HORIZONTE reports on the techno-cumbia music of the Charanga Cakewalk band.
Conjunto music has come a long way, and now a new generation of Mexican-American Musicians is establishing its identity. Luis Carrion introduces us to Charanga Cakewalk, a band that has not forgotten its border roots.
Luis Carrion: The accordion has played an important role in Mexican-American musical traditions along the border. They have helped define the experience of the CHICANO in our region. Now there is a new voice defining the Latino experience, and we recently caught up with Michael Ramos and the members of Charanga Cakewalk while they were taping in the studio of KEXI community radio.
Michael Ramos: It started out as a virtual studio, but in the past, over the past year it's become a real studio in Austin. But it was all -- Charanga Cakewalk was sort of a realization of sort of this dream I always had, this sound of like far-off exotic sounds, and I just wanted to bend it up a little bit. What I put out on my records is a result of that.
Luis Carrion: Michael Ramos is part of the new generations of musicians that is providing the soundtrack for the Latino experience. The music of Charanga Cakewalk embraces a cross cultural agenda that refuses to be conveniently categorized.
Michael Ramos: I love getting people together that wouldn't normally work together. And same thing with musicians, whether the musicians are singers, and I love cross pollinating cultures and ideas and grooves and with every song that I do, I try to do that, either in a very small way or an obvious way. So, yeah, I guess it is crossover.
Luis Carrion: The crossover is happening now. But it began at the point contact between two generations. Where old meets new, and produces something entirely different: music that is no longer that of the predecessors.
Michael Ramos: That was a very long road. Growing up, like a lot of young Mexican kids, you hate the music of your parents. So my mom would be listening to Conjunto music on the radio, and I despised it. So I just really just sort of ignored it for the longest time; as I started getting older and becoming more involved with music and playing with different instruments and stuff, it was something that was sort of there all the time. It was like the elephant in the room. Sooner or later, it was going to have to like, acknowledge it.
Luis Carrion: Michael's background in rock, Latin, and electronic music come into play on Charanga Cakewalk's music.
Michael Ramos: Whenever I was making the first record, I was still teaching myself how to record, and there were many, many nights where I was just alone just working, and I was the only person who had heard it. And I didn't know if people were going to understand it or like it. At that point it was sort of -- I just really felt like I had to do it, even if it was just for me. I had to do it. As I started place it for folks, they were saying, "Oh, you should put this out." I don't really think of it in those terms of whether if I'm, like, being, you know, avant garde by bringing all these influences in, it's just sort of what I hear that's in my head. I don't think in terms of genres.
Luis Carrion: The music of Charanga Cakewalk may not fit into a commercial radio format. It's a music that refuses to be pigeonholed. But it's a music that ultimately speaks the unique language of our culture. One that may not be as neat and tidy as some might hope.
Michael Ramos: I have always loved all styles of music. Whenever I would go on tour with some of these other artists, whether I would be on the plane or the bus after a show, I started realizing, the music that I listen to on my own time and the music that I played for a living were different. So it started becoming harder and harder for me to find music I wanted to listen to. So I started just coming up with ideas on my own, and after years and years of working in the studio with other musicians and stuff, and people would use my ideas and stuff, but I could never really fully express them. So that's when I sorted decide I'm going to start investing in recording equipment and teach myself how to record. And that's how it started.