The words “este vato” are known to most Mexican-Americans as slang meaning “this dude.” In Austin, Este Vato is now associated with a new young Latin fusion band who popped out of nowhere in 2008. Often compared locally to Ozomatli, the group is a regular opener and co-headliner in the Austin Latin music scene. With the release of their new self-titled debut, everything finally comes full circle for the young vatos.
With a style that incorporates English and Spanish lyrics, vocals and rhymes, turntables and a guiro, rock and reggae, there is something for everyone. While all seven tracks make for a quick and enjoyable listen, Este Vato are at their best when they produce their style of funky cumbias mixed with hip hop. It is a style or genre that is often attempted but rarely pulled off, but Este Vato have it mastered as if they have been playing together for years. Guiro master and emcee Feliciano “Chano” Lopez has a smooth, brown-fisted lyrical flow that compliments lead vocalist Ricardo Lara without overpowering him.
“El Poder” (“The Power”) is the best example of Este Vato’s overall talent and the best first impression they can make on new listeners. The song’s intro is an audio clip of what sounds like an old Mexican radio broadcast talking about the rights of campesinos (how appropriate for the times). As the music begins, a melodic guitar is joined by a guiro and electronic samples before Lara begins to sing over the main cumbia beat. Towards the song’s end are the best parts: Lopez’s angry revolutionary rhyme verse and guitarist’s Oscar Reyna’s solo. Reyna’s guitar-playing is probably the group’s most unnoticed element by many, but make no mistake, the vato can shred.
Getting out the cumbia genre and into the more rock en Español world, “Tres Colores” represents the group’s heavier side well. While the guitars stand out, it is Lara’s singing with more grit and angst on “Tres Colores” than on any other track that stands out. It is something he should insist on doing more often as he clearly has more to bring to the table than singing cumbias. The nice surprise with “Tres Colores” is the song’s melody and doesn’t change when Lopez jumps in with his rhyming. It may be the best Mexican pride song in our database. “Bria Verde! Bria Blanco! Bria Rojo!”
The most rhyme-heavy track is “Quemadura,” in which Lopez rhymes in Spanglish throughout most of the cumbia-rock fused track. It is on “Quemadura” where Lopez proves himself to be more than just an emcee but also to be talented writer. It is his moment to shine, and shine he does while the rest of the group provides the support.
While this self-titled debut is an overall gem, especially for a new local band, it isn’t without its dull moments. The scratch-heavy, monotonous beat give the impression that “Rattle Snake” is a demo or incomplete track. Something is missing here; it just doesn’t measure up to the other fuller, more complete tracks on the rest of the album.
Overall, considering Este Vato is a young band and without a major label backing, their debut is stellar. Do not fear the sound quality often associated with the label “self-released.” Everything sounds technically solid as if it were a label release, and the talent is there. If you enjoy music you can dance to, cumbias, hip hop, rock en Español or all of the above, then you should get down to some Este Vato. It will add flavor to your collection like “Latin spices.”