|Rock en Espanol in Austin has a new voice and youthful energy with Kalua’s debut album, La Novedad. What’s hidden in that youthful energy is an old spirit that summons the old Mariachi classics of our abuelos. Every song is passionately sung in Spanish, the native tongue of all four Kalua members.The title track, “La Novedad” or “newness” in English, starts the album off with lots of energy and edgy rock riffs, but does not quite catch my interest the way some of their other tracks on the album do. I would totally understand if people disagreed with me on this one, but something is missing on this track. I just can’t put my finger on it. I felt that way on a lot of tracks, but certainly not all.
“Volvere” (I will return) is my favorite track as it sounds more like modern Latin Alternative rather than traditional Rock en Espanol. The best part of the song comes during the last minute, in which the song completely changes from a harder rock sound to a melodic dance break.
“Por Ti” (For You) sounds like something a young and unpolished La Ley or Beto Cuevas would have done years ago. It’s obvious the guys from Kalua grew up listening to the same old school Rock en Espanol records as I did. That vibe or feel really comes through for me in “Por Ti”.
Speaking of old school, Kalua was even so bold as to cover the Mariachi classic “La Malagena ” (someone native of Malaga, Spain). It’s not a straight mariachi style cover either, but rather their rock rendition of the Mexican classic. It’s what I would refer to as “mariachi rock”. As a mariachi purist, I am not quite sure if I am upset or not by the fact that they rocked La Malagena. Still, I can’t help but sing along.
La Novedad is half Rock en Espanol, half mariachi rock and all Espanol. The fact that it is completely in Spanish may turn some listeners away, but I don’t think any of these songs in English would have been as good. An English version of any of La Novedad’s tracks would have taken away from the album more than helped it. Now I am not suggesting La Novedad is going to draw a large cross over or mainstream audience, because its not. Native Spanish speakers, bilingual U.S. born Hispanics, and Rock en Espanol enthusiasts from wherever will be the ones who like Kalua and will want buy La Novedad.
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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.
Check out Kalua’s video for “Volvere” of La Novedad:
Texicana is an album that could only have come from a Texas band. Bocastria’s unique mixture of influences, which include everything from rock en Espanol to Tejano, make Texicana an interesting listen. You’ll hear everything from melodic guitar hooks, edgy vocals, soft harmonies, keys and percussions. It is tough to really pinpoint what genre of music Bocastria fall under other than Latin rock. Songs are sung in both English and Spanish, reflecting the culture of the band and their hometown influences.
“Encanto” is one of the few standout tracks on Texicana. The melodic guitar hook and female vocal led chorus make “Encanto” an enjoyable listen. Tonya Martinez and Maddie Briones compliment each other well vocally and that differentiates Bocastria from other local Latin bands here in Austin. That’s not easy to do, being that Austin has so many talented Latin bands Austinites can see on any given night.
The acoustic version of the song creacion is the better of the two, and will appeal to Lila Downs fans or folk fans in general. Listening to it makes me feel like I’m summoning spirits of my ancestors or doing something involving a curandera (Mexican faith healer). The original version sounds angrier and more haunting, which is why I prefer the softer acoustic version. The acoustic version is more fit to showcase Bocastria’s vocal talents of Martinez and Briones.
“Tejana Pride” is the Spanglish, ranchera rock track that exudes Tejana pride. The song is best summed up by the line “Cuando Oigo una ranchera, mi corazan canta” or when I hear a ranchera my heart sings. My favorite lyrics in “Tejana Pride” are “my favorite words are gaucho and pendejo”. I could be wrong here, but I have a feeling many of you Tejanas out there may be able to relate. If there was ever a song ready for your personal myspace profile,” Tejana Pride” is it. It is easily the best track on the album.
The rest of the tracks on Texicana sound well produced and are fun songs, but do not stand out like the tracks mentioned above. I admit that I was never much into Bocastria before, but Texicana definitely puts Bocastria on the next level and gives us all a reason to give them a listen. No one else has a similar sound here in Austin that I’ve heard. It will be interesting to see how they carry on from this point and how new audiences outside of Austin will respond to them.
My interview with singer Tanya Martinez started out interesting. I met up with her at Ruta Maya on South Congress, a normally quiet coffee shop in South Austin. But that weekday night, a band set up shop and we found ourselves finding quiet within the confines of my car.
Tanya laughs easily and didn’t mind settling into my passenger side seat to talk to me about life and her band Bocastria’s latest album, Texicana.
“Actually,” Tanya said, “I first started out wanting the album to be a theme album about a witch who realized she had all this power and the question was whether she was going to use it for good or bad.”
What the album is though, is journey through the band’s style, ranging from rock to Ranchera to Tejas Reggaeton.
“Our music does not fit in at all in the Austin music scene,” Tanya says. “We sing a lot of English and Spanish and our music is all over the place.”
Tanya makes no apologies for how band’s music comes across, especially when it comes to language.
“I’m a Mexican-American and I’m a Tejana. I speak both languages, I’m fourth generation. I’m a Mexicana, yeah, but I’m an Americana tambien, I’m both.”
This sentiment is clearly stated in new album with the track, “Tejana Pride.”
“I’m very proud of being a Tejana,” Tanya says. “I have that whole cultural background and I just thought there needs to be a song that represents who I am as a person.”
Tanya and her sister and harmony vocalist Maddie Briones are San Antonio natives, but the whole band has roots in Texas. Drummer Nathan Cardenas and guitarist Buddy Villanueva hail from West Texas and bassist Kenneth Null calls Houston home.
So, how did they come together in the Capital city? I mean there is even a Bocastria Day here in Austin, May 17th as proclaimed by Mayor Will Wynn in 2007.
“Synchronicity,” Tanya laughs. Tanya and Nathan were dating–they are now married– while attending UT for a second degree in Cultural Anthropology and Nathan and Buddy had been playing music together since high school.
“I had this dream,” she continues. “I believe there is something bigger and greater than us, and I had this dream that a bunch of people were going to come together, and we were going to play in this band.”
That was in 2005. By 2006, Bocastria had a debut EP called “Enter the Groove.”
The band has solidified their position in the Austin scene with their new album. In fact, when constructing their songs, Tanya says, they all put their stamp on the music.
“I think we’re finding our groove, and what people are going to find is that this album is very different because I think we’re exploring more of the rock.”
As far as outlook on life, the song, “Creation,” comes back to the whole witch theme Tanya wanted to album to be. The song centers around a woman who discovers she’s a witch.
“All that is an analogy to our own power, that power is our spirit and we can do anything we want with our lives,” she says. “We can use it for the good or for the bad. Life’s a struggle and sometimes you use both.”
In her personal life, Tanya sums up her outlook.
“It’s a very cool time in my life. I have something to say now. I know now the power of going within and seeing myself, not for what other people see me as but for what I see myself as, what empowers me and gives me confidence.”
“And that’s what I sing in my songs. It’s about living life and not worrying about what other people want me to do but doing what i feel my soul is telling me to do.”
As our conversation winds down, the topic of family comes up. She let’s me know that two hours before, her 58-year-old uncle Juan Solis has passed away from a heart attack. She’d like to mention him as he was there to support the band at their October CD release party. Even in a moment like this, Tanya says she can tell a difference on her outlook on life.
“When I was younger, I couldn’t handle stuff like this. You get one life and it goes by quick. If i had to do a show, I would put my heart and soul into the show.”