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Issuing impressive guitar work, stirring melodies and expressive vocals, Taller Sur have proved over the years that Latinos can be bohemian, too. Beginning as an experimental songwriting workshop in 2005, the group have evolved into a sophisticated collective of musicians from around Southern California with disparate influences that intertwine as naturally as nylon strings around a guitar’s tuning peg. Willy Ortega (vocals/lead guitar), Ruby Castellanos (vocals/guitar), Faida Mosri (vocals/bass), Raul Martinez (vocal/rhythm guitar) and Ibsan Romero (drums/percussion) meld their diverse Latin American backgrounds into a sonic fusion of Cuban trova and folk that soothes the soul. Consummate community musicians, Taller Sur answered the calls of local nonprofits to perform while touring throughout Mexico last year in support of their self-titled debut album. We caught up with them before they celebrate their fourth anniversary at the Viento y Agua Coffee House.
OC Weekly: Ruby, what prompted you to co-found Taller Sur four years ago?
Ruby Castellanos: After being part of various music groups, I had developed an interest in writing and making music. I met talented musicians at cafés and together proposed forming a support group for local singer/songwriters in which we could meet to share songs, receive feedback and perform in the community, as well as hosting concerts and workshops for visiting songwriters.
Willy, being that you are from Ecuador, and the rest of the members of Taller Sur have roots in Mexico, how does that dynamic influence the outcome of the songs you write?
Willy Ortega: My influences include Inti-Illimani, Isabel Parra and Kjarkas, but also I grew up during what was considered the revolution with rock en español as well as the great movement in La Nueva Trova Cubana. I studied at the National Conservatory of Quito. I have been able to use all these influences and former group experiences when I have proposed songs for the group to play and especially at the time to write a song. For example, “Isabella” is a fusion of vallenato, son and a bit of pop as well.
How did Taller Sur’s debut album come about last year?
Ortega: After playing together for quite a long time, we needed a new challenge, a new goal, and the necessity to really believe that what we did was good and real. The idea of recording our music became that new goal. We each wrote our own songs but also participated in each other’s songs. We all sing, write and play instruments. We have our own styles and influences, but we put them together into an interesting combination.
Taller Sur play often at the invitation of nonprofit organizations. How do members of the group see their roles as community musicians?
Castellanos: We all look to convey a positive message through our songs. Music that promotes awareness, hope and change while having our community’s voice heard is really important for us. Spaces here in OC such as SolArt, El Centro Cultural de Mexico. also need the community’s and local artists’ commitment and support.
How do you plan to celebrate the fourth anniversary of Taller Sur, and why is it important to host such an occasion at Viento y Agua?
Castellanos: Every year, we invite different local artists to perform at our Noche de Palomazos [jam night], and Taller Sur play a few new songs. Normally, we play every first Friday at Viento y Agua Coffeehouse.
Ortega: Our anniversary is a reminder of meeting many amazing people and talents in the group, fellow musician friends, and the audience. We celebrate what we love the most, making music, and thank the people who have supported us.
Taller Sur at Viento y Agua Coffee House, 4007 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 434-1182; vientoyaguacoffeehouse.com. Fri., 7:30 p.m. Free. All ages.