Los MocososLos Mocosos are a San Francisco barrio rock band in the great tradition of War, Santana and Malo. And like those earlier bands, Los Mocosos are now breaking out of the inner city and, apparently, intending to take over the world - one garage at a time. "Santana, Malo, War, those were all barrio bands," says Happy Sanchez. "They would get together in the garage and play." "It's definitely got that feel," adds Gabriel Sandino, the band's guitarist. Los Mocosos are a San Francisco barrio rock band in the great tradition of War, Santana and Malo. And like those earlier bands, Los Mocosos are now breaking out of the inner city and, apparently, intending to take over the world - one garage at a time.
"Santana, Malo, War, those were all barrio bands," says Happy Sanchez. "They would get together in the garage and play." "It's definitely got that feel," adds Gabriel Sandino, the band's guitarist. "I remember walking through the neighborhood hearing George Clinton and War, and early Santana, and salsa, all pounding out of people's garages from house parties. Los Mocosos is part of that vibe."
The band's name says a lot about them. "We like to translate it as The Little Latin Rascals," Happy explains. "Like a bunch of mischievous kids, creating havoc." It fits, since this is a band that came about almost by accident, the result of a bit of studio mischief. "I was producing a compilation and there was enough room left on the disc for me to sneak in a track. So I wrote a song in the studio that day and got some of my friends from the neighborhood to put it together. We needed a spontaneous, absurd name for this band that didn't really exist." But when that song got picked up for local radio play, Happy began getting calls asking about the band. And suddenly, Los Mocosos existed. "I was one of the guys Happy called in to come play on the first track," Steve Carter adds. "Next thing I knew, I was out playing gigs. Now to my surprise, here I am two years later."
Shades of Brown is the band's second album, and from the opening bell, they let you know what's hit you. "Llegaron Los Mocosos," the first track, essentially comes right out and says, 'We've shown up to party.' Latin, funk, even a touch of Jamaican ska, all blend together in a musical melting pot of sweaty horns, stinging guitar, and a rock solid rhythm section. "We used to tell people Los Mocosos was like Tower of Power meets Tito Puente," Happy says. He could just as easily have added names like the Fania All-Stars and Earth Wind & Fire to that mix, too. The new record, for example, includes a tribute to the late Tito Puente, which convincingly mixes slow salsa with funky horn breaks.
The music on Shades of Brown reflects the reality of the barrio. "We wanted to say that we're all in the same boat," is how Happy explains it. "That's what a barrio is all about. It's not about being Latino. Our barrio includes Irish, Asian immigrants, dotcom kids… It's not a ghetto, it's more like a fertile garden, a place for people who are just starting off." Shorty Ramos, the band's Hawaiian-born, Harley-riding, Italo-Puerto Rican tattoo artist and sax player, hears the sounds of the barrio in the album's title track. "It makes me feel good," he says. "It makes people feel good. We represent our people but it's not a race thing - we have all different nationalities in the group. We're just proud to be what we are."
The band moves between musical styles so effortlessly because, as singer Manny Martinez notes, that mix of influences actually defines who they are. "The core of the band is Latino, and there's a lot of that in us, but we were brought up here in the States with rock and funk and other stuff. We just put everything we know musically into this one thing." Martinez even put a bit of himself into the band's cover of the old War favorite, "Spill The Wine," changing Eric Burdon's original line about being a long-haired hippie to "a dark-skinned bald-headed Puerto Rican from New York." Because, he laughs, "I am a black bald-headed Puerto Rican from New York."
"Spill The Wine" is the album's only cover. (The first Los Mocosos album had a typically diverse group of them, including the theme from the James Bond movie Thunderball, and "The Lonely Bull" by Herb Alpert.) The rest of Shades of Brown shows off the band's own songwriting abilities, which are considerable. The title track and the song "Mi Barrio Loco" offer good-natured but pointed observations about prejudice and gentrification, delivered with music catchy enough to appeal to unrepentant fans of 1970s classic rock and funk as well as a younger generation raised on rap and urban pop. "We had a lot of fun making the record," Happy acknowledges. "I mean, that name keeps you from getting too serious. But we do have things to say. We don't want it to be preachy; we're just talking about stuff in the neighborhood."
The gloves do come off on one track, though. "The Border" is hardcore hip-hop, with the versatile Martinez rapping angrily about the unsolved murders of Latina women in Nogales, right on the US-Mexican border. He presents a completely different front on the song "En el Amor," a lyrical, downtempo ballad sung in Spanglish. "We were trying to get the Buena Vista/Cuban vibe on that one," Happy says.
Shades of Brown is the group's first record for Six Degrees. "We spoke to a couple of labels, including some bigger ones," Happy recalls. "We wanted someone who was open-minded, but who also had it together. And then they're right in our backyard - their offices are literally in the neighborhood."
"We have as much energy as any rock band," says trombonist Victor Castro. Latin music and R&B are as popular as ever, and "Los Mocosos lets us put both together." The resulting combination is hard to resist. "And of course it's about having fun too," adds Manny Martinez. "When you can actually do what's in your heart and not just what people want you to do, it's a lot more fun."