As part of Michigan Radio’s Songs from Studio East series we are exploring music that combines both contemporary and traditional music from around the world.
The West Michigan band “Cabildo" blends rock, folk, cumbia and ska.
Julio Cano is from the Patagonia region of Chile. He's the lead singer of the eight member collective and he a guitarist. Cano draws inspiration from Latin American roots music like the ubiquitous cumbia style dance rhythm.
"And this if funny because we grew up listening to cumbia, but we hated it," says Cano. "We hated boleros, we hated cumbias. And this is not only us, so people within our age that grew up on rock en español, started playing 2-4, like rock rhythms, but eventually we grew up, we became old and our perspective of things changed and we started looking back into our culture and realized those songs weren’t that stupid (laughs)."
Another member of the band is also named Julio. And just like his band mate Julio Viveros wanted to get away from the traditional music of where he grew up. The self-proclaimed “metal head” is from Veracruz, Mexico.
“Like in my town, I grew up with jarocho music,” says Viveros.
Think La Bamba.
"Everybody there is a musician, that’s their life that’s what they do for a living," he said. "And because I grew up with it, I did not appreciate it as much. Now that I’m here and grown up, I miss that."
Viveros sings backup vocals and plays the electric guitar in Cabildo. When he and Julio Cano met in Grand Rapids several years back they quickly bonded over music and their nostalgia for home.
Cano tells me he’s a big fan of Chilean composer Violeta Parra. She’s a pioneer of what’s known as "Chilean New Song.” It was a renewal and a reinvention of Chilean folk music.
“Violeta Parra is a great mother of the movement. And it had to do with going back to the roots of folk music. To rescue them she used to go to the country side and collect songs and then bring them back to the city and reinterpreting them in a new different way.”
Cano is reinterpreting traditional Latin music in his own way with lyrics that touch on very personal stories. Take the song Introspección. Cano sings about losing his identity, yearning for his homeland and being torn apart by grief.
"It talks about a life crisis," he says. "And I wanted to reflect that into a song. So it has like two different moments like fast and chaotic, and in the song I’m describing that I’m losing parts of my body."
But then, half way through the ska heavy rhythm, the song slows down to a soft ballad.
"In the middle of the song it has like a little lullaby," Cano says. "And talks about a tree and talks about going back to, in this case the tree means home, right…My grandpa, when we were kids made me plant a tree. And to me that’s a symbol of going back home, so I was trying to find the strength to keep going on."
Both Cano and Viveros are close to their friends and family. But not all has been easy going for Viveros. In his song, Sin Fronteras, meaning “without borders” Viveros details his frustration with the immigration system.
He wrote the song after spending 38 days in immigration detention.
"You are treated like a criminal," says Viveros.
"You’re shackled. You’re hands. You’re feet. You can barely walk," he says. "And you have people barking at you all day. You know. I mean. I learned the language so I didn’t have the problems that other people that were new in the county and they were getting arrested. And then, they would have people screaming at them and because they wouldn’t understand it would be taken as if they were not obeying or following rules. And you would see that every day just people getting screamed right in the faces."
That was two years ago.
Viveros was detained for being in the country illegally, although at the time he was in the process of obtaining legal status. Ultimately, Viveros was able to get a work visa. His court date to determine whether he can get permanent residency is set for 2019.
Band mate and friend Julio Cano was by his Viveros’ side throughout the whole ordeal. Cano tells Viveros it was a scary time. No one knew what was happening to their friend while he was in detention - or whether they'd get to see him again.
"I mean I feel like super emotional when I sing your song, right," says Cano. "Because I was the guy outside, no, and I was your friend feeling the anxiety of what’s going to happen to my best friend here in the U.S. And talking to your wife, and talking to our friends, and then getting letters signed you know, to tell everybody what a great guy you are. You know going through that process, I feel the anxiety of being your friend and being detained, but I just can’t even imagine you being inside. And suffering what you described in your song. You were being mistreated, your dignity as a human being was not being respected at that time. I mean I love that song so much because I felt like I was part of it."
For now, Viveros is focused on the present. But the future is still uncertain.
"My hope for the future is that I get permanent residency so I can visit my family back in Mexico," he says. "And my parents get to see their grand kids and my kids get to see how I grew up."
Both Viveros and Cano have grown to appreciate their musical heritage. And their mostly English-speaking fans have embraced it too.
Songs from Studio East is supported in part by the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.