Buyepongo Go Beyond Cumbia to Forge Their Own Sound, "Buyangú"
There once was a running joke among folks in L.A.’s Latino music scene that went something like this: “Wherever you are, Buyepongo’s there, too, jamming out.”
For years, the group performed anywhere and everywhere it could at any and all hours of the day. You could find them playing Mariachi Plaza during the day, then catch them later the same evening at the Mayan opening up for Ondatrópica. That ubiquity was necessary in developing the group’s core sound and style: a fusion of Latino, African and American sounds, grooves and rhythms, which has finally been compiled in the group’s long-awaited full-length debut album, Todo Mundo.
Todo Mundo, produced by Eugene Toale and due out this Friday, features 12 songs of what the members of Buyepongo have dubbed “buyangú,” a style of music that encompasses each member’s diverse roots and backgrounds in California, Mexico and Central and South America. Cumbia, merengue and punta beats and rhythms don’t collide with each other so much as they flow and combine together like rivers, picking up elements of funk and jazz along the way.
“There’s no tradition that we follow in our cumbia playing,” explains Larry Harvey, who recorded percussion on the album and has played with Buyepongo intermittently over the years. “I feel like when we were playing cumbia as the original Buyepongo, it was very influenced by Andres Landero. Then we broke into this vibe of Tatico Henriquez with the merengues. I would honestly say we never pushed hard back into cumbia. We’ve grown into our own sound.”
The original and more traditional-sounding Buyepongo Harvey refers to featured current and founding members Edgar “Meshlee” Modesto on vocals/guacharaca and his brother Randy Modesto on bass, as well as former member Bardo Martinez of Chicano Batman on vocals and accordion. That version of Buyepongo split up in 2010. Soon thereafter, Edgar embarked on a backpacking trip through Central America with a group of friends, a trip that planted the seeds of buyangú.
“That trip to Central America was really an eye-opener,” recalls Edgar. “I realized that we could do a lot just by changing rhythms and adding our funk and flavor from growing up in L.A. Since then our mission has been to keep improving our sound and creating a new style of music.”
Edgar reformed Buyepongo in 2011 with a rotating cast of players and multi-instrumentalists in his search for the buyangú sound and style. The process stretched out for years and saw many musicians come and go, but was necessary in building the right group to deliver his vision.
“It solidified the Buye core: the guacharaca, the bass, the guitar, the accordion and the saxophone,” says Edgar of the four years he spent rebuilding Buyepongo, including the two years it took to write and record Todo Mundo. That core now includes his brother Randy, multi-instrumentalist Jorge “Yuka” Vallejo and saxophonist/flutist Angel Hernandez. Harvey and keyboardist Kris Castro rounded out the group on the album.
“From the beginning, we were always like, ‘We’re not just a cumbia band,’ so we can play whatever we want,” explains Yuka of the process that led to Todo Mundo. “We’re trying to get a well-rounded view of our musical style, our direction, our likes, you know, whatever floats our boat.”
Todo Mundo (All the World) begins with a brief spoken word introduction into the world of buyangú, backed by a soft beat and cool jazz sounds. It’s a cool segue into “Vamos a Gozar,” which starts off in a similar manner before flowing into a mix of merengue and funk. “Al Regresar” switches things up with its blend of Afrobeat percussion and chicha-style guitar work.
There are a handful of more traditional-sounding tracks on the album for lovers of the old-school, such as “Gorditas,” “Por Tu Amor,” and “Cumbia Pa Lali,” the only pure cumbia song on the album. There’s also a part in “Sin Parar” where the saxophone sounds like the breakdown in the Central American classic “Sopa De Caracol” by Banda Blanca.
Buyepongo also teases its future on the album with the track “Baté.” The song, which features Fernanda Ulibarri on backup vocals, clocks in at almost nine minutes and was recorded live from beginning to end without any rehearsals. The song “best represent[s] the sound and direction our music is going to,” explains Edgar. “‘Baté’ is not a merengue, it’s not a cumbia, it’s not punta.”
Longtime fans of the group may be surprised to discover that only about half of the song is truly danceable. The other half sounds like a late night jam session recorded in a dense jungle under a blanket of stars, paired with an incredibly chill guitar solo.
“We’re always putting pressure on ourselves to push our boundaries and do different stuff,” says Edgar. “We’ve been trying to expand our rhythms and our sounds and our compositions to different areas. A lot of people have come to appreciate that.”
Buyepongo will celebrate the release of Todo Mundo at the El Rey Theatre on Saturday, Jan, 30 with help from Cut Chemist, Jeremy Sole, Dexter Story and Changüí Majadero. The album will be streamed in its entirety on Jan. 28 on KCRW before going on sale the next day.
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