By Raymond R. Beltran
Fourteen year old Juan Gonzalez Gomez was pretty hyped listening to his alto saxophone solo through the ears of Mark Kamoo, a local music producer who runs Earthling Studio in El Cajon.
Gomez, who sat in the studio taking sound advice from Kamoo, was inducted into the underground ska scene a few months ago by the Sherman Heights Chicano roqueros Acteal, a group who’s been creating a repertoire of politically charged rock songs for the past five years and who’s now producing their long-awaited first album.
“When I first met [lead singer Esteban Cardoso] at a Chicano Perk Latin jazz session, he invited me to come play with the group, and now I’m here,” says a bright-eyed smiling Gomez, whose music background lies in school band and local cafes. “I thought it was just going to be a jam session. It’s pretty cool, you know, that I’m recording a c.d. and I’m only fourteen.”
He’s been playing since third grade and has performed with local sensation and Latin jazz trumpeter Bill Caballero. Although creatively satisfying, playing with Acteal is not what Gomez is used to, because while teachers at school have previously directed his performances, this group, who has already established a dedicated fan base, is compelling him to blossom as an individual musician for their first album.
“In here, it’s all on your shoulders,” he says.
But the prodigy doesn’t seem overwhelmed by the challenge yet. He kicks back with fellow saxophonist and Acteal member Frankie Martinez, picking out their duets, talking Miles Davis, and running back and forth from the saxes to the sound room.
“Oh hell yeah, we nailed the shit out of that,” laughs Martinez, clapping his hands. He’s been with the group from the beginning, played years worth of local venues and festivals, has seen musicians come and go, and is now recording to take the band one step further. “It feels good to finally be doing something,” he says.
Acteal is five years old and is comprised of a handful of early twenty-somethings: lead singer and guitarist Esteban Cardoso, bassist Rudy Covar-rubias, percussionist Octavio Villa, tenor saxophonist Frankie Martinez, and their new members, alto saxophonist Juan Gomez and seventeen year old trombonist Fabian Rangel.
The original four members have established a sound that dips into pockets of ska, reggae, and rock, all tied together with the essence of Chicano power lyrics and fully fledged with a brass section that screams the way electric guitars do. The shows they’ve performed, like the Adam’s Avenue Street Fair and Chicano Park Day, have drawn a hysterical mob of progressive Latino punk rock youth that attend shows loyally and usually make a swirling mosh pit where there used to be … well, not much.
To shed light on their state of mind, their name is in remembrance of the people who died in Acteal, a town in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas, where, in 1997, government-trained paramilitary troops gunned down 45 members of the local Mayan community, children included, during land disputes and third world living conditions.
Their lyrics walk a progressive line but their narrative ballads swing into diverse topics from love to their experiences with la migra.
“They’re definitely a little different than what I’m usually working with, like their horn sections,” says studio owner Mark Kamoo, who’s playing the part of ‘production advisor’ on this project. He’s worked with psychedelic bands like Silver Sunshine and punk rockers The Heartaches and says he can totally see Acteal’s music on Spanish radio. Though, crossing over into a 91X genre would be a challenge right now.
“They’re catching a wide range of sounds, stylistically, but in reality, even some of the most popular Spanish bands don’t cross over,” he says. “I’m just trying to get them a sound that will help them to carry on into that, and they keep it fun.”
The album, with the tentative titled “Creciendo Raíces en la Frontera”, is being released and sponsored by National City-based book publishers, Calaca Press.
“It’s been a little more intensive than what we’ve done so far,” says Calaca Press co-owner Brent Beltrán. “We’ve produced eight spoken word c.d.’s so we’re familiar with the recording process. Music though is a lot different … more time and more money. Since we’re pretty much a no budget operation, we got to do things as inexpensively as possible.”
He and his wife, Consuelo Manriquez, have created a name for themselves publishing progressive Chicano literature, poetry, short stories, and spoken word from artists like the Taco Shop Poets, Guillermo Gomez Pena and Raul R. Salinas.
Luckily, Earthling Studio and Calaca Press have a history together, because Acteal’s already spent the passed few months recording a wide range of instruments and Kamoo’s time spent mixing is not cheap. They still have a ways to go. Eight songs are said to have approached fruition, but Acteal is releasing with a strong fifteen song debut that is expected to be released March 2007. Their shows are testimony that it is already a product desired.
For fourteen year old Juan Gonzalez Gomez, he says his future career plans have already been altered, from scientist to professional musician.
Beltrán, who seems pleased with the new venture, says they’ll start with producing 2,000 copies and see if the project calls for more copies.
“We like the music. Flat out. They rock,” says Beltrán. “If we thought the music wasn’t any good we wouldn’t be putting this much time, energy and money into it. Plus, we knew they had a consciousness. Their music meant something, and it got their audiences to dance. All those ingredients make, what we think, is a great band.”