In a converted warehouse in East Oakland, a group of professional musicians shared an open loft space as they eked out their livings as hired guns for local and nationally touring acts. When they came home from their gigs playing with salsa bands, funk groups, cumbia conjuntos, jazz combos, and rock power trios, they formed a creative collective that brought all these elements and more to a simmer under the fire of the hyphy, norteño, and banda beats blasting from the trunks of lowriders cruising by their South Fruitvale industrial warehouse home. That band is the legendary Carne Cruda, who have teamed up with super-producer Greg Landau to create a visionary new album, named after the place that inspired them to fuse this eclectic creation from the bowels of that diverse city: “Oakland’s Tight.”
Once a happy-go-lucky party band coveted by dance party throwers for their uncanny ability to make every booty shake, Carne Cruda has matured with the experience of touring the world as the backup band for such diverse acts as Ms. Lauren Hill, Omar Sosa, Tito Puente Jr., John Santos, Quetzal, Susana Baca, Kepa Junkera, Rico Pabon, The Cuban Cowboys, Jesus Diaz, Dr. Loco, Alex Cuba; the list goes on and on. “I love the fact that everyone in the band plays with a million other bands,” declares guitarist and vocalist Camilo Landau. “That way everyone brings those various perspectives to the band’s creative process. Not to mention the level of musicianship is incredible.”
And the album is a testament to their musical skill. “Normally, once we get the basic tracks down we have to go back and replace just about everything,” points out four-time Grammy®-nominated producer Greg Landau about the recording process. “With Carne Cruda’s ‘Oakland’s Tight’ we recorded ten songs in one day, and all the parts stayed. That way we were able to really spend the time focusing on the mix, getting killer sounds, and inviting guest artists.”
Because of Carne Cruda’s status as well-respected professionals, they were able to call in all the hotshot guest artists they wanted. Cuban virtuoso free-jazz pianist Omar Sosa takes a hot Fender-Rhodes solo on the track “Chuleta,” a song about the deliciousness of fried pork-chops smothered in cheese, and Dandha da Hora from Brazilian funksters SambaDá sings the Johnny Cash classic “Ring of Fire,” with a Brazilian twist. Kevin Masaya Kmetz from prog-rock legends Estratashpere joins in with an inspired Japanese Shamisen solo over a ska-bachata tune called “Shark Attack!” and Marta Gonzales from East LA’s Chicano pioneers Quetzal chimes in on some coros with her distinctive vocal stylings.
The collaborations delved even deeper when Carne Cruda, at one of their annual Night After New Year’s Eve warehouse parties, invited Brazilian samba queen Dandara Backen to sit in with them onstage. “All of a sudden everyone’s attention was sucked to the front of the room,” recalls bassist Ayla Davila. “We thought we had a high-energy stage show, but Dandara takes it to a whole new level. She’s used to singing and dancing on a carnival float for 8 hours non-stop, so for her two or three hours is nothing.”
Dandara and Carne Cruda meshed together so well that they decided to embark on a series of collaborations. Dandara recorded two more songs for the “Oakland’s Tight” album, and Carne Cruda began learning classic Carnival repertoire for their new Brazilian project De Bahia a Bahia. “I’m from Salvador, Bahia, Brazil,” explains Dandara, described by the head of the Monteux Jazz Festival as the Brazilian Tina Turner, “and they are from the Bahia of San Francisco. So we decided to name the project after the two places, De Bahia a Bahia: from one bay to another.”
And everywhere that Carne Cruda goes, the crowds love them. The fourth of their epic European tours had them focusing on the former Yugoslavia, including Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, and Macedonia. “The craziest gig on that tour was Beerfest Belgrade. We found out that Serbians love beer and they love music,” recounts baritone saxophonist Charlie Gurke. “There were around 80,000 people at that show.”
Carne Cruda’s Post-Latin mix of music sets them somewhat apart from traditional Latin bands, but it’s a difference that their fans have learned to embrace. “I’m so excited that they’re playing here,” bubbles Meghann Welsh about their recent Carnival Brazil San Diego show. “They take all these different styles and mash them up, but it’s always still danceable.” That’s what Carne Cruda fans love. They’ve emerged from the mash-up with the rarely achieved balance of creating music that’s great to listen to and dance to.
Whether it’s traipsing across Europe on a musical adventure, backing up adventurous artists on the road, or delving into the very definition of Latin music and emerging with a fun yet thought provoking new album, Carne Cruda has blossomed into the house band for the Bay Area Post-Latin movement. “It’s clearly ska, it’s rock, it’s funk, soul, surf, all these things, but with a Latin pulse relentlessly pushing through,” quips Mathew Val Hall of Santa Cruz. “I could dance all night!” This kind of enthusiasm follows Carne Cruda around the world from Oakland to Macedonia as they push their Post-Latin concept on the people of the world.