When you think of indie music in Vancouver, you probably conjure up images of with acoustic guitars, or, if you’re , . But Vancouver’s indie scene boasts , one of which is Somos Collective, as sultry a slice of live Latin American music as you can find north of Mexico. I caught up with pianist and singer Cary Garcia to chat about the band’s origins, upcoming shows, and playing Latin music in Canada.
[Please note, the following transcript has been edited for brevity. For an audio recording of the whole interview, see the bottom of this post.]
Lewis Kelly : What does “somos” mean?
Cary Garcia: “Somos” in Spanish means “we are,” basically. So, in a way, it was very hard to find a name. Finding a name is really, really difficult. So after just going through a bunch of different options we thought that “somos” — we like to do things democratically and make our own decisions together, and we are very good friends beyond the musical part.
LK: How did the band get started?
CG: It was started because Miguel [Benavides, the Collective’s drummer] and I used to work together in another band, La Candela …. We were playing together and touring together and we became very close friends. I had to leave La Candela, and when I left La Candela, because we wanted to continue to work together, we collaborated.
Miguel and William [Benevides, who plays guitar and sings for the band] are brothers, and we had actually worked together as well before, and we really liked the sound. William plays the guitar and sings. Miguel is the drummer, and I play the piano. We actually never thought that that instrumentation could work really well, because the piano and the guitar have similar functions. But, when we played together, surprisingly, it sounded really, really nice. It sounded much fuller.
LK: I associate Latin music with Latin America – which, obviously, Vancouver is not part of. So, how has being based in Canada or Vancouver changed the way you guys make this kind of tropical music?
CG : For me, especially, it’s been a very interesting experience because in Cuba I used to play mostly classical music. I loved jazz and I loved North American rock and that kind of stuff a lot. And I also loved different genres of Latin American music, like samba, bossa nova, tango, that kind of stuff.
I lived in Cuba, and Cuban popular music was always around – in the radio, in the car. And things are open there, so it’s open air, so neighbours have their windows open and you can always hear the music. So even when you don’t want to listen to the popular music that’s happening at the time, you are forced to. There’s no escape from it; you have to listen.
When I arrived [in Canada] … playing Cuban music was really important for me, because it was part of still being connected to where I came from, and it was part of, for me, making a new identity that was really not necessary when I was in Cuba.
LK: You guys sing in Spanish, mostly. But presumably, most of your audience, if not all of your audience, doesn’t speak much Spanish, if any. How does that feel, to perform for an audience that might not understand what you’re singing?
CG: We do have a bit of a Latin American audience, so I would say, from the crowds I’ve seen, it’s almost sometimes half-and-half. If we’re gonna play at thejazz festival , of course it’s going to be, mostly, um …
LK: White people.
CG: Yeah, but at our gigs … we have almost as many Spanish-speaking people as English. But I don’t know, it’s music for dancing, it’s music for having fun, mostly. So, I would say that if you don’t understand Spanish, but you feel the music, then you can still enjoy yourself quite a bit.
It’s not that the lyrics are not important – of course they are. But, for example, even before I knew English, I loved North American music, I loved rock. I really enjoyed it, and I had no clue what they were saying. So there is something, I think, about the music that really reaches and goes beyond the lyrics.
LK: There are a lot of options for night life in Vancouver. Why should the average person on the street go and see Somos Collective instead of going dancing or going to a show at the or something like that?
CG: The reason you should come hear us is that it’s fun and it’s actually – a lot of Latin bands who play in town, most of them play mostly Cuban music, and it’s kind of stale Cuban music, more New York kind of style. Somos Collective takes a little bit from that, but it’s not the usual kind of Latin band that you would hear in Vancouver …. So that’s one of the great things about the band, is that it incorporates a lot of things from Latin America, so we are not just playing Cuban music, which is what most people know — “oh yeah, Cuban music, oh yeah, salsa.” It’s beyond that, but it’s still fun, it’s still really fresh and energetic.
And it doesn’t matter if you know how to dance or not. That’s another thing people are always worried about. You just go, and you can dance – it’s a very relaxed atmosphere; different from what you would get in other environments.
LK: What’s in the future for the band?
CG: Keep growing. We want to play as many festivals as we can, so having gotten in to the Vancouver International Jazz Festival is huge, because it’s one of the biggest festivals in Canada besides and Toronto.
You can see Somos Collective live at the Backstage Lounge on Granville Island on Friday, March 26th, or later this summer at the . Head to the band’s website or to hear some of their music.
To download an MP3 of the whole interview, click here (17MB, roughly 18 minutes).