South Central band Buyepongo is known for digging deep into the neighborhood's Latin roots and serving up a new formula for grinding on the dance floor. They're inspired by Wu-Tang Clan and manage to live up to their name, which means, literally, "to cause a ruckus."
Originally formed in 2005, they sprung from Norwalk where the Metro Green Line ends, giving them access to Leimert Park's hip-hop scene Project Blowed. "Norwalk was all about skateboards and sports at a time when we were into Digable Planets and Native Tongues," explains vocalist Edgar Modesto. "When we got ahold of Madlib, that's when we realized where music can go, and it influenced us to dig deeper."
Buyepongo started as a cumbia and salsa band, but today they incorporate music from L.A.'s tight-knit Garifuna punta scene -- which features West African-influenced music from Central America.
The music's call-and-response style features a combination of drums with snares attached with wires above the drumheads, turtle shell percussion and circular dancing, as well as the Garifuna dialect.
They make trips to Guatemala and Belize to make sure what they play in L.A. is real. "We stayed in the hood where Wikitravel told us not to and experienced their way of life," brags Modesto. One afternoon in Belize, local thugs shot at Buyepongo's roadie, believing his tattoos (incorrectly) to be gang related.
According to the band, punta and its seductive hip movements and back popping dances will be the next thing. "Its origin comes from celebrating new life when someone passes. It encourages you to make love and procreate," says Modesto.
Because of the lack of a local club consistently booking Central American artists, Buyepongo leased a loft at one point to host shows above a transmission shop on Hooper and Slauson Avenue. They named it South Central Beach. "South Central is black and brown and if it were on a beach it would feel like Bahia in Brazil," said drummer Roberto Navarro. People were afraid to make the trip at first, but after inviting some of L.A.'s best Latin DJ's -- including Ethos, Sloe Poke and Fresko -- the grimy, 300-capacity room was crammed. The parties went on until 7 in the morning.
The band is on a mission to build bridges with L.A.'s various communities and have seen their music celebrated in unexpected places. They say they were banned by LAPD from Art Walk for shutting down traffic with a dance party on 5th and Spring last summer, and they got B-boys breaking and popping at Chinatown's Beat Swap Meet.
Modesto says they often ask themselves: "Are we keeping it raw enough for Leimert Park?"
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Earlier this year at The Del Monte Speakeasy in Venice Beach, they decided to flip their sound in the middle of a cumbia, merengue and punta set to percussion driven house beats; the crowd liked it so much that one guy ran up asking what their name was, and wrote it on his hand.
A couple days after that show, says the band's manager, Ray Rivera -- who also works at Amoeba Music -- a customer walked up to him in the shop trying to read a smeared name on his hand. He asked, "Do you carry this group's music, Bu-ye-pon-go?"
Buyepongo plays Wednesday, June 27 at The Virgil (formally Little Temple) in Silverlake.