Interview: Meet Kalua, Austin’s young rock en español band

kalua promo photo

Kalua has been playing music in Austin since Austin Vida’s first show in 2007. I got the chance to sit down with drummer Andres Delgado and lead singer/guitarist Juan Diaz to talk about their new album, a new video, Led Zeppelin, Latin music in Austin, The World Cup and heavy metal.

What’s the meaning behind the name Kalua? What made you choose that for your band’s name?

Andres: Well, when we chose the name Kalua, we were looking for a word that was simple, short, and that didn’t have any kind of language barrier associated with it. We chose Kalua because of the meaning. The meaning comes from tropical islands like Hawaii. It is also a way of cooking meats there, like with the picks and everything for the luaus. A luau is a party, so that is where the name comes from. We are what you serve at the party.

Just to clarify for our readers, what is your connection to Austin? Were you born here? When did you move here?

Juan: I was born in Austin but lived in Mexico for a little while before I came back. So, I guess you could say Austin’s been my life. I later met these guys n Austin. We started the group in Austin, and we’re an Austin band. We’re from different parts of the World. I’m from Mexico, Andres our drummer is from Venezuela. The bassist and our other guitarist are from Colombia, but collectively we formed in Austin.

Andres: We all went to high school in South America except for Juan. I came here at 17. When I came to Austin, right away I felt connected to the music scene and I have been doing it since then. I love Austin.

Something I find interesting that you brought up is that you guys are a unique mix of Latino ethnicities. How does that influence your music when writing music, composing songs, and deciding who you are as a band?

Juan: Something that Kalua has really stuck with is that we always kept our music in Spanish. We’ve never ventured into English at all. So that in itself speaks to our Latin American roots. We bring those roots with us to Austin. Austin is a very Hippie town of sort, with mainly bands that sing in English. I mean there’s bands that do rock, blues, country, etc. For us there has always been this sort of pressure to shift our music to English but we haven’t done that. We like to keep things in our language, do our music and stay true to our culture. There’s other people that share those sentiments in Austin as well, and that’s our following.

I got kind of a silly question that comes to mind when hearing you talk about your different cultures… Venezuelan, Colombian, Mexican. What’s The World Cup like for you guys? Do you hate each other every four years?

Andres: Well unfortunately…

Juan: Mexico is always the best and finishes above the two other countries.

Andres: When it comes to the World Cup, Venezuela has never been to one and it’s so sad. Hopefully they will pretty soon. I always end up rooting for Brazil because they always win and they are Venezuela’s neighbor. Ahh…Let’s not talk about this anymore.

Juan: It is safe to say Mexico is the best.

Back to what we’re here for, and that’s your new release “La Novedad”. I think we are all in agreement that it means “newness” or “something fresh”. What’s the meaning behind the name for you guys?

Andres: One of the main things we saw as we played our songs live was that for a lot of people it was new. A lot of people you see on 6th street don’t see a lot of rock en Espanol and that fusion of different sounds. Then we came up with our sound, which we feel is young and fresh like us. I mean, we’re pretty young compared to other Rock en Espanol bands in Austin. We figured what a better way to start our career than with a CD called La Novedad.

I also noticed something a little bit older on the CD. I ‘m seeing La Malagena, an old mariachi song that I think my abuelo has on record. A lot of people have covered that too, so its’ kind of a bold move. How did this end up on the album?

Juan: Well La Malaguena is really traditional and I actually play in a mariachi band.You know, we all have strong traditions. In America you have traditions that constantly change. America is constantly evolving because of the immigrants that come and the traditions they bring with them. For us, our cultures have been very rooted in tradition and we wanted to keep something like that in our CD as well.

Andres: Not only that, we researched other sounds on the versions we heard other groups do. Our distorted rock sound we did on our cover of La Malaguena wasn’t there on versions we heard before, so it sounds like something fresh. Many people loved it when we performed it our shows. They are the ones who always told us we should record that song.

Juan: That’s actually why it ended up on the record. A lot of people were impressed by how we arranged it.

Well I’m sure it will continue to be a crowd pleaser for you, especially here in Texas. Now the first single for you guys off La Novedad is Volvere. Now you also have a video coming up for Volvere?

Andres: That’s correct. We just finished shooting it recently and it will be coming out very soon. Vovlere is the song we chose for that because it was our very first real song for us as a band. We loved experimenting with that sound, mixing rock and reggae.

So what’s the estimated time for the release of the video? We’d love to see it and maybe upload it on Austin Vida.

Andres: I will say early 2009. We don’t want to rush it, but we don’t want to take our time with it either.

Was the video shot in Austin? Can you give us an insight on the concept? Is this a live performance video?

Juan: As with all videos, there is a performance of the song. We actually shot it in the studio where we recorded La Novedad. The whole concept is about love, as Volvere means “I will return”. I guess you could say we got a little love story going on in the background of the video. You’ll just have to wait and see it.

I assume a tour is next then after the video comes out?

Andres: That’s correct. It will be called Un Viaje 2009. Right now the word on the street is that we have songs being played on the radio in Venezuela. We’re working on the same thing happening in Mexico. Our plan to start regionally, then go down south into Mexico and on down to Venezuela. We’d love to play Monterrey, Guadalajara, Mexico City and those kind of cities. We want to be able to tour year round.

Juan: We’d really love that. Our CD is entirely in Spanish, so obviously Latin America is going to be our biggest market.

What about the next Austin show from Kalua? When’s that happening?

Andres: We will be planning a video release show pretty soon. I will definitely keep you all posted.

Juan: We’ve been taking our time with planning shows in Austin right now. We don’t want to just play a show without some time having gone by or some serious planning. We just want to do things right. Our CD release show was a sold out show at Beso Cantina. The show we did after that was a packed show at Merkaba Lounge with Vallejo.

Andres: I have noticed many of the bands in Austin don’t play very often in town. They may play once a month here or every six weeks. Austin is not Houston or Dallas, where we have the large Latino population. We have a lot of followers from all over Texas, so when we have shows we want to make sure that they have time to plan on coming check us out.

We’ll make sure to make plans to check you guys out later on for sure. Before we wrap up, I just wanted to give everyone a little more insight to your personalities. I’d like to know what you(Andres) and Juan listen to personally. I don’t mean as an influence.

Andres: Like what I have in my iPod?

Yeah, I mean I think there is a common misconception that Latin rock bands only listen to Mana, figuratively speaking of course.

Andres: Yeah, I agree. I grew up listening to Oscar DeLeon and other traditional Latin music from Venezuela. When I came to the States, I opened my ears to Led Zeplin and The Police. Listening to them is how I really got into rock. Lately, I have been listening to a lot of Manu Chau and even some reggae.

Juan: If you hear the drummer in Mana, I think he’s totally influenced by the drummer from Police.

What about locally? Who do you guys go see live?

Juan: There’s a great metal band in town called Pray for Sleep. No one has really heard of them. They are one of the hardest working bands in the Austin metal scene.

Wow that’s cool. I didn’t expect that answer. I have actually seen them before and agree with you 100%.

Juan: Yeah man. I really like to support the underground scene. Those people are the hardest working people. I really feel the metal scene and the Latin scene are similar here in that there is not much attention paid to those scenes.

Attention paid by whom exactly?

Juan: The scene needs more media support, like what you guys are doing. This is great that you’re bringing back Austin Vida. There’s also GoHispano and everyone else that is struggling to put this together.When there’s more people doing things like what you guys are doing, it brings more awareness. As soon as there’s less of that, the scene starts to die.

Andres: I remember when I first moved to Austin, there was no Latin muisc scene. Thanks to a lot of groups like Del Castillo and Grupo Fantasma, whose lyrics are in Spanish, the Latin music scene started to flourish. It is great that they were able to do well with audiences here, even with audiences who don’t speak Spanish.

Addressing that specifically, one thing I have personally seen throughout all the various Latin music shows I have been to in Austin is that the majority of the audiences are still not Hispanic. What do you say to that and how would you go about garnering attention from the Hispanic community in Austin?

Andres: In our shows it is pretty common that we have half and half, Spanish speakers and non Spanish speakers. I think Spanish speakers will be able to relate better to our music, so I think that is how we will get attention from the Latin community. As far as non Spanish speakers, there is something about Latin music that will always bring them in. There’s just something about our music that they love. If they don’t speak Spanish, they are more than welcome to come talk to me in English.

Juan: I have been asked why we don’t do a song in English. A friend of mine said to me that if we did, then more Austin media would pay attention to us. I won’t compromise though. This is who we are and we know who our market is.

For more on Kalua, visit them on their MySpace and Facebook pages.

Check out Kalua’s video for “Volvere” of La Novedad:

KALUA – Volvere from DIRTY MADE FILMZ on Vimeo.

Ian Morales

Editor in Chief - Ian is a product of Round Rock High School and St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. He is an alumnus of the National Hispanic Institute and learned to dance at a young age with the Round Rock Ballet Folklórico. Ian also serves as the Editor-in-Chief for Austin Vida's sister site, Red River Noise.

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