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Bando's Musical Crusade to Integrate the Caribbean World

Puerto Rican group Bando is named after the Spanish Crown's proclamation and bans against the African race in the mid 1800s. But the proclamation the Afro-Latin rock band is promoting is one of Caribbean integration and deep appreciation for music of African origin.

Calling on people to push the envelope, analyze, learn, and create, Bando is driven by a desire to learn about the world and from each other. The band prides itself on having an eclectic mix of seasoned musicians: Agustín "Chito" Criollo on bass and backing vocals, Gaby Vidal on lead and atmosferic guitars, Jerry “El Zambo” Rivera on lead vocals, Martín Latimer on rhythm guitar, Oscar Delgado on Latin percussion, and Richard Torres on drums.

The video for "La Clave" was directed by Gabriel Meléndez, an artist who studied film in Cuba. He based the video on his fascination with Japanese film noir and animation because the record was financed by Japanese indie label Barrio Gold Records.

Bando Q & A

What’s the story behind your name?

Agustin Criollo: Well, the word in Spanish means "Band" or "Gang" but it also can refer to a proclamation, which is our case. I am a history enthusiast so I have always thought that it is important for artists to also educate with their art, so we wanted to make a statement of our identity as Puerto Ricans and, at the same time, talk about issues that are hardly lost in time but very much alive today.

The "Bando contra la raza africana" (ban against the african race) was one of the most infamous chapters in our history. After the 1810 Haitian revolution, governors from the different colonies across the Caribbean started imposing severe punishments towards all African descendants for fear of a huge black uprising. In Puerto Rico, Spaniard governor Juan Prim, made that proclamation and imposed the most absurd and abusive punishments to that community. We find it very relevant to talk about those issues today in the wake of heavy racial tension in the United States and Europe. However, we don't want to send the wrong message here, we are a Bando, alright, but a Bando in favor of the mixture of races that shape the Caribbean DNA.

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?

Afro Latin Progressive Rock

Your music blends Latin Rock, Afrobeat, and Boricua Afrofunk. What inspired you to blend these genres and who are your biggest musical influences?

Well, all members of Bando come from very different musical backgrounds but united by a desire to experiment, and we took to the task of teaching each other about those genres and exchange knowledge. For instance, although I grew up listening to salsa (as almost everybody of my age in Puerto Rico) I never had the chance to internalize it and perform it. I found out is more difficult than what I thought but the drummer and the conga player are experts in that field so they've been teaching me and I've been teaching them about African American music (specially blues, blues rock, and funk), which is my forte. I think that's what makes this band unique, the fact that there are almost no egos involved, its members approach to music with a very fresh and almost naive state of mind.

Influences are too many to list them all but I can pick out Santana, Fela Kuti, Pink Floyd, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Malo, James Brown, Sly and The Family Stone, Brian Eno, The Allman Brothers Band, Rafael Cortijo, Joe Cuba, and Irakere, among many, many others that range from Post Rock, to blues, to Prog Rock to ambient, to experimental soundscapes, to Latin Rock and so forth. Saying it makes it sound a little over the top. But that's Bando's character.

Although you mix genres that have originated around the world, your sounds are deeply ingrained into the culture of Puerto Rico. How has life and politics of Puerto Rico shaped the content of your music?

Oh! Completely! Artists (of all mediums) are just a reflection of their time and space. I'd played blues rock for 24 years before we started Bando but the sounds that come from the African diaspora, especially latin sounds, came very easy to me, so its impossible for me to ignore that, and that's the same with the rest of the band. Here in Puerto Rico, for years -- and maybe because of the political ambivalence that had shaped our society for the past 100 years -- listening to rock and salsa at the same time raised a lot of eyebrows. Now, all of that is gone and there are many musicians from our generation that are rediscovering their roots, mixing folk sounds like Bomba and Plena with Rock and Jazz. It's a beautiful thing!

Your lyrics speak of social outcry. What are your hopes for the future of Puerto Rico?

That we finally understand that shaping a better future and a better quality of life is more important than to constantly argue about statehood or independence. There are far more important issues. We need to work on our self esteem as a community and understand that not always, what comes from overseas is better than what we can produce locally.

What is the concept behind the video of “La Clave”?

Gabriel Meléndez, from noisical.com, is a very talented young plastic and conceptual artist who studied film in Cuba. Since the record was financed by a Japanese indie label, he wanted to explore his love for Japanese 1970s animation as well as 1980s Japanese film noir. He used the song to develop a sort of Mazinger Z or Ultraman kind of set up for the video and it worked quite well. He is currently working on our next video.

What message do you want people to take from your music?

That anything is possible, even though the status quo tells you it isn't. To follow your dreams and, for God's sake, create, not just conform with what is already done. Push the envelope a little further. But, while you are doing it, analyze and learn because the only way we shall be free is by harvesting our intellects and not just follow what everybody else is doing.

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