By Don Macica
I first heard Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orquesta almost by accident. I was at a street festival in my neighborhood to check out a few other bands, but managed to get there earlier in the day. I saw that a band playing “psychedelic cumbia” was on at 2pm. It’s hard not to be curious with a description like that, so I was sipping a cold beer on a July afternoon when a stripped down quintet hit the stage and poured through an energetic 45 minute set of mostly instrumentals. Its vintage Latin groove was irresistible as it rocked and snaked through a set list of covers and a few originals. I had never before heard anything quite like it.
In a kind of ‘neighborhood pride’ post on my Border Radio blog about the festival, I wrote the following about them: “I’m told that the band has only been together a couple of months, but they were remarkably tight, and I’m very eager to hear what they do as they write more songs.” I made it a point to keep track of them. They’ve written more songs. It’s a good day for Chicago.
Flash forward less than two years and the band has just released a full length self-titled CD along with a vinyl only 7” single through Sonorama Discos , a brand new label created by the crate-digging DJ crew of the same name. Their vinyl-only vintage Latin aesthetic was a great match for Dos Santos’ sound, prompting them to work together to put out their first ever record.
On March 20, Dos Santos and Sonorama unleashed the new record with a live concert celebration at Martyrs’. I saw Dos Santos at Martyrs’ once before, when they opened for the Brooklyn hipsters Chicha Libre. As is typical for an opening act, they turned in a solid set, determined to add a few more souls to their fan base. And although that appearance was less than a year ago, the band that took the stage last Friday night seemed miles beyond what I had previously heard from them.
Simply put, Dos Santos owned the stage, pouring out everything they had in a tightly scripted hour and a half set. Everything was on the line, and the band met the challenge head on. What was different? Well, for starters, they have fully integrated Puerto Rican conga player Peter “Maestro” Vale into their sound. A salsa and Latin jazz veteran, Vale’s effortless swing fully tropicalizes the band’s sound. A bit of history – Dos Santos’ original inspiration was not Colombian cumbia, but its variants as it migrated across Latin America (including, but not limited to, Peru) and encountered other influences, including a 70s electric rock sound. Make no mistake, Dos Santos is still a rock band. The twin guitar attack of Alex Chavez and Irekani Ferreyra soars, hums and slashes (Chavez also doubles on vintage 96 Tears-style Tex-Mex organ runs) while the fluid rhythmic foundation of drummer Daniel Villarreal-Carrillo and bassist Jaime Garza moves everything forward. But now there is also a pronounced feel of Afro-Cuban son and Puerto Rican bomba in the mix.
The new CD features two guest artists, and Dos Santos wisely invited them on stage as well. The sonic and visual touches that they brought were unmistakable. Accordion player Mercedes Inez Martinez approaches her instrument something like a harmonium, providing a floating, echo-laden drone that to these ears brings to mind the Pakistani devotional music of Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan. Meanwhile, vocalist Ana Santos harmonizes with lead vocalist Chavez, rounding off his dry sound for a different feel and texture. She also, on the more tropical numbers, provides smooth salsa dancing moves like a one woman front line from an old school mambo orchestra.
The new songs that they’ve written benefit greatly from these new elements as well as the band’s increased confidence. Corre Caballo does indeed gallop along briskly. Los Discipulos and Guerra Fria benefit greatly from Carlos Santana like intensity on Ferreyra’s solos. El Sabotaje starts out with a funky groove before abruptly switching gears into a classic cumbia rhythm. Roberto’s Lament and La Cumbre del Apogeo slow things down a bit but keeps the insistent pulse of a heartbeat. (todos somos), listed on the CD as track number 43, is evidently the band’s meditation on Ayotzinapa, and it carries a feel not unlike that of Cuban ritual chants to the saints. Martinez’ ghostly accordion textures are especially well deployed here. Finally, Division 66 comes on like heavy metal funk before it dissolves happily into a cha-cha.
The CD ends with two songs that the band recorded well over a year ago, and while they are very good (this is, after all, the sound that captured my attention at that street fair), they also point to how much the band has grown in the meantime. There’s no telling what the future holds, but if the saints have anything to do about it, Dos Santos will have a bright one.
About the author: Don Macica is the founder of Home Base Arts Marketing Services and a contributing writer to several online publications, including Agúzate and Arte y Vida Chicago. He is the author of Border Radio, a blog about music, migration and cultural exchange.