I’m suspicious of music that combines many genres, of music that strives for breadth at the expense of depth. I’ve heard bands that bill themselves as funk, and I don’t hear no funk. Even more so with Latin. It seems like everyone and their hermano these days is trying to jump on the Latin bandwagon. So they toss a conga, or set of claves on the stage and add “Latin” to the “funk-rock-reggae-jam band-drum-circle” litany they use to describe themselves.
On the other hand, pretty much all great music draws from diverse sources—kind of like what Isaac Newton said about standing on the shoulders of giants. So there is somewhat of a precedent.
Which brings us to exhibit B: the B-Side Players, that is, of Chula Vista, CA. The seven-piece band of mostly Chicanos has managed to combine rock, reggae, hip-hop, funk, and Latin sounds, and in a good way. They do it not by fusing it all together, but by constantly switching gears. One minute they are playing this, and then all of the sudden they are playing that. One minute Karlos Paez is rapping in English, then he is singing Spanish. As they switch gears, they demonstrate their deep virtuosity.
The B-Side Players are one of several high-quality entries in what I like to call the “New Wave of Salsa.” The first wave of salsa broke in New York City in the 1970s, a mixture of Cuban son and American jazz and big band. From the beginning, salsa was very much a mix of elements from north and south of the border. But while the old wave was an East Coast thing, and south of the border meant the Caribbean Islands, the new wave is a west coast thing, south of the border means Mexico, and another 30 years of world musical evolution are factored into the equation. There are more Mexicans and fewer Puerto Ricans and Cubans in the new wave. There is hip-hop, funk, and a big tasty assortment of other sources to draw from. Perhaps salsa isn’t even the word. Perhaps this new southwestern thing needs its own word. Ozomatli, Agua Dulce, and Quetzal are a few of the S-bands presently mixing genres and getting away with it. So too are the B-Side Players, whose name is a shortened version of “Brown Side Players,” a reference to the side of town in which they grew up.
Beyond the groove, the B-Side Players are clearly presenting as musicians of conscience (“I just wouldn’t want to waste my time by singing about some shit that doesn’t mean anything” says vocalist Paez). They sing about Chiapas to the south, urban decay and quiet desperation to the north, and against the rampages of the war machine everywhere. Their most recent album, Movement, was released on September 11, 2001—a heavy day to release a heavy album. It contains a strong mix of music and message, moving effortlessly among diverse musical elements without ever straying from a coherent B-Side sound.
The group’s lyrical substance, however, doesn’t confine the music to the bleak end of the vibration spectrum. To the contrary, it provides a base to stand on. While music with an empty message is the waste of an opportunity, grooving to a wholesome sound justifies the experience of partying when there is so much work to be done.
The track “Souldier” has a lyric that nicely identifies a niche in the overall scheme: “Are you ready for revolution? Music is love, and love’s the solution.”
For me, the best part of this sound is when the band dives into a full-on old school salsa groove, with that tell-tale montuno or polyrhythmic section of the chord progression. It’s a dirty, dirty sound, especially when they play it tight and crispy like they do. The B-Side Experience will move you in more ways than one.
The B-Side Players blow up the spot at the Blue Heron this Friday, November 15, at 10 PM. Cover TBA. Call 543-2525 for more information.