The Drill: Sergent Garcia and the Colectivo Iyé Ifé schools Moe's Alley this Friday.
Paris-based Sergent Garcia's Latin take on Caribbean party music.
By Andrew Gilbert
PARIS boasts one of the most gloriously diverse music scenes on the planet, so it's hardly surprising that the City of Light gave birth to Sergent Garcia, a band with an irresistibly grooving pan-Caribbean sound.
Launched in the late 1990s by guitarist/vocalist Bruno Garcia, the band has earned a passionate following across Europe and Latin America with an infectious blend of reggae, salsa, rock and hip-hop. While Garcia first gained attention in the early 1980s as the guitarist for the influential French punk band Ludwig Von 88 (when he was known as Nobru), he tapped into his transnational roots in developing the Sergent Garcia concept.
Now a brassy, percussion-driven 10-piece band featuring five Cuban and five French-born musicians, Sergent Garcia y el Colectivo Iyé Ifé makes its first Northern California appearance since 1999 at Moe's Alley on Friday. The band also plays on Sunday afternoon as part of San Francisco's free Stern Grove Festival on a double bill with rising Brazilian samba-funk star Curumin (who plays Moe's Alley on Monday).
"Sergent Garcia is really about my personal history," says Garcia, speaking from his home in Paris. "I grew up in a very multicultural family, with African, Spanish and French people. I lived in a neighborhood with a lot of people from different parts of the world, and when I was looking for this project, I was listening to a lot reggae, raggamuffin, cumbia and old salsa in the early '90s. I wanted to make a raggamuffin album in Spanish. Instead of going to Jamaica, why not go to Latin islands? My work began from this point."
He wasn't the first person to blend Afro-Cuban and Afro-Colombian rhythms with reggae, but he developed a particularly effective blend, which he calls salsamuffin, that paved the way for other artists. With politically charged lyrics, mostly in Spanish, set to well memorable melodies, Sergent Garcia immediately scored several hit singles with "Jumpi" and "Revolucion" from the classic 2000 debut album Un Poquito Quema'o. He's expanded and refined the concept with each new album while inspiring numerous artists to follow in his footsteps.
"In Caribbean culture there's always been a lot of mixes between the different islands," Garcia notes. "I wanted to make the bridge between Jamaica and Cuba. I don't think I'm the creator, but made a combination that was not so common. When I listen to Balkan Beat Box, I think we're doing a similar investigation."
Garcia spent the first five years of his life in Spain, and his first language was Spanish. He moved to Paris as a child with his family and was raised in a highly musical environment. At 18, he returned to Spain and spent two years in Barcelona, forging an adult relationship with the language of his youth. In creating Sergent Garcia, he decided that Spanish provided him with access to a different emotional world than French. "French may be more conceptual," Garcia says. "Spanish is more bloody, more human."
What France did supply was a large community of players capable of combining the various rhythms that inspire Garcia. Over the years he's turned the Colectivo Iyé Ifé into a sprawling community from which he draws a band appropriate for the setting. A club gig might require a septet, while for a carnival performance he might assemble all 30 musicians. They're united not only be a love of Afro-Caribbean and hip-hop grooves, they share a determination to create music that reflect the hybrid nature of their lives.
"We want to find a place in the society where we live, but we also have to look at our past to remember who we are and where we come from," Garcia says.
SERGENT GARCIA plays Friday, July 17, at 9pm at Moe's Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $20/$25, available at 831.479.1854 or www.moesalley.com.
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