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May 9-16, 2007

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B-Side Players

The fire next time: Funk-reggae veterans the B-Side Players spread the socially critical message of their new album to a diverse crowd of Cinco De Mayo celebrants at Moe's Alley.


The B-Side Players' Fifth Dimension

By Darya Gilani

The B-Side Players played a double booking for the Cinco De Mayo weekend in Santa Cruz, a consistent and favorite venue for their rich, street sound. The shows mark the first leg of their tour in California before they hit the East Coast later this summer.

The San Diego band blends the sounds of reggae, cumbia and Latin funk, and has toured with Ben Harper, Ozomatli and the Wailers. The eight-piece band and their respective instruments crowded the small stage at Moe's Alley, and frontman Karlos 'Solrak' Paez was a powerful presence.

The crowd was as mixed as the blend of music that night--some wearing traditional ribbon-braids, many sporting dreadlocks. All were commanded to their feet and encouraged to move how they saw fit; some chose salsa steps, while others bobbed rhythmically.

Since its first album, Renacimiento, in 1998, the band has gone through several key member and label changes. Their recent departure from Encinitas-based Surfdog Records, which hosts the likes of Brian Setzer, Slightly Stoopid and Pato Banton, allowed them to sign a deal with jazz-rooted Concord Records, which represents Mel Torme, Dave Brubeck and Barry Manilow.

But their sound remains strong and passionate. On Friday they opened with Crossroads, cascading horns and echoing vocals sharpened by the lead guitar and steady bass, the keys and bongo drums moving with the crowd, all complemented with dashes of the beaded shekere.

The Spanglish vocals united the mixed crowd, reiterating the messages in songs like Souldier, where "schools babysit and do not educate." In their version of Spill the Wine, Paez interjects his thoughts on pop music today--"polluting airwaves--sex, money, drugs and fame on the radio, lyrics that never change." In Mascaras, the band has erupting horns and pitchy vocals that taunt those who are not truthful in society, hiding instead behind evil masks.

The new album, Fire in the Youth, comes out this July and champions revolution at a grassroots level. Paez describes the band as a group of fathers, and when asked to describe the new record, he says, "The new sound is for the new youth, on the front lines--the middle-school children who are organizing and protesting." He encourages expression in writing, poetry and traditional practices, such as capoeira, not just to the youth, but to ¡Toda la raza en la casa!

For those unfamiliar with the Brown Side Players, a good place to start is their album, Movement, a blend of their first and sophomore albums, featuring the flamenco funk track Puro Feeling, as well as more vocal-driven songs, such as Cereal-Box Conspiracy. This album makes for a great crash course in the band that travels from "la lengua hasta el corazón."

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