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Patabamba: A Musical 'Just Say No' to Xenophobia

by John Schacht

July 10, 2016

Photo: The cover of Patabamba's debut record, artwork and design by Bryan Olson.

In a humid garage in East Charlotte, beneath a slowly oscillating ceiling fan and amidst a bird's nest of electric guitar and keyboard cables, the Latin-flavored indie rock quartet Patabamba is rehearsing a song from their new eponymous debut.

Co-written in Spanish by guitarist Patrick O'Boyle and siblings Claudio (bass/percussion) and Liza Ortiz (keys), "La Mano" is a haunting lament inspired by refugee crises across the globe—Syrians and Iraqis forced by war onto deadly seas and across hostile nations; hard-working Mexican-American families torn apart by antiquated immigration laws; Central American children fleeing poverty and violence only to be robbed or raped and then sent back.

"They're hated for leaving and then they're hated" where they arrive, says Liza, 27, summing up the migrant's cultural limbo.

"La Mano" may be one of the band's less dance-oriented numbers, but it's suffused with the same urgency and energy that's found Patabamba a growing and varied audience in just their first year. The band will celebrate its birthday with a residency at Snug Harbor on three Wednesdays through July (13, 20 and 27) featuring multi-band bills and various other arts-related performances (for a detailed schedule, click here).

With its up-tempo blend of Afro-Caribbean and Latino rhythms, chicha-inspired guitar lines, and contagious Korg and Farfisa accents, the band has touched a nerve with a cross-section of Charlotte music lovers. Particularly beginning with the Latin Night they hosted in January at Snug Harbor, they've transcended a line previously demarcating Latino music fans from indie rock audiences.

"At some point we came to this sweet spot in Charlotte music history where everyone is just really excited and Drummer Davey Blackburn; keyboardist Liza Ortiz (second row:Patrick O'boyle, guitar, and Claudio Ortiz (bass, percussion)completely open to anything other than what's already been happening," says Claudio, 29.  "We had absolutely no idea that people were going to react with such openness and energy."

In the process of winning over local fans, and without initially intending to do so, they've come to represent something fundamentally transformative through their musical multiculturalism.

"Patabamba was started out of an idea of 'let's experiment and make art and have fun,'" says O'Boyle, 31, who vowed to form a huayno band after being exposed to the Andean folk music on a 2010 backpacking trip to Peru. "But we can't help but think about what's going on—all the intolerance and the crazy reactionary pushback against multiculturalism that we're seeing. We've tried to have that at the forefront of our minds."

O'Boyle says it's Patabamba's intention to write more often in the "long tradition" of Latin American protest songs, but current events make their musical hybrid a de facto protest statement. As the world globalizes and diversifies, reactionary forces have tapped into primitive fears of tribal annihilation, racial dilution and cultural holocaust. We saw it in June's Brexit vote and the rise of nationalist parties across Europe; on the home-front we hear it in the bellicose xenophobia of the presumptive GOP candidate.

As divisive and dangerous as these trends are, it helps to remember that they are likely the desperate spasms of dying ideologies. Aligned against them are the forces of history manifest in a border-erasing digital revolution, and meaningful integration that celebrates diverse cultures—most often and effectively through art's gateway drug, music.

But then that's been music's legacy, especially as the world's gotten smaller, and Patabamba is that legacy writ live. O'Boyle and Claudio met at a local show and were soon bonding over recordings of chicha music, itself a 70s Peruvian hybrid of Andean folk, Afro-Caribbean percussion, Columbian cumbia beats and psychedelic/surf rock 'n' roll guitar. Claudio soon brought into the mix his sister, who'd played in local indie rock bands, adding elements of their mixed Venezuelan and Puerto Rican heritage; the fourth full-time member, veteran Charlotte drummer Davey Blackburn (Calabi Yau, Moenda) was the last to join and brought along his immersion in the rich percussion tradition of Brazilian capoeira.

"That was the bulb that came on, of what I want our intention to be, musically," O'Boyle says of Patabamba's unspoken mission statement. "What we're trying to do is bring different people together, to have different people identify with our music, no matter if you're Latino or if you're from here—whatever culture you're from. And I think that's what we're accomplishing."

Charlotte Viewpoint asked the members of Patabamba to recommend an artist or album that played a significant role in helping craft the band's sound. Their email responses follow.

Patrick O'Boyle

The first time I heard huayno I was backpacking through Peru in 2010. It was just one song that mystified me and stuck around in my head for a year and half, until finally, back home, I ordered a copy of Huayno Music of Perú Vol. 1, the fantastic 1989 compilation by Arhoolie Records. I spent a lot of time with this album, bought several more, and started to think about an indie-folk project that drew from Andean music the way Beirut drew from the Balkans.

There’s a variety of genres on here, reflecting some of the many regional styles in a country as vast and segmented as Peru. The emotional content ranges broadly. You have the yaravís: mournful, baroque laments with titles like “Mis Quejas” (My Complaints). The lyrics are bitingly ironic and existential in their resignation to life’s pointless suffering. The guitarist Manuel Silva, one of my favorite troubadours in this tradition, has two songs on Vol. 1. The most far-out moments are the santiagos: rapturous indigenous songs associated with an annual bull castration ceremony. A hypnotic pulse repeats one major chord while a lead melody ascends a scale in a cascading and unpredictable pattern. It’s ecstatic and trance-like and draws strong comparisons with Native American music.

The title Huayno Music of Perú refers broadly in this context to several different Andean styles, but huayno itself is a specific type of song. Two beautiful examples are “Quisiera Olvidarte” and “Neblina Blanca” by a huayno diva, if you will—Pastorita Huaracina. Learning to cover these two songs on my guitar was one of the early steps on the journey to Patabamba. Huaynos are festive, string-based songs that follow a signature progression that I can’t help but associate with the high lonesome sound of Appalachia. Unlike the yaravi, the sadness of the huayno is more hopeful and life-affirming. It always concludes with a corrido, where the tempo picks up, the melody evens out, and the singer dismisses the song’s melancholic content with a final joke or a lighthearted refrain.

A few years and a million miles later, the vague dream of starting a huayno band eventually transformed into a fusion band that relied on chicha (huayno+cumbia+psychedelic rock). For that revelation I have the Roots of Chicha compilations and Chicha Libre to thank, as well as the brainstorming help of Claudio Ortiz. But huayno is still very much a source of inspiration, and I think any lover of folk music (Spanish-speaking or not) could benefit from giving it a listen.

Claudio Ortiz

It’s impossible for me to pick just one album that accurately summarizes all of the influences I draw from for Patabamba so I’m going to cop out and talk about a show I saw that had a really big effect on me.

In January, 2015, a couple months before Patabamba formed, I was randomly invited to help with set-prep for Helado Negro at the Neighborhood Theatre. I had an opportunity to talk to him about his music and tell him why I was excited to see an act that didn’t fall under the standard Latino genres usually found in Charlotte. I’d recently spent a lot of time listening to all the indie/experimental Latino music I could get my hands on and I’d been looking forward to his show.

Helado Negro’s performance and our conversations really struck a chord in me that night and left me kind of restless. After five years of not playing music, I was starting to warm up to the idea again. I especially wanted to draw from my Latino influences but wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do that or in what direction I was going. A few months later, I ran into Patrick after not seeing him for a really long time, and one of the first things he mentioned was wanting to play Latin-inspired music. I kind of took it as a cosmic sign and was instantly ready to go for it.

Liza Oritz

It is hard to narrow down my influence for Patabamba to one artist or album, but if I have to narrow my influences in Patabamba down to one, it would be En Son De Paz by Frikstailers. Frikstailers are part of the ZZK record label, a group of artists and producers who pride themselves in combining traditional Latin music with new electronic sounds. Frikstailers speak to me because of their high energy and limitless Latin rhythmic influence. With this album you get a blend of reggeton, hip-hop, Spanish rock, Andean, and electronic sounds. This type of exploration of past and present is exactly what I envision for Patabamba.

I can't say that it was my original intention when I joined, because when the band first started I just showed up to jam. But I feel that it is a quality that just naturally occurred once we started getting comfortable and grooving together. This juxtaposition of generations and sound is so appealing to me because it exemplifies musically how I feel being the daughter of first-generation Latino immigrants. My brother and I grew up listening to salsa, merengue, cumbia and other Caribbean music that makes you feel this automatic connection to your roots. But it comes with this odd feeling like you're in the motherland when you are at home, and then stepping outside and realizing you are growing up in a completely different country with a completely different culture. As weird as it might feel sometimes, it has been an awesome experience for me to be part of such a beautiful blend. I hope that as the band continues to grow and bond, we can create the same mixed atmosphere with our music.


Davey Blackburn

My immersion into capoeira music especially has given me insight into where my playing has evolved and influenced Patabamba. The music from Fania Records has made me think of how similar Patabamba is to many of those original groups who were creating something new in the world by exploring traditional rhythms and melodies from where they have come. This oneness of musicality from a mixed pot makes us today just as they were then. Music and life experiences lead you to this moment and to the person you are. There are constants that will always be there and always evoke a feeling and thus take you where you want to be swept off to. Sade has always been that constant for me, an influence in life and influence in my musical endeavors that I always come back to no matter what band or project I have pursued. These three influences have cultivated rhythms that traverse and reverberate and carry with them their lineage. I hope to do the same: carry with me a lineage of music that I have created. These three influences, I feel, come true every time I play. Sometimes it's not so apparent, sometimes just enough to notice, but there always.

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Tags: Fania Records, refugees, Snug Harbor, indie rock, Afro-Caribbean, Latino, Huayno, chicha, Helado Negro, Frikstailers

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