Earlier this year, Buyepongo vocalist/percussionist Edgar "Meshlee" Modesto selected a mix of tunes for "Border Blaster". The mix pointed to the globally-minded and aurally conscious ethos of the KCET and Dublub collaboration as well as his own band. Modesto's picks included artists from Indonesia, the U.S., Colombia, Ghana and other places that help explain the breadth of Buyepongo's artistic vision.
Buyepongo, who performs for KCET's Studio A September 5 at 10 p.m, is an L.A.-based outfit that makes music in the style they have called "buyangú." It's a mix of rhythms and textures influenced by L.A. and the Modesto's travels to Latin America. Crucial to Buyepongo's origin story is a trip that Modesto made to Central America after the band temporarily folded in 2010. During his time abroad, Modesto found inspiration in Garifuna culture.
Living in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, Garifuna people are of indigenous and African descent and lived on St. Vincent in the Caribbean before settling in Central America. In 2008, UNESCO added Garifuna language, dance and music to the "Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity," noting that the music combines both African and Native American influences. In a 2016 article for L.A. Weekly, Modesto spoke of the insight he gained following his adventure in Central America, saying that it prompted Buyepongo, which had reformed with a new line-up, to devise its own style of music.
The musical backgrounds of the members of Buyepongo run the gamut from punk to hip-hop to jazz to metal. The band itself began life as a cumbia outfit. After the second version of Buyepongo formed, they brought more nuggets from their collective knowledge of music into the mix.
Buyepongo cemented their style on their debut full-length album, "Todo Mundo," which was released in 2016. The album's brief intro bears the influence of hip-hop and jazz, which weaves in and out of the album as Buyepongo builds songs with what's described on the band's site as a "pan-Latin" sound. It's heavy on rhythm, dense in sound and garnered critical praise from the L.A. Times as they continued to build their reputation both in and outside of Los Angeles.
Modesto is the group's vocalist and also a percussionist who plays conga and guacharaca, a thin percussive instrument that's used in cumbia. The group's line-up is fluid, but at the center of it are Modesto and his brother Randy, who plays bass, as well as Jorge "Yuka" Valleo, who plays accordion, clarinet and guitar in addition to singing, and Angel Hernandez, who plays saxophone, clarinet and flute.
In an interview with "Border Blaster" earlier this year, Modesto said that Los Angeles is integral to the music that Buyepongo makes and that their goal is "to build bridges amongst communities." That attitude goes beyond the music itself and extends to the various other projects that members of the band have handled. Modesto himself has been a part of community-centric groups like Radio Sombra and the Merkado Negro Collective. Jorge Vallejo has played a number of socially-minded events, as well as worked as a volunteer music teacher.
Together, Buyepongo has long been a part of the Schools Not Prisons music and art tour. The program reaches out to communities via concerts to raise awareness of the school-to-prison pipeline, how it affects Californians and what communities can do to enact change. "The prison-industrial complex is tied into the way that the school system is set up," Modesto told L.A. Weekly in 2016, before an event in Oxnard.
This summer, Buyepongo is making the rounds through L.A. County, playing venues as diverse as Alex's Bar in Long Beach, Levitt Pavilion at MacArthur Park and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It's a fitting mix of shows for a band that has performed alongside artists ranging from Ozomatli, Os Mutantes, Dead Prez and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Buyepongo, according to the band's website, means "to cause a ruckus" and this group of musicians does just that with a variety of sounds and influences that play as well in small clubs as they do at cultural institutions.