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La vida local: Hispanic rock crosses over with Baco

by Daniel Bayer

The debate over the United States’ growing ethnic diversity will rage on despite (or because of) the outcome of last week’s election, but one thing is certain: rock music, like a nation, needs periodic injections of new ideas if it’s to avoid becoming stale. In the same way that African-American blues and Southern white country and Western combined in the 1950s to create early rock and roll, local Hispanic musicians are drawing on their own musical traditions as well as modern rock sounds to create new hybrids.

“I used to play cumbia-ranchero music with Oswaldo Buille, and then it was, ‘Let’s try something different,’ like rock mixed with Latino rhythms, and then Miguel and Julio joined,” says Rene Ramon, lead guitarist and principal songwriter for Baco, a Winston-Salem based Hispanic rock band. “We’re not the first group to do that. I’ve always listened to rock and roll, American and Mexican, and we like it, and we said ‘Why not?'”

Music and culture from south of the border have always influenced rock music, going back to the very beginning. In the late 1950s Ritchie Valens had a hit with a rocked-up version of the Hispanic folk song “La Bamba,” before his death in the same plane crash that killed fellow rock and roll pioneers Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. Carlos Santana’s fusion of searing lead guitar and Latin percussion made him an FM radio staple in the ’60s and ’70s with songs like “Black Magic Woman” and “Soul Sacrifice.” Los Angles’ Los Lobos mixed the sounds of traditional Hispanic music with their roots rock groove in the 1980s, particularly on the soundtrack to La Bamba, a 1987 biopic about the aforementioned Valens, while Sepultura combined thrash metal with the indigenous rhythms of their native Brazil in the early ’90s. Many felt that Hispanic singer Selena was on the verge of mainstream success before her tragic murder in 1995.

Now Baco hopes that their mix of rock riffs and Latin rhythms will bring them success beyond the Hispanic community.

“It has become kind of a, how do we call it, ‘Latin alternative rock and roll,'” says Ulises Quintero, who manages the group. “We have a mixture of regular rock and roll, reggae, ska, some Hispanic traditional from all over America, kumbayas rhythms and we try to fuse all these rhythms together. It’s something new to this area, at least. There are other bands doing the same thing at a different level, and we hope to get to that level soon.”

“I’ve been doing music all my life,” says Quinteros. “I’ve studied classical piano since I was seven years old. I’m also a composer. I heard [Baco] a few months ago. I’ve known Rene for a few years now, and he approached me and told me what they were doing. I went and checked them out. I fell in love immediately with what I heard. I saw the potential and I said to myself and to them that they needed that push that every band needs to get out there and be heard. So I decided top give them my professional knowledge and financial support and try to get them to the next level.

Among the group’s influences are American bands such as Nirvana, Green Day and Mars Volta as well as Mana from Mexico and Enitos Verdes from Argentina.

“They’re a legend in Spanish rock,” says Quinteros of the latter group. “They’ve been together for over twenty-five years. They’re very well known all over the world.

“We have a lot of potential for a crossover because it’s something new. We’ve got people actually looking at them and listening to them. We’ve got record labels that we’ve contacted who like what they’re hearing. They’re waiting for a complete product before they can actually say something about it.” The group is currently recording a demo at the Sound Lab Recording Studio in Greensboro.

“I just came on board with them four months ago, when we started getting together all the songs we wanted to record in the studio,” said Quinteros. “They’ve been playing mostly in Charlotte. There’s a bigger crowd there. We do want to come to this area, however, we haven’t been that successful in trying to get them into any of the clubs because there’s not too many Latin clubs around, and the American clubs here are not opening the doors yet, but we hope that one day soon enough they will.”

“We’ve been playing out together, and we’re planning to go around the country if we can,” says Ramon. The group played at a Hispanic festival in Winston-Salem in September and will be performing at Montego Bay on West Market Street in Greensboro on Nov. 26.

Like the early rockers whose mixture of black and white styles drew the ire of those opposed to such cultural cross-breeding, however, Baco has ruffled the feathers of fans of more traditional Hispanic music, according to Quinteros.

“The fusion that they have right now is hard for the Hispanic population in this area to accept because most of the people in this area are very, very attached to their Mexican roots, so they’re not used to listening to this kind of music,” says Quinteros. “With the mixtures that we’re putting together – all these different kinds of rhythms – the final product is appealing to this market more and more, so they’re slowly but surely accepting and liking what they are listening to.”

Among Ramon’s reasons for pursuing music is one that generations of young men, Hispanic and otherwise, would no doubt consider traditional.

“I wanted to be more popular with the girls,” he says, accompanied by laughter from the rest of the group. ” I started to play the guitar to, you know, attract the girls. Then I began to love it. Oswaldo [Buille] has been playing percussion since he was twelve years old. Julio’s been playing guitar for five years, and he just started to play bass with us. He’s very good. Miguel [Gonzales] has been our friend for a long time and we taught him to play the congas. He’s doing very well, too.”

Like most young bands, Baco just want people to hear their music and make up their own minds, says Quinteros.

“It’s just a matter of finishing these demos so we can actually knock on some doors and showing people, this is what we’ve got. Give us a chance and we will do well.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Daniel Bayer at spudkat@earthlink.net

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