It’s virtually a given that before a band makes it big, its members must first undergo a certain number of trials and tribulations–rigorous rehearsing in often unpleasant conditions is a must, along with strings of gigs playing for no one but your five most loyal friends and the occasional drunk.
Local group Pacha seems to be an exception to this rule, having somehow managed to skip the grueling due-paying and glide right to the glamour–playing their first show ever at Madison Square Garden. In the two years following that initial gig opening for Colombian superstars Aterciopelados, Pacha has performed with Si*Se, Sidestepper, and Yerba Buena, among others. And just recently the band played its first “real” solo show at reputable Village venue Joe’s Pub on December 1st.
Though they attribute their seemingly instant success to hard work, talented collaborators, an exceptional support system of devoted friends and plain old luck, the three core members of Pacha: Dominican-born Nova (beats and keyboard) and colombianas Camila Celin (guitar and cello) and Maya (bass), are really the ones to blame. All three have extensive resumes with projects that span the musical spectrum, not to mention the raw talent and creative curiosity that seem to be the driving force behind this band.
Pacha (which translates as “earth” from the Quechuan term pachamama, meaning “mother earth”) got started when Maya and Nova met two years ago playing in Postdata, Colombian musical pioneer Ivan Benavides’ latest (New York-based) project. The two started tossing around ideas, and Maya instinctively invited longtime friend Camila to join them, as they had been playing together since they had a reggae-funk band eight years earlier while growing up in Bogotá, Colombia.
“We’ve passed through a lot of different types of music and I think that it’s been good because it gives us a concept that’s a lot wider,” comments Maya. “We all have a really open mind to different types of music and I think that’s why it can take us almost anywhere.” When asked what they were listening to now, their extensive answers included flamenco, Ely Guerra, Britney Spears, reggaeton, Aerosmith, vallenato, and more.
When asked to define the type of music they play, however, the band gets tongue-tied. “I don’t know how to describe it,” says Nova, “but I would say, if you like cumbia, if you like dub, if you like reggae, if you like drum ’n’ bass, if you like trip hop, if you like house, if you like good music, just come and check us out.”
But what exactly does this “good music” sound like? Well, it’s hard to say, as there’s so much going on. While Camila, Maya, and Nova make up the group’s creative core, they work with an everchanging lineup of musicians, including several from the now-defunct King Chango (Vincent Veloso on sax and flute, rapper Baby Power, Nova himself, Andrew Blanco aka Blanquito Man, who recorded a song with Pacha and designed the band’s logo), and each individual contributes their own toque to every song.
Camila brings a straight-up blues flavor to the mix on guitar, while Maya’s passionate bass-playing is pure funk. Nova contributes a Sidestepper-like drum-n-bass element, while Isabel “la Sandunguera” introduces a Cuban rumba feel on congas and cajón. Add in the folkloric sound of new addition Johanna Castañeda on cuatro (in some songs), Vincent Veloso’s ska-infused trumpet and flute, Andrea Monteiro’s ethereal vocals, and you’ve got what Nova has dubbed “progressive global.” It’s the epitome of fusion, and is undeniably New York.
All of the songs tend to have an electronic beat as the base, and each instrument gradually joins in, followed by the vocals, be they a bittersweet female voice, a ragamuffin flow, or straight-up rap. Pacha strangely doesn’t have a main vocalist, but rather alternates depending on the song or the show. This sometimes works to their advantage as it is rare that a song sounds the same, but it can also be confusing. The absence of a sole lead singer further contributes to the collaborative, family feel of the group.
Their recent show at Joe’s Pub proved that this family is getting along quite nicely–and is constantly growing. The venue’s famously small stage was expanded to accomodate the nine musicians, while NenaSierra and TheSpecialK provided a set of live visuals behind the band consisting mostly of images of previous Pacha performances on stage and in the subway.
After an hour-long wait in the biting cold, a brief set by local favorite DJ Sabo, followed by a rather tedious soundcheck, the Pacha crew got going, and didn’t slow down until they ran out of songs (a bit too soon, unfortunately). The most refreshing aspect was the fact that everyone was obviously thoroughly enjoying themselves onstage, translating directly to the audience’s enthusiastic response.
While previous shows had always been good, there was always some room for improvement: the vocals frequently lacked strength, the sound was a bit off, or former MC Flex’s rapping never quite fit. But the latest additions to the band, Colombian singer Johanna Castañeda and Dominican rapper Power (formerly Baby Power), seem to have remedied this, managing to complete the Pacha sound with strong vocal delivery and unique styles. Castañeda’s voice has a very traditional, almost folkloric sound to it, while Power raps so smoothly–effortlessly switching from English to Spanish–that it almost seems as if the music were written for him and not the other way around.
The December 1st show was an enormous success, and with their self-produced EP due out in January or February of the new year, the future is looking extremely bright for Pacha.
For more information on the band, check out their website at www.pacha.us.