I don't know what's in the Bay water but somehow, Bang Data managed to blend the traditional with the new in a way that gives both genres the space to develop and flourish within each song. I might also add that the first two songs Veneno and Bomberos have a heavy cumbia/Western trot to them. If Ennio Morricone were writing a contemporary Latin soundtrack to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, this is what it might sound like. Throughout the album, the band never loses their trademark sound. If you listen to each song individually, whether it's more rock inspired or a slow bolero, you know it's Bang Data you're listening to. That alone is a huge feat for any band.

So, why hasn't Bang Data blown up yet? They're just as good if not better than the stuff you hear on the radio (which is true of many indy bands). One of their songs was featured on AMC's hit show Breaking Bad, but I'm talking about continuous airplay. Is there room on the radio dial for bilingual music or is everyone too afraid to break with the norm and mix it up? I feel like I've discovered them before they made it big. It's only a matter of time before bilingualism is the norm in this country. It is already in California and Bang Data is serving up some much-needed soul for this bilingual world.

Frontman MC Deuce Eclipse writes most of the lyrics but collaborates with drummer Juan Caipo. Caipo produces and I'm told is the genius behind the unique Bang Data sound. He credits his multi-genre sound to having grown up in LA to Peruvian parents who happened to own the first Mexican restaurant in Peru. "My friends say I'm an honorary Mexican," he laughed. Perhaps the unique pairing of Caipo's multi-Latin upbringing with Deuce's Nicaraguan roots was the right recipe for their fresh sound.  "It's kind of like a hip hop DJ/emcee partnership," said Deuce. However, I am not convinced that Deuce is a mere MC spittin' hard lyrics. He can sing! His vocals come across as silk, oh so smooth with understated angst. Although most of their songs are cleverly disguised as feel good booty shaking tunes, they also carry deep messages. Pressure is their hardest driving rock song about having a good time, but as the title emphasizes, it's about dealing with the pressures of life. Their self-titled tune has a nice danceable rhythm and lyrics like y todos somos raza, mi grupo Bang Data, y mueve que te pasa--easy lyrics anyone can jam to but the song coveys a statement about the band's well-defined purpose and style. They know who they are.  (Check out the video below)

An interesting note is the story of a father figure woven in songs like Don't Know and most prominently in their most traditional of all their songs, Mi Viejo (A Mi Padre). It's an intriguing twist. Don't all Latino men worship at the altar of their madrecitas queridas? Isn't it almost sacrilegious to vocalize love for a father and not the mother? Whatever the reason, it's a nice new twist--such a simple, yet effective choice.

Others are of heartache and betrayal. Naturally intrigued by romantic drama I asked: Who broke your heart? Deuce's reply caught my by surprise." When I wrote Qarma I approached it from a different point of view. I didn't write it as the victim. I wrote it for all the times I have done someone wrong. I was just being honest to myself that sometimes I have to be a better person or I will suffer the qarma that comes along with making bad choices." He adds, "Sucio Amor was written for all of the times I have tried to make a relationship work and it didn't. That sometimes love hurts and it's not always clean. Dirty love give me I want it all ----what I mean by that is: love, no matter what form it shows, I will never give up on it. I want all the forms and I'll take it how it comes because love is always a blessing." The song is sultry and complex because "it also deals with the anger of losing someone who has hurt you. It's telling a person that I still believe in myself and one day you're going to miss me. I am going to move on and you are going to regret it. Sometimes in relationships we lose sight of how important the other person is to us. So Dirty Love also means 'don't forget that I am not going to put up with being treated bad and I will leave and show you that I am a strong person.' I feel we all have been there, when you give someone everything you have and its still not enough to make the other person want to stay and work it out."

If you're ready to sample their songs for yourself, check out their soundcloud link here:

Another deep and tortured song is ICU. Here, Deuce's kind vocals convey a lot of hurt and passion in a subtle and smooth tone. Short for " intensive care unit " the song is about "wanting to know that someone is going to be there for us no matter what--to tell us that everything is going to be okay and that I am not the only one who has problems," said Deuce.  "I know I told you that I'd be there for you, no matter what I'll never leave you in the rain--just reminding someone that we will be here for you in the good times and especially in the hard times...we are the intensive care unit for when you need intensive care. The reminder to the listener, telling them that we are human and need each other. Our music is for all of us and hopefully when you are down, you can listen to ICU and feel like we can get through whatever hardships we face on a daily basis." 

My favorite, if I had to pick one (right at this moment) is the rock-infused/hip hop/brassy Don't Know. Anyone who is bicultural can relate to this song. There was love in this house, but this country gave us doubt, it's like if you talk back, they like --hush yo mouth . . . No me conoces, yo soy un toro . . . Read it again. For the most part, Latino families are warm and inviting. The extended relatives are supportive and have a strong family bond. When these families break off and move to the US, the mere logistics of affordable housing and job availability forces the division. It's a matter of survival and kids lose their way easily or toughen up in order to survive. Yo si te conozco, por eso canto, mirame a los ojos. How often do you feel like that? We have command of American culture, know how to live in this society, and feel it's wrath brought on by those that have no clue what we're about. This song, and others, are internal turmoil on paper. "La Sopa" is a cathartic therapy/jam session . . . and I'm dancing my frustrations away. 

Bang Data Official Music Video by Bang Data

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