By Adam Lovinus
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Velorio aren't the first band to interweave Latin, soul and rock influences—the Bakersfield band just power-blend them into a particularly potent, energetic brew beyond comparison.
The multi-ethnic five-piece's diversity is part of the secret behind their genre-traversing songs, which are a natural product for music-lovers who grew up biculturally. Velorio represent a place in which late-'90s indie-rock sensibilities co-mingle with the pulsation of Latin-flavored percussions, the ratcheting strikes of the güiro and blaring trumpets. Lead singer Alvaro Caceres layers vocals that comfortably switch linguistic gears from English to Spanish from song to song, before inevitably blurring into Spanglish within others.
"My dad is from South America; he was born in Colombia. I grew up listening to a lot of cumbia," says Caceres, who also plays guitar, trumpet and percussion instruments in the band. "My mom is from D.F. [Distrito Federal, a.k.a. Mexico City], so I also grew up listening to a lot of Mexican norteña." With the band members culling influences from different cultures, they have a wider range from which to write songs. "Where we met on the writing level is that we loved indie rock," Caceres says. That love is the backbone of the band—that and "the fact that we can really pull those real Latin rhythms, those cumbia rhythms, and find a place for them properly in a song," he adds. "It just makes it that much more fun for us."
The last time Velorio brought their particular blend to Orange County was in December 2010, when they unleashed a cover to drive that point home. In the middle of their set, an unsuspecting crowd heard the familiar opening of Nirvana's "All Apologies" before the band turned it into a sped-up Los Tucanes de Tijuana-style manic spell (complete with cries of "María! Sí, sí, sí, sí!" )
How did that happen? "We got booked for a show in Santa Barbara, and they told us it was Nirvana-themed," Caceres explains. The band dutifully rehearsed a couple of the grunge band's classics before eventually nailing "All Apologies." But when they got to the venue, they found out the event was themed not "as in Nirvana the band, but as in nirvana the state of peace and shit!" Caceres says, laughing. "It ended up working out, and now, every time we play that song, people love to hear it and dance."
Velorio's journey began serendipitously as well, when bassist Ben Gomez teamed up with Caceres to write songs for an acoustic festival. The response to local performances let the two know they were onto something, so they got keyboardist Eric Powers ("the only white guy in the band") to engineer sound. (He eventually joined the band.) Velorio then recorded an EP, recruited musicians to fill out the lineup and have since released a self-titled LP. Their hard work even landed them on a season of Sí TV's battle-of-the-bands series Jammin'. They made it to the final episode, networking with Pitbull and Los Amigos Invisibles for greater exposure.
For the band, though, nothing beats live shows. "We always go onstage pumped up with energy," Caceres says, noting the experience is all the better when the crowd reciprocates. "It's like a playground almost—you know what I mean? Like little schoolkids on recess."
This article appeared in print as "Furious Fusionism: Bakersfield band Velorio blend sound."