A small line of guests formed early at the El Rey Theatre on Saturday night, January 30, waiting to enter the halls of the 1930’s art deco-stylized theater house where the local, South Central band Buyepongo held its record release party. With acts like Changui Majadero and Dexter Story warming up the crowd, Buyepongo’s performance became legendary. The spacious, historic music venue that once served as a cinema house for over 50 years since opening its doors in 1936 was adorned with dimmly-lit, blood-red, velvet walls and carpeting accompanied with two full bars and a small catering service offering fresh hot tacos and tamales to visiting guests. A separate table was reserved for Changui Majadero’s merchandising crew who displayed custom-made shirts, CDs, and other collectibles for any potential buyer who wanted to commemorate the evening. Guest DJ Jeremy Sole was prepping his records for the evening testing his equipment to make sure everything would go off without a hitch while Cut Chemist was also setting up. As more guests arrived and the usual small talk was exchanged between them, a small group of spectators gathered by the center dance floor eagerly awaiting the rise of the Victorian curtain tapestry revealing the first opening act.
Enter the Hype-man, the MC for the evening, Maz Deep. Decked out in an African-inspired red, yellow, and green-colored shirt, wearing a full beard and navy-blue turban while sporting his trusty microphone, the energetic host swaggered on stage calling everyone to attention. Building on everyone’s anticipation and excitement, our host had easily prepped the crowd for the evening’s star-studded show. The audience responded favorably cheering the young MC on as he kept building the crowd up. The more he interacted with the guests, the more excited everyone became. The room quickly filled reaching its capacity of which, from the Hype-man’s perspective, must have resembled an ocean of bodies waving their drinks in the air chanting Buyepongo until the curtain rises to reveal the first act.
Changui Majadero opened the show playing their infectious tropical beats drawing the crowd closer to the dance floor. Led by Son Mayor’s lead vocalist, Norrell, Changui Majadero kept the audience dancing shaking their hips while grooving to the Cuban Changui rhythm of the congas, the guayo and maracas, bongo and guitar riffs that graced the stage for the pleasure of the audience’s delight. After a couple sets and a few calories burnt, the band cheered on the crowd to keep supporting Buyepongo and to make some noise for the rest of the Mid-Wilshire district to take notice.
Once the crowd was pleasantly warmed up and some danced to a few songs that DJ Jeremy Sole had mixed together, the next act, Dexter Story, came onstage. Nothing but brass instruments from trumpets to saxophones lined up the stage. Accompanied by the rest of the band, Dexter Story began playing African-themed jazz rhythms mixing some pure funk and soul setting the right mood for the evening. The audience swayed back and forth to the soothing melodies absorbing the culturally-rich tunes whose African musical influences ranged from Ethiopia to the Sudan and Somalia to Kenya. Each song brought the soul and funk out of each attending the event moving guests to keep the energy going. Eventually the MC, Cut Chemist, and Dexter Story started a jam session right on stage riffing and interacting with the audience. Even Changui Majadero’s guitarist Gabriel Garcia joined in the act. It was a true spectacle to witness despite the fact that the evening had not yet reached its conclusion. Buyepongo had not yet appeared! The audience (though) was ready to give up all their pent-up energy that kept building throughout the night to the band who had brought all of these talented musicians under a single roof.
As Buyepongo made their way to the stage, the crowd went ballistic cheering and chanting the band’s name. Women by the stage looked up in starry adoration as the first songs started playing. A couple women in fact began flirting with the bassist half way through their set smiling and screaming for a bit of attention. The energy was up and the Latin American beats were contagious. Drawing mainly from Central and South American roots, the music which has characterized the band’s unique sound fuses the traditional rhythms of Colombia, Haiti, Belize, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic with the modern, underground sound of LA’s hip hop scene including classical jazz, reggae and funk into their cumbias, merengue, and punta music. Originally from Norwalk, the band began experimenting with new sounds to see where they could take their music. Often times, they would travel to Guatemala and Belize for inspiration and to make sure they were keeping true to the ¨roots¨ music that have kept them playing since they formed their band back in 2005. Since then, they have been growing slowly building a following which has now brought them to the El Rey where the fruit of so much hard work has finally begun to flourish. Their first full-length album, Todo Mundo, will highlight the best of what they have strived to realize for so long. If the evening’s show was any indication, Buyepongo will definitely reach astronomical heights.
Not a single soul at the venue stopped dancing. Every song demanded all to hit the dance floor and groove with the band. One young guest, for instance, couldn’t contain himself and started dancing with everyone around him. At one point, he asked the lead singer, Edgar Modesto, if he could dance for the band on stage. Security had to be extra vigilant because the excitement and pandemonium was reaching such a climax. However, this type of reaction is common for the band that had shut down 5th and Spring St back in 2011 with a dance party during the LA’s Art Walk that summer. Buyepongo inspired excitement and fun. There wasn’t a moment to sit down and chill with a slow melody. Instead, it was an all-night party. Correction. It felt bigger than a simple party; it was more of a rave, a musical event that left one with a euphoric glee hoping to keep the music going straight into dawn. They in fact were able to capture the Latin American party sensibility wherein celebrations could last up to 2-3 days straight.
Buyepongo’s appeal is in its ability to combine its signature drum and guacharaca beats to the sounds of cumbia, merengue, and punta giving the music an added infusion of tropical adrenaline and upbeat grooves providing listeners with a fresh take on the Latin American genres while adding the energy and joyful audience participation. For a band who came out of obscurity to filling music halls, underground raves, and the streets of Downtown LA while stopping traffic in the process, Buyepongo has demonstrated endurance and longevity in an industry where few bands can last a couple of years before fading out of the scene. The evening’s record release party proved that Buyepongo is here to stay and ready to bring the next rave to your neighborhood. So, get ready to respond when Buyepongo’s lead vocalist calls you out and screams,¨BUYE!!!!!….¨