Rock y Politics
Bolivar Vive! headlines socially conscious post-punk show.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
In Monterey Live on a packed Friday night, the stage is crowded with the eight members of the local Latin ska punk band Bolivar Vive!. The music begins with a thick, plodding bass line and a wall of brass from the band’s three horn players. Over the song, which sounds like a mix of reggae and ska with Latin percussion, the cropped-haired lead singer, Christian Velasquez, shouts commands as though he were a military officer. “Stand up, come on,” he yells, as saxophone player Vito Triglia lays into a solo.
While a number of audience members comply and rise to their feet, Bolivar Vive! launches into a faster-paced ska number titled “My L.A.” Velasquez keeps the crowd fired up.
Then Velasquez holds the microphone over his head and the song slows down. He brings the mic down and yelps something about police brutality. Then the song relentlessly gains speed as he shouts: “Pick it up.”
The song’s mix of political lyrics and energetic music is Bolivar Vive! in a nutshell. The group started to take shape two years ago when Triglia and Velasquez’s former band, Flojos Nos Visten, called it quits.
Triglia says that Bolivar Vive!’s current lineup didn’t solidify until this past September. It includes drummer Miguel Pantoja and guitarist Memo Arenas, both former members of another local political post-punk band, the hip-hop/funk outfit Para La Gente.
Flojos Nos Visten was one of CSU Monterey Bay’s most popular groups. In addition to frequently performing to packed houses on campus at the Black Box Cabaret, the band made a name for itself off campus by touring from Napa to Tijuana. The group even did a tour of Mexico.
Triglia says one of Flojos Nos Visten’s biggest strengths was that it appealed to a wide variety of fans. “We’d get invited to play a sorority dance, and the week later, we would play a hardcore show in Prunedale,” he says.
When Flojos Nos Visten ran out of steam in 2005, Triglia decided to get a new act together with specific musical and social goals. Being a saxophone player, Triglia wanted to bring the horn section front and center. He also wanted the group to reflect his love of certain horn-based bands.
“I don’t like most peoples’ definition of ska,” Triglia says. “I like The Skatalites and what the Mexican horn players are doing.”
Despite playing frequently bouncy, upbeat sounding songs, Triglia wants to make it clear that Bolivar Vive! is not just a party band. “There is also a social-political undercurrent in all this music,” he says. “It’s not ex-girlfriend music.”
The band’s name references Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan who helped liberate several South American countries from Spanish rule. “To invoke his name is to invoke anti-imperialism,” Triglia says.
Bolivar Vive! is part of a growing trend of Latin music acts with distinctly leftist politics. Other popular artists espousing left-leaning ideals include Spain’s Manu Chao, who has included sampled snippets of Zapatista leaders in his songs, and the Los Angeles hip hop/ funk collective Ozomatli, whose first ever performance was for picketers at a strike.
Locally, the band recently performed at Monterey Live with Para La Gente, which has had shows at anti-war rallies and a local union demonstration.
Bolivar Vive!’s Saturday show will also double as a CD release party for a live album with the straightforward name Bolivar Vive! Live. The six-song EP was recorded at a venue that has always been receptive to Triglia’s Latin ska punk bands: the Black Box at CSUMB.
Also appearing with Bolivar Vive! is the Los Angeles ska punk group Las 15 Letras, San Francisco’s punk with horns outfit La Plebe, and Salinas’ Novela, which plays music that recalls ’80s alt rock bands like The Smiths. With a gruff singer, punk riffs and horns, La Plebe comes on like a Latin version of the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones on songs including “Que Barbaridad.”
Novela vocalist Gabe Bravo is the brother of La Plebe singer Lupe Bravo, but the two bands couldn’t be further apart. Novela’s “German Girl” sounds like romantic crooner Chris Isaak fronting an ‘80s jangle pop group.
More like Bolivar Vive! is the six person Las 15 Letras. With horns and a galloping pace, the outfit’s “Supertorta” sounds like classic ska, only the lyrics are in Spanish.
BOLIVAR VIVE!, LA PLEBE, NOVELA AND LAS 15 LETRAS perform at 9pm Saturday, June 9, at Monterey Live, 414 Alvarado St., Monterey. $7. 646-1415. All audience members who arrive before 9pm receive a complimentary copy of Bolivar Vive! Live. After 9pm, the CD goes on sale for $2.