A Strong And Hot Wave From The South
Fuerte y Caliente
(Union De Musicos Independientes, 2008)
A good friend of mine from the other side of the world wrote me a story about his youth experience traveling to a neighboring country where he and his friends gathered surrounding a bonfire with the locals at a foreign unnamed beach, drinking booze, laughing, and singing their heart out into the starry night. In the mail, my friend also attached a song that meant to be the perfect imaginary example of the song they were singing and that would be the first time I heard the song “Mambeado” by Onda Vaga. Boy, he was right, it was the perfect ‘soundtrack’. It brought me swiftly to a trip down memory lane of summer breeze on a beach, cold beers, perfect strangers, and ultimately, joie de vivre. If you don’t believe in love at first sight, you should believe that there was love at first listen.
Onda Vaga, meaning ‘Vagabond Style’ is an Argentinian band that was formed in 2007 at the village of Cabo Polonio, Uruguay where Nacho Rodríguez, Marcelo Blanco, Marcos Orellana, and Tomás Justo would play acoustic gigs with their own songs during a vacation. Their weapons of choice are guitar, cuatro, trumpet, and cajon. Later, there was new addition of a trombone player, Germán Cohen. Their music is the impeccably mixed ‘cocktail’ of Latin American folk music (rumba, cumbia, tango), flamenco, and their musical background, rock.
My curiosity of their other works heightened that I couldn’t resist downloading it from the Internet (although now I already owned the CD!). Their first album is titled Fuerte y Caliente, literally means “strong and hot”. I can’t find another word more suitable to define their music. The album consists of 14 tracks, opened by “Vaguisenial”, an almost instrumental track if not for the screams and shouts welcoming the band, “Oondaaa Vagaaaaa, para toda la gente!” (“Onda Vaga for everyone!”) in the background. With all this fuss, it’s enough to tease listeners to really get to see Onda Vaga’s true face. Second track, “Parque”, is an easy-breezy song that passes you so softly that you won’t realize that you’re already into the next track “Sequia de Amor” that has a similar feeling with the previous. These two songs are like twins.
The only non-Spanish track in this album, called “Havana Affair”, a satirical tale about the endless feud between Cuba and USA. The strongest track (and easy favorite) would be “Mambeado” the most upbeat and powerful hymn in the album that invites us to sing out the sadness or the loneliness within ourselves to the moon, sun, and stars; “Como que no?”, seemingly telling us about a protest or an objection of something that I’m not really sure what that is (I really should improve my Spanish); and “Ir al Baile” whose lyrics are a bit offensive but nonetheless will make you singing happily “yo solo queria ir al baile…” (“I just want to go to the dance…”)
The other tracks such as “Me Pega Fuerte” that can be loosely translated “Come on, Hit Me Hard!” is really ‘hitting’ you hard in a good way. Meanwhile “Cartagena”, “Va al Oeste”, “Gilda”, “El Experimento”, and “Te Quiero”, although are not as strong as the previously stated ones, still leave a remarkable impression to the listeners. The closing, “Rayada” is like a sweet temporary farewell from a stranger in the morning that you met and partied with all the night before.
Onda Vaga’s folk music is different from Western artists that have defined that particular term. What engaged me the most from their music is how their free-spirited attitude portrayed in the songs and how I feel that they seem to be having fun every time they sing. Their lyrics mostly tell (from what I assumed) about individual turmoil, existential issues, that were complemented here and there with daily lives in South America region. As for me, I consider their words to be poetically simple. However, without even understanding a bit of the lyrics, you still can enjoy the music to the fullest. Comparison to Manu Chao is inevitable, but in my humble opinion, Onda Vaga’s music is more ‘raw’ just like a secluded beach that you’ve found by accident. All in all, listening to Fuerte y Caliente is like having a 14-tracks long of spontaneous journey into a vagabond life from one beach to another and just having fun.