San Antonio Band Volcán Gives A Voice To Latin CultureClick here to view original web page at tpr.org
At a glance, Volcán appears to be a band straight out of a Latin American country, maybe Venezuela or Cuba. So much so that many of the band members are often caught in a guessing game of what country they originate from, especially lead singer Jose Huizar. Which rich vocals and an impeccable Latin accent, Jose fills the room with his presence and takes you to another world, far from Texas.
This is exactly what the 13-member indie band wants the audience to feel with their music. Jaime Mejia, drummer and agent for Volcán, explains that along with this goal comes a bigger message, especially for those of Latino heritage. “We want people to feel that it’s ok to celebrate their culture, whether it be a Latino culture, or any other culture that is based on people moving into this great nation. There was a time in the United States where some of our parents were growing up and their parents were telling them to be as American as they can. For a while we were in a time where we could be who we are, [but now] it’s coming around to a time where it’s becoming a little more difficult.”
As I interview the members, I can see how Mejia’s words resonate with all of the members. His tone tells me that this is something him and the band are passionate about. "People are feeling a mix of embarrassment and shame to show their culture. For us it’s very important to be proud of our heritage and culture, and to know where we come from. I feel that that’s a really awesome way of connecting with your culture. We do our part on the music side to keep things going for a new generation of Latinos, and all music lovers alike.
Many of the band members are indeed from Latino backgrounds. However, some of them didn’t even know how to speak a bit of Spanish before joining the band. We have all the way from 5th generation here in the U.S., up to our bass player who was born and raised in Monterrey,” explains Mejia. Huizar adds, “There are some people that have essentially no connection to the culture, apart from being born in San Antonio, which is heavily Latin. Some of them are non-Hispanic members. They were all born and raised here so they have the cultural background, they have something that grounds them in it, but I think they joined because of the arrangements, of the instrumentations. It’s a very difficult and challenging style of music.”
In a time where DJ’s and electronic music are taking center stage, Volcán is going against the tide by choosing to play music that is not necessarily considered modern. “It’s kind of a departure from what most people are doing now. There’s a lot of what people consider Latin music is actually just pop music sung in Spanish, and not quite these cumbias, bachatas, salsas,” says Huizar. However, there’s something really lively and refreshing about listening to a full lineup of authentic-style music. RichYR, who handles auxiliary percussion for the band, explains that their music is a “dying art in some cases. You don’t really see full ensembles with horn and rhythm sections. In most cases you go to a club or an establishment, you’re going to see a DJ and one person singing, not really making a connection with the crowd. It’s refreshing to be a part of an ensemble that can organically make a connection with the people, rather than through just electronics.”
The desire to stick to the original Latin style of music is one of the driving forces behind Volcán . “Growing up, there wasn’t really anyone to look up to for these genres that weren’t in their late 40s or 30s or older, especially doing it live,” shares Mejia. At the high school I went to, there weren’t a lot of people listening to this music. Who could they say that they listen to that looks like them? That is doing it live at venues or on television that looks their age? There wasn’t anybody. You got the greats: anywhere from Mark Anthony to Shakira. These are people that they came in young into the industry, and have since then crossed over and they’re for an older generation. We’re wanting to give a voice to a younger face to Latin music.
The love for Volcán’s music has been reciprocated by all crowds, young and old alike. Mejia states that older folks hailing from countries such as Venezuela and Mexico have thanked Volcán for giving them a piece of their home culture in San Antonio. “It’s refreshing to the older generation knowing that it’s not going to die out with them. It’s refreshing to young people because it becomes something cool. I thought cumbia music was just what I hear at my aunt’s wedding, or what you hear at a Quinceañera. That’s the only place you really see it and get it, and we’re trying to bring it back to the forefront, at least in the San Antonio music scene. You’ll hear this in a club, right alongside an indie-rock band, thrash metal band, one of which we played with before and have gained fans from.” Volcán’s fans have ranged from pop music lovers to heavy metal fans.
The band’s successes have all derived from their mission to stick to an authentic style. “We put a lot of caution in not to be cliché, but also not to do things incorrectly. Music is very subjective; there is no incorrect way to play music. However, there are incorrect ways to play certain styles. So we want to be as true as we can to the original style. How it was done before the emergence of popular music.”