Tag Archive | "music"

A Puerto Rican Cinco de Mayo

Isaias Gonzales (center) and Fenix group members Angel Gonzales and Jose Hernandez

The Luis Jimenez Radio show, which broadcasts out of the Univision headquarters in Manhattan on 96.3 F.M.  rarely plays Mexican music.  Its audience, like its staff, is mostly Puerto Rican and Dominican, so the show sticks to salsa, bachata and reggaeton.

Jimenez seems to enjoy Cinco de Mayo, however.  And his co-hosts are intent on marking the occasion with Mexican mariachi gritos, or shouts, almost every time they go on air.  In the early hours of the morning, they make prank calls to unsuspecting callers who are awoken to the tune of mariachi music.

“I hate you,” says a groggy recipient after she’s been hit for the third time.

During one of the commercial breaks, co-host Speedy puts on a black sombrero, he dons a fake mustache and a mariachi coat. Speedy places a pillow under his shirt that makes him look like a cartoonish Mexican cowboy.

Meanwhile, musician Isaias Gonzales waits for his turn to play some song snippets with his Mexican music band, Grupo Fenix.

A resident of Riverdale, Gonzales does not miss an opportunity to promote his group’s work. So in-between performances at Mexican clubs throughout the city, he tries to fit in radio and TV appearances.

“We want people to get to know us little by little,” he said after playing live for the popular show.

The appearance was brief.  But Gonzalez managed to mention his upcoming CD called Quiereme (Love Me). He played parts of two folksy songs that are popular with rural Mexicans and also performed a bachata song, which he wrote himself.

“We have a lot of Dominican friends who listen to our Mexican music.” Gonzales said. “And for a long time they have been asking us when we would record something for them.”

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DIGITAL BRONX: Brothers bypass record labels to promote music online

Rebel Diaz's Rodrigo and Gonzalo Venegas sell their music online

By Manuel Rueda

Gonzalo Venegas and his brother Rodrigo have been rapping about social inequalities since the 1990s.

Based in the south Bronx—the cradle of the hip-hop movement—the two brothers use the Internet to share their work with fans across the world.

Known in hip-hop circles as the Rebel Diaz duo, the Venegas brothers blend hip-hop and Latin rhythms in songs about inner city youth, corrupt government and the problems faced by recently arrived immigrants.

The sons of political refugees from Chile, their songs are often bilingual, with lyrics in English followed by a chorus in Spanish or an English verse punctuated by Chilean slang.

The name Rebel Diaz is a take on the Spanish word for rebels, rebeldes.

Raised in Chicago, the Venegas brothers have created an online community—and built a fanbase— using the most common web tools of the modern age: Facebook, Twitter and their own web site.

On their Twitter account, they update their 1,500 followers about their upcoming concerts and share small snippets of their lives. Last Thursday, for example, the brothers informed followers they were watching their Chicago Bulls “put the bats” on Boston.

On Facebook, the duo will occasionally share articles on civil rights protests with their politically conscious fans.

But in other ways the Venegas are anything but typical web musicians.

Rebel Diaz does not promote its work on digital stores like iTunes. Despite being relatively well known in hip-hop circles, the duo doesn’t do deals with record labels to market their music on the web.

Albums go for $10 on the Rebel Diaz site

“If we wanted to take a route to give us mass exposure we would,” says 26-year-old Gonzalo. “But you have to remember, those labels are controlled by corporate interests that don’t want to hear the type of message that we’re putting forth.”

Instead, Rebel Diaz sells its material exclusively through its website, with tracks going for $1 and an album for $10.

And unlike online retailers like iTunes or Amazon that only provide short previews of the songs they sell online, Rebel Diaz lets you listen to the whole track for free. You only need to pay if you want to download the song or the album into your computer.

“Our experience as producers of music and consumers is that if people want to buy your music, it doesn’t matter if they listen to three seconds or one minute,” says Gonzalo Venegas, who goes by the artistic name, G1.

The younger of the two brothers, G1 explains that the group makes most of its sales “hand to hand” after their concerts. He believes that most of those buying Rebel Diaz’s records online are people who were not able to get their hands on a CD after one of their shows.

“Most people aren’t really hearing our music on our website. They’ll hear it on Democracy Now (a radio news show) or a friend will tell them about it, and at that point they’ll go to the site,” he says.

The band’s web presence helps the duo promote itself and sell albums, but the brothers make no secret about the fact that they rely on live performances to make a living. Last year, the duo rapped at 100 shows. And in May, it kicks off a month-long European tour that will take it to Germany, Greece and the United Kingdom.

For some extra income and to give back to the community, the Venegas brothers hold workshops on the history of hip-hop for students and youth groups in low-income neighborhoods.

“Even though the Internet is very important to us as a tool. It’s not the be all and the end all,” says G1. “The person to person contact, is probably the most important thing that we do.”

One of the group’s recent videos

Click here for more stories on the Digital Bronx.

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Revenge of the music nerd

Tremblay_Ian1_article

Frantic Ian describes himself as "Bob Dylan with balls." Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

By 6:30 on a Friday night in October, hundreds of fans waited anxiously for Frantic Ian to take the stage at the First Lutheran in Throgs Neck.

Ten minutes later,  the bespectacled guitarist lit into his first full punk folk melody with irony-laced lyrics, dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt with a rooster on it that said, “chicks dig me.” As the last note faded away he yelled out, “Sines and cosines, baby!” The crowd went wild.

Ian Rousso, 24, as he’s known off stage, is an average 20-something on a mission to have fun and learn everything he can about biology—and perhaps women, too. He has made the Bronx his adopted musical home and the borough has adopted him right back. Hundreds of fans sing along every time he plays a show with Bronx Underground, a grassroots production company.

Rousso looks like Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, but sings like a more melodic Bob Dylan—artfully and musically tone deaf. He calls himself “Bob Dylan with balls,” and said he “writes songs that are serious yet somewhat sarcastic.” Rousso said he loves his solo career because of the opportunities it allows. “It’s gratifying playing something you wrote on your own,” he said. “There’s no one to answer to except the fans.”

He released his first album as a free Internet download on Nov. 8 and said that he owes a lot of his success to Bronx Underground, a group dedicated to providing venues and audiences for local musicians.

Frantic Ian blows into a noise maker while celebrating Bronx Underground's 10th birthday. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Frantic Ian blows into a noise maker while celebrating Bronx Underground's 10th birthday. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

“Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, I can’t tell you what it means to me that Bronx Underground considered my contribution to the scene relevant enough to have me play their 10th anniversary show,” he said at his gig Oct. 8 on the Throgs Neck stage. “I can’t tell you what it means to me to have been a part of this scene for so long.”

He joked that he’s probably going to be playing at Bronx Underground’s 20th anniversary show as well.

“How to Detonate an Atomic Bomb” released to much fan fare. So far over 100 people have downloaded it, a success for a self-produced and marketed album. It was originally titled “How to Disassemble an Atomic Bomb” until he realized that it was too similar to U2’s 2004 album, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.”

“Bono’s always trying to cramp my style,” Rousso said of the mix-up.

The antithesis of a rock star, Rousso is a junior biology major at the City College of New York and he’s very focused on school. A majority of his posts on Twitter and Facebook concern studying for biology and chemistry exams with a few pleas peppered in to download his new album, “How to Detonate an Atomic Bomb.”

“Music is mainly a hobby,” Rousso said. “Right now, school is my number one priority.”

Despite his focus on academics, the Upper West Side native has made a name for himself in the Bronx music community. He’s been in and out of Bronx-based bands for six years. Most recently, he performed with a band called Frantic Zero which eventually became part of Rousso’s solo identity when he left about a year ago. It’s a fitting name, considering he speaks in rapid-fire, like he’s trying to cover all his conversational bases at once.

When performing, Rousso owns the stage and commands attention, especially when powering through a “Sublime” medley, a 90s group popular long before most kids in the Bronx Underground audience were babies.

Part of Rousso’s appeal is that he sings for not only himself but for his audience. His songs chronicle what it’s like not to feel particularly “cool,” but to be relatively O.K. with it. His song “Get This Right” is about being young, having no real direction but hoping that things will work out. He sings about getting lost in his thoughts to his favorite band while on his way to a record store.

Fans find it hard not to dance while Frantic Ian is performing. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Fans find it hard not to dance while Frantic Ian is performing. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

“Thought about the world that we live in and all the things we want to change,” he sings. “Remembered the songs that pushed us through reminded us how we should do it. I hope I get this right.”

Rousso combines Bob Dylan harmonica melodies with Dashboard Confessional personalized lyrics and a Ben Folds-type vocal artistry that’s not particularly impressive but sucks you in with its raw honesty. He’s not trying to impress, he’s trying to express.

“How to Detonate an Atomic Bomb” is similar but instead of lacking direction he laments his lack of success with females. On “Journey to the End of the Horizon” he sings “like a little boy who’s walking on his first stepping stone” to detail how new relationships make you feel like you know nothing even if you’ve been down the road before.

The new album also offers a hilarious and melodic cover of “Bed Intruder” the autotuned spoof of the viral video “Hide Ya Kids, Hide Ya Wife” which shows Antoine Dobson who ranting to television reporters after a intruder climbed through his sister’s window late at night.

Rousso’s fan base has grown because he’s down to earth and fun to watch, plus he offers acoustic jam band-like performances to a scene largely dominated by electric guitars and jacked up amplifiers. Also, he loves his fans.

“Frantic Ian is awesome, he does really great acoustic sets in the city, said John Blattner, 17, of Throgs Neck. “As soon as I walked into the show the other day he pointed me out and dedicated a whole set of Sublime songs to me. Great time.”

Rousso’s influences include many Bronx-based bands including “A Moment’s Worth” and “Drew Torres” as well as “Jawbreaker”, a New York City band that’s often credited with influencing and starting the early 90s emo music movement which featured song lyrics heavy on personal emotions, often sad and slow.

On Nov. 29 Rousso will be performing and celebrating his album’s release at Angels and Kings, an East Village concert venue, which often features local talent. The show starts at 6 p.m. and is free.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, CultureComments (0)

The Bronx is burning…with rock ‘n’ roll

Fans line up outside of the First Lutheran Church in Throgs Neck. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Fans line up outside of the First Lutheran Church in Throgs Neck. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

At 6 p.m. on a Friday night, hundreds of teenagers and twenty-somethings lined up outside of the First Lutheran Church in the northeast Bronx. Flanked by quiet and residential Baisley Avenue and the busy Throgs Neck Expressway, the eager crowds waited patiently for the white wooden doors on the brick church to open so their Friday night could begin.

The lines weren’t for a church youth group or a retreat, but for a whole different kind of religious experience—a rock concert.

One girl saw Drew Torres, a local singer/songwriter unloading his guitar from the trunk of his car, grabbed her friend and said, “Oh my God! That’s Drew Torres!”

Music fans from all over the Bronx flock to the church, which they affectionately call the FLC, for some music, dancing and a place to see their friends—all 300 of them.

Three weekends a month, Bronx Underground, a grassroots, do-it-yourself music promotion group now in its tenth year, puts on low cost, alcohol-free shows for all ages to promote the burgeoning rock scene in the Bronx. Fans come from all over the Bronx as well as Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

“The music scene in the Bronx is vibrant and cutting edge, waiting for the moment where it can explode from the confines of this borough to influence music and new artists nationwide,” said Dave Rose, 31, one of Bronx Underground’s founders.

Drew Torres played a half hour set at the church on Oct. 8. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Drew Torres played a half hour set at the church on Oct. 8. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

In 2000, Rose, along with Anita Colby, 30, and Adam Fachler, 29, began Bronx Underground as a way to bring local music to Bronx residents. The fact that this movement has lasted 10 years “blows their minds,” Colby said, particularly when these shows are taking place in the same church basement where Rose did Boy Scouts and Colby attended nursery school.

“Adam, Anita and myself were all involved in bands, and had been for a few years,” Rose said. “We had gotten used to being mistreated by management of venues, getting screwed or denied stage time in Manhattan. It was a response to a horrible scene that existed for younger artists at the time.”

The shows also often excluded the younger crowds because most venues require show-goers to be 21 or older.

“We really wanted to bring this music to everyone,” Colby said. “There was a need for a positive place for kids to come hear music.”

So the three pooled their resources and started booking and promoting their own shows.  More than 150 people came to their first show in October 2000 in the City Island Community Center, as unlikely a setting as a Lutheran church. Rock fans were head banging under the City Island Nautical Museum.

On Oct. 8, Bronx Underground celebrated its 10th birthday at the First Lutheran Church with five hours of bands and solo artists in the church basement. An estimated 200 people paid the $9 cover to hear A Moment’s Worth, Frantic Ian, The Kezners, Turns to Fall, Drew Torres, How I Became a Pirate and What’s Your Problem Brian. Musicians watched other bands perform and mingled with the fans while waiting for their turn on stage and munching on birthday cake made by Bronx-based bakery Land of Cake Believe, a business created with the help of the Bronx Underground fan base.

“It’s been a great gathering place for everyone,” said Colby. “Everyone is friends and it’s a very racially diverse group. It’s split 50/50 between male and female. It’s just a way to connect with other people who like the same music you do.”

Fans waiting outside the church for the show to start evoked a more democratic version of the typical high school lunchroom scene. Girls wearing skirts and UGG boots were hugging and chatting with boys in baggy pants and comic book T-shirts. Leather met lace, nose piercings paired with hair bows and tattoos converged with perfectly manicured nails—an eclectic mix of people and styles.

Fans wore birthday hats to celebrate 10 years of Bronx Underground. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Fans wore birthday hats to celebrate 10 years of Bronx Underground. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

It’s this sense of belonging that keeps fans coming back for more.

“You can’t find shows like this anywhere else,” said Dayna Lugo, 16, of Throgs Neck, who has been coming to the shows for almost two years. “It’s a great place where everyone has the same interests. It’s safe.”  Bags are checked and metal detection devices are used at the entrance to every show.

Providing a safe haven is an essential part of Bronx Underground’s mission.

“We have given kids a comfortable safe place to be themselves, to be away from the pressures of school and family, to allow them to socialize on their own terms, all while promoting the sense that arts and music are important to support and actively participate in,” Rose said.

It’s also a grassroots movement. Bronx Underground promotes itself as “music by the kids, for the kids” and this really resonates with younger audiences.

“The whole scene coming out of the Bronx right now is revolving around the do-it-yourself ethic,” said John Blattner, 17, a self-described lifelong Bronx music fan. “It’s really this whole ‘screw the big labels’ mentality. What these artists are doing are recording music the way they want to, going to local studios, labels, and distributing the music online and locally.” Bands bring CDs to shows or upload their music to iTunes, MySpace or their own websites.

And it’s Blattner’s generation that the Bronx Underground hopes will keep this movement going. Rock, ska, punk and emo are taking the stage in the borough that practically invented modern rap, launching the careers of Big Punisher, Grandmaster Flash and Fat Joe, among others.

“Kids today can’t remember when there wasn’t a great music scene in the Bronx and to me that’s funny because we didn’t have that growing up,” said Colby, who grew up around Throgs Neck and plays saxophone in What’s Your Problem Brian. “It’s only going to flourish from here.”

Bronx Underground sticks to low-cost venues like the church because each show they put on pays for the next. Covers are typically $9 or $10. They have a paid staff of about 20 who work the shows part-time;  the rest of the take goes to sound engineers, the venue and the bands. The church has been their main venue for the last five years; before that, they also put on shows at The Point Community Center in Hunts Point and at Orchard Beach.

All three founders have day jobs. Colby is in market research, Fachler works in sales support in the music industry and Rose is a music teacher at Lehman High School.

Many of the part-timers say they signed up because it’s fun. James Beary, 24, has been supervising shows for Bronx Underground for three years and said it’s the best part-time job he’s ever had. “The scene here in the Bronx is something I never dreamed could happen,” said Breary, who was raised between Brooklyn and Harlem. “It’s like a family. It’s so full of life and I think the most important thing is that it keeps kids off the streets.”

It’s a rock scene that even parents seem to appreciate. Colby said that often when she’s out around town, parents stop her and thank her for giving their kids a safe place to be on a Friday night.

“There’s always going to be people who see groups of teenagers and freak out,” Colby said. “But generally the community is really supportive because they know it’s productive.”

Lugo said her parents let her come to the shows because of their reputation for being safe and well supervised. Each show has 10-15 staff members plus Colby, Rose and Fachler working the door and mingling within the crowds.

“They know it’s what I like and they know I won’t get into trouble,” Lugo said.

It’s this reputation and its popularity with the younger generation that has helped Bronx Underground triple in size over the past 10 years. It went from 150 people at monthly shows to over 300 people at shows three times a month. According to Colby, Bronx Underground has a list of bands waiting to be booked. In the beginning, they heard from  just a handful of bands looking for gigs;  now they’re getting hundreds of emails a month about bookings.

“The last 10 years of rock music in the Bronx has reached beyond anything that came before it,” Rose said. “The number of bands and the amount of support they receive from fans citywide is staggering and I can’t think of any other time where the scene was as strong as it is today.”

Bronx Underground didn’t introduce rock to the borough, but it did nurture the spirit inherited from Bronx rock legends like Paul Stanley of Kiss and Charlie Benante from Anthrax.

Fans danced and sang along while listening to Frantic Ian. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Fans danced and sang along while listening to Frantic Ian. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

“It feels kind of awkward to claim that we started the movement, because without the bands to build a scene around, there couldn’t have been a movement,” Rose said. “But I really do feel that without the Bronx Underground, the scene would have never moved out of the funk that it was in. I’d be happy with taking 50 percent of the credit. The people writing the music and investing in their art get the other 50 percent.”

Among the musicians, Bronx pride thrives. The bass player for The Kezners wore a T-shirt that said, “Bronx, only the strong survive” when they played on Oct. 8. Could that mean that the Bronx is becoming cool?

“The Bronx Underground is more of a family than a scene to kids like us,” Blattner said. “It tries to bring local artists into the spotlight as the Bronx doesn’t get much recognition in the whole NYC music scene.”

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, East Bronx, Southern BronxComments (0)