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Photograph by Daniel Gorrell

A New Dawn: José Márquez and Ana Machado form electronic pop duo Pepito.

Puro Pop For Now People

Latin music gets remixed by the next generation at the MACLA One Festival

By James Espinoza

THE SPANISH word mestizaje is a widely used term in Latino communities. The word originates at the point of contact between old Europe, the Americas and the arrival of African slaves. Technically, it refers to the racial mixing of bloodlines composing the core of Latino identity. Culturally, mestizaje refers to any synthesis of social or artistic ideas, with music being no exception.

On Feb. 13, the sounds of musical mestizaje took over MACLA with a performance by Somos kicking off a five-week concert series. The series, cleverly named ONE, will highlight emerging Bay Area Latino bands that exemplify "the idea that music and sound are a universal link bridging people and cultures."

Among the bands is east San Jose's Lado Oriente, which appears Feb. 20 at MACLA. The nine-member group consists of first- and second-generation Latinos proudly waving the flag and musical heritage of their respective Latin American countries. At first glance, the soccer team-size band is reminiscent of a salsa orchestra, but Lado Oriente by no means restricts its sound to any given folkloric genre. The band works like a cultural time machine, freely transcending space, time and nationalistic borders to encompass as many traditional sounds and instruments as possible.

For the members of Lado Oriente, truly embracing each other's diverse musical heritage naturally paves the way for the group's fusion of sound. According to accordion player Ivan Flores, "In one way or another, all of our music can be traced to similar roots. I'm not Colombiano, but I love music from Colombia. And there are guys in the band that are not Mexicanos, but they love music from Mexico. We embrace it all as our music, because ultimately that's what it is."

Besides feeding off of each other's cultural plates, Lado Oriente members continue to heavily research and travel to understand fully the worldly roots that tie their music together and serve as fuel for creativity. For example, Ivan discovered the jarocho music indigenous to Veracruz, Mexico, which he describes as a "microcosm of all Latin music. The strings are clearly an influence of Spain. The beats are African, and instruments like the guiro and maraca are Meso-American inventions."

This desire to expand their musical knowledge reflects their deep passion to expand their listener's horizons. Ivan makes it clear that Lado Oriente is not just about providing beats and rhythms for mere enjoyment but also about providing an educational glimpse into Latin American life.

"The mission of the band is to resurrect lost and forgotten music within our generation. In doing so, we want to reveal the Latin American lifestyle of our parents and grandparents who have gone through similar struggles as other people around the world. Our music is about the common person with the common struggle."

Sixty miles away, in a place he jokingly calls "the white-bread hipster ghetto of San Francisco," another young Latino musician also contemplates the universal struggles bonding human existence. José Márquez, one-half of electronic pop dou Pepito, sees this sense of everyday survival as a major theme in the band's upcoming new album, Everything Changes.

"There is a great deal of learning to live with 'blank' on this record," says Márquez of Everything Changes, which was written over the last two years. "For me the blank that needs to be filled in is: loss, cataclysmic upheavals, insecurity and death."

Since baptizing the band Pepito in 1999, it has infected the Spanish alternative-music scene with a rapid-spreading case of intrigue. In 2002, the duo was named Best U.S.-based Band at the Latin Alternative Awards in New York City. And just last year, Pepito made an appearance in La Banda Elastica magazine's list of the 20-most-influential musicians.

For Márquez and fellow music conspirator Ana Machado, the sophomore album packs a punch of potential. Like a veteran bartender, Pepito blends synthetic sounds, pragmatic rock rhythms and classic pop to create a surreal concoction that ultimately leaves listeners in a paradox of confusion, curiosity and clarity. It's a sound that perhaps evolved from the music Pepito grew up with--a list as diverse as the origins of Lado Oriente's band members.

"Ana and I both listened to New Wave as teens, and we both share a very deep appreciation for things like early OMD, Depeche Mode, etc. Whereas Ana knows '70s pop from Mexico, through my parents I spent more time listening to '70s pop from Spain, stuff like Julio Iglesias, as well as Cuban music from the '50s and '60s: rumbas and cha-cha-chas. As a late teenager I got into more experimental punk, and Ana was listening to some of the first rock en español."

But don't be quick to display Pepito as a poster child for the unique merging of sounds. Similar to Lado Oriente, which claims that fusion in Latino music has been occurring since the beginning of time, Pepito pays homage to the contemporary history of musical experimentation.

"There's nothing new or recent about this gesture of incorporating diverse influences. If you go back 10 to 20 years, this is the same genre-bending approach that made Maldita Vecindad, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Mano Negra in the Hispanic world. As for what is our place in this? We're just doing what feels right, and hopefully, it will feel right to a wider audience."

For the next few weeks, this audience will congregate at MACLA to witness the rich legacy of musical mestizaje. For Márquez, Machado, members of Lado Oriente and the other participating bands (Chicana punks Velvet Fury on Mar. 5 and Latin ska band Firme on Mar. 12), the concert series is an event long overdue.

Pepito concludes, "There is still a very big hole, a vacuum, for venues that play new music by Latinos. We all know that salsa sells, that rap sells, that bubblegum pop sells. That's been established. But what else are Latinos willing to buy? What else are Latinos making? We just don't know, because at least in the Bay Area, there are still very few venues that are testing those waters. MACLA is one of them, and for that, we salute them."

Lado Oriente and Pepito perform Feb. 20 and 27, respectively at the ONE Festival at MACLA, 510 S. First St, San Jose. 18-and-over. Doors open at 9pm, tickets are $8 and available at the door. (408.938.3594)

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From the February 18-25, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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