Photo by Piero F. Giunti
Buyepongo, originally founded in 2008 as a folkloric cumbia band, is a Los Angeles-based quintet that makes contemporary pan-Latin music in the style they intriguingly call “buyangú” — an eclectic but cohesive mezcla of global beats and spicy flavors influenced by their California home base as well as the band members’ travels to Central and South America. Appropriately, Buyepongo loosely defined means to ‘cause a ruckus’ and this merry band of musical noisemakers does exactly that, deploying a bewildering array of riff-heavy sounds and expertly blended influences that work equally well in intimate or modest settings as they do in front of large festival audiences or at cultural and municipal institutions.
Crucial to Buyepongo's story is a trip that founding member Edgar “Meshlee” Modesto made to Central America after the outfit temporarily shut down in 2010. Meshlee is one of the group’s vocalists and is also a prodigious percussionist who plays a special setup on stage that is derived from cumbia drumming, being an ingenious configuration of skins and metal that includes a conga and the raspy guacharaca scraper. While on his sojourn in Central America Meshlee found some heavy inspiration in the Garifuna culture. Garifuna people are of indigenous and African descent and first lived as shipwrecked formerly enslaved people on St. Vincent before settling in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. They have their own language, music and cuisine, and are a unique and beautiful ethnic group that is often marginalized but who never fail to make a positive impression on those lucky enough to experience firsthand their inspiring culture. Meshlee gained many musical insights on this musical adventure among the Garifuna, and it proved to be a formative experience that prompted the newly-reformed Buyepongo to devise its own style of music informed by punta and other Garifuna and Caribbean genres while retaining the complex mix of sounds found in their Los Angeles home. The musical backgrounds of the new band lineup ran the gamut from punk to hip-hop to jazz to metal, making the revitalized Buyepongo an outfit with a truly diverse pedigree staffed by multi-talented musicians with eclectic tastes and varied individual skill sets that each could bring to the table.
Meshlee and his guacharaca
The band’s debut album, 2016’s Todo Mundo, was the outcome of this musical voyage of discovery and reformation, solidifying their sound and providing a rich palette for their new-found audience to enjoy. Taking a little from jazz structure and hip-hop attitude, the album builds its own sort of pan-Latin funk, weaving rhythmic patterns and guitar/sax riffs that make your feet want to dance while your mind floats in a warm tropical cloud of contentment. There’s definitely a laid back, almost psychedelic vibe to the proceedings, conjuring up a sort of Caribbean reverie that has turned out to be a hit with critics and helped the band’s fan base expand well beyond their own community in LA. At Peace & Rhythm we’ve been following Buyepongo since the start, when they were doing Andrés Landero-inspired acoustic cumbia with accordion back in the days when Chicano Batman’s front man Bardo Martínez was in the band. Through all the changes and releases, the Peace & Rhythm crew has maintained their fandom, being lucky enough to hang with the band a few years back when they came to New York, where they were an instant hit.
Over the years the group’s line-up has been fluid, but always at the center of the buyangú hurricane are the formidable Meshlee on drums/percussion and his bassist brother Randy Modesto keeping the low-end theory tight. Crucial too to this drum and bass duo is guitarist extraordinaire Jorge “Yuka” Valleo (oh, and he also plays accordion and clarinet!). Yuka is one of the primary songwriters in the outfit, and sings on a number of the band’s tunes, while Edgar Robles plays second guitar. Interestingly, the band is currently augmented by two members of QUITAPENAS: Eddie Valencia on drums and percussion and Héctor “Toto” Chávez on sax (taking the place of Ángel Fernández). The two bands are “siblings” in a way and have done plenty of stage sharing and touring together.
The band is part of a larger pool of young Latin underground artists from the area that have common immigrant backgrounds and are all up on the musical roots of their parents’ generation but are busy doing their own thing, innovating and moving forward into uncharted territory while remaining acutely aware of where they’re from. Meshlee says that LA has been integral to Buyepongo’s music and their goal as a band is always to be socially committed, building bridges between communities, something that has happened for them both at home and abroad on cultural exchange programs. The idea of bridging communities goes beyond the music, extending to projects and activities band members have taken on over the years. Meshlee has been a part of community-centric groups like Radio Sombra and the Merkado Negro Collective, while Yuka has played a number of socially-minded events, as well as working as a volunteer music teacher. Additionally, Buyepongo as a band has been involved with the Schools Not Prisons music and art tour. Meshlee says Buyepongo wants to “give our folks a proper dance floor, a proper place where they can come and be themselves, where there are no borders, there's no race, there's no age, it’s intergenerational, gender-neutral, everything like that.”He adds, “We view our communities as our families, our inner circle, which is our neighborhood and Los Angeles and the community of the world” as well, the whole world from the band to the fam, the barrio to the city to the globe, “Todo Mundo” as their debut so aptly puts it.
And now Peace & Rhythm is proud to say we’ve been included in that community. We were contacted last year (2020) by Eddie Valencia on behalf of Buyepongo and QUITAPENAS and were given a proposal we could not refuse: two incredible tracks to release on a split 45. What’s not to love about that, the best of both worlds! See our news post about the release for specific details.