After nearly 20 years on the scene, local Latin alternative music legends prepare to release 'best of' collection in August. CD release parties all through 2009!
Above from left: Paul Perez, Caleb Moore, Matt Munoz, Cesareo Garasa, Pablo Alaniz, Robert Martinez, Joe Vazquez. Photo by Holly Carlyle
By Nick Belardes / FaceNews, Bakotopia.com contributor
1992 was a year to remember for Bakersfield band, Mento Buru..
Recording the band’s first demos, little did they know they’d still be teaching Bakersfield how to groove in 2009 and having a parties all year long to celebrate the release of their new CD “15 Crucial Traxx”! The band's next two shows are: Friday, September 25, at The Cellar Door - 101 W Main St., in Visalia, CA. Then Saturday, September 26 at BRyder's Bar - 7401 White Ln. in Bakersfield.
Above: 2009 CD Cover
Those original Jamaican inspired ‘ska’ recordings were raw, fast, with punk rock backbeats. Though this young group of musicians was part of a third wave of a worldwide musical youth movement, it was a first for Bakersfield streets.
“I used to take ska music tapes to Bakersfield College marching band rehearsals back in ‘89. They thought it was circus music,” Munoz said, describing perceptions of the music’s melodic fast-blowing horns and off-time beats.
Forward the clock nearly two decades to today. Munoz is now the legendary frontman of Mento Buru, a funky Latin and reggae-ska mambo band with as thick a catalog of music as its incredibly deep fanbase.
Having just pulled his car onto Eye Street one afternoon, Munoz quickly changes into a red-and-white collared shirt. He pulls out a black saxophone case covered in stickers. Pretty soon, Munoz is literally shaking maracas.
“Musicians are strange,” he jokes as bandmate Pablo Alaniz strums a Mexican Vihuela guitar while conguero Robert Martinez starts slapping a pair of congas. Sure, they brought props into the alley for a photo shoot with photographer Holly Carlyle - but these guys can really play.
Above: Photographer Holly Carlyle shoots the band in downtown Bako...bam!
Munoz is only half a stride slower these days as he runs across Chester Avenue during the photo shoot than when racing to Los Angeles in the ‘80s to hear live ska music. But he’s still the spritely musician and singer, boyish, in constant laughter, and eagerly waiting in the seams of the Central Valley music scene to unleash an album of classic Bakersfield-made tracks.
For the uninitiated, “ska” refers to music similar to American Rn’B and formed in Jamaica during the ‘60s. Through the late ’70s and ‘80s, UK bands like The Specials and Madness helped re-invent the sound with dashes of rock and punk stylings. This sound would arrive on U.S. shores and take over soundsystems across the nation. Known for its herky-jerky offbeat rhythm, it also became known for the fashion it accompanied – including black and white clothing, and Doc Marten boots.
17-MINUTE VERSION OF '09 MENTO BURU DOCUMENTARY
15 RE-RELEASED SONGS CAPTURE SPIRIT OF MENTO BURU
The band is currently in the middle of promoting the August 2009 release of their new CD, “Mento Buru: 15 Crucial Traxx,” a greatest hits compendium designed for the band’s legions of fans, some of whom missed out on two previous album releases.
“It’s a collection of our best songs and kind of defines what Mento Buru has done,” says Munoz. The album includes “Move it, Girl,” “Streets of Gold,” and “Ain’t That Right?” off the band’s ‘97 Moon SKA Records debut album “No Dancing, Please.” Some of the songs featured off the band’s 2000 self-titled album are “Double Jeopardy,” “Chillin’ With Mento,” and “Shame and Scandal,” among others.
Above from left: "No Dancing Please!", 1997 & "Mento Buru", 2000
What’s not surprising is that fans are begging for it.
Saxophonist Paul Perez, who has been with the band for around seven years says he doesn’t just stay in the band for the money, but for its legendary status and loyal fans. Going out on a limb, he even compares it to the fanbase of his idols from Oakland. “I’ve never seen a following like this with any band besides Tower of Power. It’s insane. Everybody loves the group,” Perez says.
Above from left: MOON Ska logo, The Toasters - bandleader/ MOON Ska owner "Bucket" Hingley (far right,) signed Mento Buru in 1996.
The history of how Mento Buru fits into the reggae-based genre of ska is as challenging as following Munoz around for the photo shoot: jumping around between locations, watching the band pose, act crazy and even run into the middle of Chester Avenue like law-breaking youths jaywalking en masse.
MENTO HISTORY: MUNOZ DIVES INTO ‘80S SKA INVASION
Formed in ‘91, Mento Buru was originally called “Triple R Sounds” (think roots-rock-reggae).
“There were no ska bands before Mento in Bakersfield,” Munoz says.
Munoz was in the third grade when he started performing on the sax. He began playing drums his senior year at McFarland High School. He stopped soon after, but picked up the timbales after being roommates with Marcos Reyes (Now in the band, WAR).
While in high school, Munoz became a fan of horn-heavy LA bands Oingo Boingo and Fishbone. He recalls hanging out at the legendary Country Club in Reseda and discovering a new scene after graduation.
Above: Some of the bands that influenced the Mento Buru sound
“The bands I looked up to were all in L.A.”, he said. “I would go to shows and saw firsthand the L.A. ska scene going on. I discovered Lets Go Bowling from Fresno at the Country Club. I also saw one of No Doubt’s first big shows in Hollywood. It was really eye opening to a kid from McFarland.”
Above from left: Let's Go Bowling's Moon Ska debut, No Doubt - circa 1990.
He says at the time there were noticeably plenty of fashionable “rudes” and non-racist “skinhead” followers of the multi-cultural music. They made up much of the audiences at most shows.
“The British ‘two-tone ska’ music message was ‘Let’s bring the people together,’” explained Munoz. “I was going to every show I could, especially to see the guys from Fishbone. I went out and bought the monkey boots, wore black and white, and had a flat top. I was heavily influenced by my surroundings to say the least.”
‘STREETS OF GOLD’ SONG PAVES HEAVENLY PATH
Munoz also remembers witnessing a live performance by a member of the original Skatalites around 1990 at an L.A. Halloween gig called the “Mod-Skarade Ball.” The Skatalites were the original Jamaican studio band from the first wave of ska along with the Wailers that featured a young Bob Marley in the ‘60s.
Above: The originators of Jamaican 'Ska' music.
“Out comes this old man playing the sax. It was tenor saxophonist Rolando Alphonso,” Munoz says. “Up to that point, I knew about the original sound but hadn’t really dug back into the roots.” After the show, he began doing more musical research.
Above: Roland Alphonso of The Skatalites
Munoz later dedicated a song called “Streets Of Gold” to Alphonso on their ’97 CD “No Dancing, Please!” The idea was taken from another Alphonso composition by the same name.
“I took Roland’s solo and wrote the lyrics around the melody for my own version of ‘Streets of Gold.’ They used to do that back in the old jazz days with guys like Charlie Parker.”
As fate would have it, The Skatalites performed around ‘98 at the old Spikes bar in downtown Bakersfield, with Mento Buru as the opening act.
“I sat down with Roland after the show and told him about the song. He was touched. We walked across the street and I bought him Chinese food at the old Wing-Wahs,” Munoz remembers fondly.
The Skatalites continued to perform a few months more in various line-ups. Alphonso died later that year in NYC.
MENTO MENTORED DURING THE EARLY DAYS
The ‘80s “second wave” of ska included bands like Madness and The Specials. Munoz says he was hooked on the sound at the time and continued to buy ska music - mostly LA band demos, and bring them back to Bakersfield.
While people could see some of ska’s influence on early MTV, it was new to Bakersfield when Munoz and his bandmates started to record songs in ‘92. Mento Buru would fall into the “third wave” of the ska genre along with bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
Above: two important influences on the California SKA music scene.
“Here I was still trying to preach the ska word. The ‘80s were with me, just waiting for me to bring it to the table. We knew we would be the only band in town doing it,” Munoz says.
In October of ‘91, Munoz says he finally got the courage to take his love of ska into the Bakersfield music scene with Joe Vazquez (trombonist), and mentor Scott Thompsett (saxophone,) fellow horn players and friends from the Bakersfield College marching band.
“Scott was a mentor early on, who got me a gig in a band called The News Brothers,” Munoz says of Thompsett. “He was a BC re-entry student who was a vet of many local bands. He turned us on to a lot of different types of music, and taught me how to solo, by following the bass. I played with the News Brothers for about two years.”
Above: Downtown Buru loitering...
Munoz says Thompsett, who left the band in the late-‘90s to begin a career as an engineer, performed on both Mento Buru albums. More importantly, Thompsett is thought as a “brother,” said Munoz. Thompsett made a recent appearance with the band at a benefit the band performed for Angelo Mendoza, Jr., a young local boy partially-blinded in an accident earlier this year.
A DISASTROUS FIRST SHOW AS “TRIPLE R SOUNDS”
“We placed an ad in a newspaper called “The Music Note” run by the drummer from the band 2 Lazy 2 Steal,” Munoz remembered. “We got a call from the Triple R band and a guy came to my work. He was a cool dude with dreads, named Jon Higgins. He said, ‘Why don’t you come and hang with us? We have a dub reggae band (instrumental).”
Above: One of the many packed live shows at Fishlips, X-Mas '07
But Munoz said the guys in Triple R were more interested in partaking of the herb, than being a serious band.
“We [Munoz and Vazquez] went to sit in with the band. But Triple R were smoking out and things became kind of confusing to say the least. Joe didn’t want to go back. I pretty much forced him go the second night. They were nice guys, but it wasn’t my style.”
And then there was the disastrous first gig with Triple R...
Munoz made the mistake of inviting his entire family. “The band smoked out so much the music just got slower and slower,” Munoz laughs. “My whole family was in town for my first gig, and they shook their heads laughing. I didn’t care. I was just having a blast, and I didn’t smoke. We did one or two more gigs.”
But Munoz had bigger aspirations than Triple R.
“Me, Joe, Scott, and the band’s vocalist Bob Dunn, moved on from the other members,” he said.
Some other original members included bassist Jason Grooms, Mike Brown on keyboards and percussionist Larry Roberts. Dunn died from cancer in the mid-‘90s, after which, Munoz took over at lead vocals.
Drummer Cesareo Garasa joined the band very early on in ‘91 but soon moved to Idaho to get married. He was replaced by drummer Kyle Burnham.
Percussionist Marcos Reyes, who used to sit in at various gigs, became a full-time member, after the exit of Roberts.
After the departure of Reyes in ’98, multi-percussionist Robert Martinez has become a Mento fan favorite with hard-hitting conga and timbale solos, plus his trademark humor.
“Playing with these guys makes me happy,” he said smiling. “Seeing people dance, and the “Thanks” we get from fans. We’re like a family, and I’m happy to be able to share the gift that God gave me with everyone”.
EARLY RECORDINGS AND PACKED SHOWS
In ‘92, Munoz and Mento Buru made their first original recordings in a Bakersfield Christian Life Center classroom, now the location of Olive Drive Church. “We made a four-song demo with the songs, ‘Christine Keiler,’ ‘Dine-O-Soar,’ ‘Message In A Bottle,’ and ‘After The Lights Go Out,’” Munoz says. “You could hear the outside sprinklers on the recording.”
Local indie rocker Landon Belardes has been recording his own music next to what is now called ‘The Great Room’ at Olive Drive Church, formerly BCLC. Belardes was surprised when he heard Mento Buru had recorded songs nearly twenty years before at the same location.
“It’s a real honor knowing Mento Buru recorded there,” says Belardes. “It’s like we’re keeping the tradition of rock recordings at the church alive.” His older brother, Jordan, also performs with Mento Buru on violin during the annual ‘Day of the Dead’ celebration in the city. On that day the band has been known to have their faces painted like skeletons.
Above: Dia de Los Muertos, 2006/ Photo by Lydia Gonzalez
The band’s initial performances were in the ‘90s at downtown Bakersfield venues like the underage venue Bam Bams aka Mars, which had a reputation for being a punk and gay teen hangout. They also performed at Chaos Coffee and Mannequins, another downtown club which was formerly The Masque and Club 19.
“I remember creepy little dolls being glued to the ceiling,” Munoz says.
Drummer Cesareo Garasa has plenty Mento memories of his own.
“The one thing I remember about the early shows was this feeling that people really dug it,” said Garasa. “We’d be playing at Mars in downtown, and as soon as we’d play the first note – we’re talking about a midnight show on a Sunday – literally ten minutes later the place was packed out.”
Above: Mento Buru drummer Cesareo Garasa.
[Editor’s note: Around ‘93 I remember walking in downtown Bakersfield in the Wall St. Alley just south of 19th Street. These were the early days of Mento Buru. I walked into Chaos Coffee and ordered some earl grey tea. The smell of cloves was thick in the air. There were all these mod kids inside. The boys wore suspenders. Some had thick glasses on. The girls were dressed in paisleys and plaids. They all danced by wildly swinging their elbows. I threw down my tea and jumped in, because this was Mento Buru blasting its Madness-inspired ska after all.]
MENTO BURU: A STAPLE OF BAKO MUSIC SCENE
Eventually the band landed “Mento Buru Thursday’s,” regular gigs at John Bryant’s Tavern in SW Bakersfield during the mid ‘90s and at Suds Tavern, now Azul’s in the Wall St. Alley.
“Mento Buru was known as a party band for years,” says saxophonist Paul Perez, who believes the band has matured musically, especially after adding guitarist Pablo Alaniz in 2006.
Alaniz, formerly of the Bakersfield band Diary, is also the grandson of Al Garcia of “Al Garcia and the Rhythm Kings,” a legendary Central Valley band that began playing and recording surf music in the ‘60s. Mento Buru and The Rhythm Kings share a similar history as both began incorporating Latin flavors into their sound as years progressed.
Above: Mento Buru at Narducci's Cafe, '08. Photo by Joseph Gomez
“Joining Mento was an opportunity to perform music genres of which I’d always been a fan,” said Alaniz. “It was also a thrill to be in a group that strived for originality”.
Bassist Caleb Moore has been with Mento Buru for 13 years. He says he sought the band out after Mento Buru had been flown to play a show in Ridgecrest, Ca, where he lived.
“I came over here [Bakersfield] on a CSUB jazz scholarship. I saw these guys play in Ridgecrest, which isn’t a very big place,” he says. “I knew I was going to be playing with them. I just knew … and here it is 13 years later and I can’t get away from them,” Moore laughs. “It’s my therapy.”
Above: Mento Buru at Narducci's Cafe, '08. Photo by Joseph Gomez
One interesting moment that just might illustrate how much Mento Buru has meant to the southern Central Valley occurred back at the now defunct Spikes bar. Performing for a late-night crowd, Munoz noticed someone familiar sitting at the bar.
“Suddenly, when I looked up, there was Jonathan Davis of KORN at the bar wearing a Specials band t-shirt.”
Above: Mento Buru at Narducci's Cafe, '08. Photo by Joseph Gomez
That star sighting sparked a debate within the band: Were members of KORN fans of Mento Buru? Or had KORN’s frontman simply showed up coincidentally in a ska-band t-shirt when Mento Buru happened to be performing?
Either way, Mento Buru is continuing to perform and inspire people of all ages.
“Success for us is about the music,” says Munoz. “Sure, we were on the Moon SKA label during the heyday of the movement. But being signed to a label isn’t everything. We’ve had some of the city’s best talents in this band, too many to mention in one sitting…haha.”
Munoz believes future great musicians are hidden among Bakersfield’s talented youth just waiting to be inspired. Mento Buru often gives local music students inspiring talks about their experiences in music coming through the school system.
“We’ve been a champion of the local arts since day one and support keeping music in schools,” Munoz says. “It’s done so much for our lives and we’ve helped create a lot of memories together with people who’ve followed us all these years”.
Yet inspiration isn’t just about assisting the younger teens and children. Mento Buru has been needed as Bakersfield’s musical compass to help provide direction for bands and musicians of all ages.
Munoz aptly describes the ever-changing Bakersfield music scene as a rollercoaster through the decades. And he’s right about one further inspiring thought about a scene of revolving door bands.
“One thing that always remains is the consistency of Mento Buru,” he said.
ADD THE BAND AT THE FOLLOWING LINKS:
MENTO BURU AT FACEBOOK
Mento Buru factoids:
-The band’s name refers to two types of Jamaican folk music drum rhythms - ‘Mento’ and ‘Buru’. Together they are the foundations of ska and reggae music. Original band vocalist, Bob Dunn, named the band after finding the words in a book of Jamaican history.
-Mento Buru was the first non-country band to be invited to perform at Buck Owens Crystal in 2003. The band would later perform after Buck Owens regularly.
-Have shared the stage locally and out of town with world famous musicians & bands such as Bo Diddley, Ozomatli, Desmond Dekker, The Specials, The English Beat, Fishbone, Poncho Sanchez, Pete Escovedo, Joe Higgs, EEK-A-Mouse, WAR, Hepcat, Buck Owens, Malo, Let's Go Bowling, among hundreds of other SKA, reggae, Latin, and jazz legends...
“15 Crucial Traxx” CD is available at all Mento Buru shows and locally at:
-World Records - 1824 G St. (661) 831-3100
-Going Underground Records - 1822 G St. (661) 633-0111
-Dark Star Records - 1024 Truxtun Ave. (661) 859-0241
ALL MENTO BURU MUSIC AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD!
FOR THE FIRST TIME!
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THE CD RELEASE PARTIES CONTINUE! PICK A SHOW!
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WATCH: 17-MINUTE VERSION OF '09 MENTO BURU DOCUMENTARY
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Also printed in Bakotopia magazine, issue 59, 7-23-09
(click cover below to read digital issue!