The San Francisco band LoCura reflects the Bay's diverse mix of cultures, histories and people through music that surfs genres and shuns labels. Members of the band come from as far away as Spain, and as close as the Mission district. They blend flamenco, Cuban son, reggae, cumbia, ska and more to make their own border-crossing brand of revolutionary party music. With the release of their new album, Semilla Caminante, the band deepens this mixture of musical and political cultures. KALW’s Jen Chien spoke to lead singer Kata Miletich and guitarist Bob Sanders for this edition of Bay Area Beats.
BOB SANDERS: Almost every member of the band has a cultural heritage that is from somewhere else: Nicaragua, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, El Salvador.
KATA MILETICH: I was born and raised in Spain. My father was a Californian who came there and met my mother, and ended up staying 20 years, then we moved to Italy. And at some point after I graduated high school, I came to the US. For me, I think the LoCura sound evolved parallel to both Bob’s and my own personal musicianship.
SANDERS: It has evolved through a pretty organic process. The only genre that we intentionally set out to do was rumba flamenca.
MILETICH: And when we came to the Bay is when it really exploded. That’s when we met the other original band member of LoCura, Rachael Bouch. She was trained in Cuban traditions.
SANDERS: That opened the doors to allowing other styles to come in.
MILETICH: That is how LoCura was born really, with the sound of rumba flamenca and son cubano. We were already playing some reggae... And then as we met musicians that were coming from Afrobeat traditions and salsa and cumbia, and being in the Bay, surrounded by so much diversity. For me, coming form my father’s background, my mother’s background, and then being raised speaking Spanglish... and then coming here and just meeting people from so many different places – I feel connection to so many different traditions, that it’s helping me learn more about myself, tapping into these different styles of music.
Con El Viento was a song that was inspired by thinking about how I had arrived here in California, and how I was connected to California, and then this kind of resurgence of my Spanish identity here in California, because I’d been away from Spain for so many years. So that song is a song for honoring my coming here and all the people who have come through here, and all the stories we carry within us.
The concept of ida y vuelta is a concept that really inspires us in LoCura. Ida y vuelta means the going and the coming back, so round trip, essentially. It’s this idea of songs and traditions and styles of music that traveled with people coming from Spain – the sailors, the colonizers, and the Africans – to las Americas, and those traditions mixing here with the indigenous folks, the different styles and traditions here. And then from Cuba, going back to Spain, and then getting incorporated into flamenco.
SANDERS: The idea that we have flamenco now as this pure art form that stands by itself is false, because the only reason it exists is because it has mixed over so many years, of so many styles. You’ve got the Gypsies who came over from India, taking all kinds of styles of music with them, along with their own original style. And for flamenco you have a lot of Jews who mixed their own music inside of it, and just the music that was already happening in southern Spain, heavy influences from North Africa … The music only arrived to that point because it had mixed with so many other styles along the way.
The song Que Falta was born sitting in the rehearsal studio with our bass player Izzy, who is heavily influenced by Afrobeat and funk. He had an idea for this riff that opens the song, and then we just kept coming up with all these different musical variations, and we taught that music to the rest of the band, and Kata put her lyrics to it. So that’s a great example of a song that’s funk-influenced, you get into the verse and you’ve got a salsa groove, you get into the chorus and it goes into a timba swing, and then it goes back to funk for the bridge section, then some drum breaks … that’s quintessential LoCura.
MILETICH: We and I do feel pressure to categorize LoCura. What style of music do you play? Do you fit into this nice neat box of flamenco, or timba, or reggae? Are you a rock band or an indie band? What kind of style do you fit in? It’s always a hard one to answer because we don’t really fit into any of those categories. We take little bits of everything. We’ve come up with different little names to describe the style, fusing different words together, or playing on words like flamenkito, or Califas mestizo music.
SANDERS: From what I see, being in the music scene here, it’s very apparent that that’s what bands do here in the Bay Area. We have a hugely diverse population of people from all over the world.
MILETICH: I can’t just get into one style, just as I can’t just sing lyrics in English or just sing lyrics in Spanish. When I came here I really felt validated by the Chicano culture, and validated in certain aspects of my cultural identity. And so in one way I don’t want to fit into any box – I want to continue to cultivate this style of music that finds a common ground between different styles. Whether it’s the African roots, the indigenous roots of here, of different places, and find how different styles of music can really fit in with each other, and groove.
Full Disclosure: Bob Sanders is also the guitarist in KALW's Martina Castro's band, Makru.