"It's a pain in the ass being in a band 16 years," says Rei Alvarez, the on-again, off-again sonero of Richmond salsa band Bio Ritmo. "It's just like a family."
Indeed, Bio Ritmo celebrated its Sweet 16 last month with a big hometown blowout, playing its catalogue in chronological order. Alvarez helped found the band in the early '90s, but he took a hiatus for several albums before rejoining in 2001: "You could say it was kind of a rebirth."
Since then, Alvarez's songwriting and rootsy vocal style have helped fuel Bio Ritmo's salsa renaissance. The band has taken its sound to Brooklyn, Canada and Puerto Rico. Alvarez doesn't expect Bio Ritmo to stay static, either, though he thinks the band's largely consistent personnel has allowed for growth. Over four albums and an EP, Bio Ritmo has progressed through various extremes, from drum circle experiment to salsa romantica to (briefly) a major-label act. The self-titled, self-released Bio Ritmo in 2004 marked a reemergence as an indie salsa band of the finest stripes. Follow-up EP Salsa System, mixed by legendary Fania record label engineer Jon Fausty, continued the flow of original music in the funky salsa tradition of the '70s.
"We want to take our time with it," says Alvarez of the fifth Bio Ritmo album. The band has several skeletons of new tunes on tape, and they're looking toward a spring release. "I think this album, more than any other, is going to be an expression of the kind of artists we are. We're not just a salsa band. The things that generate our taste and our way of playing music is not just from salsa bands but from every band that we like. This one is going to have a lot more experimentation going on."
Bio Ritmo plays two sets at Local 506 Thursday, Oct. 18, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. Rei Alvarez of Bio Ritmo (aka DJ Rattan) will make an appearance on Sylvia Pfeiffenberger's show on WXDU 88.7's "Azucar y Candela" Wednesday, Oct. 17, from 6-8 p.m.