It takes a global village to raise a dance band. Luaka Bop recording artists Los Amigos Invisibles moved to New York three years ago from Caracas, Venezuela, the Caribbean rim city where they first got introduced to the music of Prince, Parliament, Funkadelic, and the Fania All Stars. Now scattered across the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan's Lower East Side, the six Amigos are attending global "university" in La Gran Manzana with the same sexy attitude that vaulted them from their hometown club scene to international electronica pop stardom.
Their reputation as a sexy--or sexed-up--band is well-deserved, based on such infamous little numbers as "El Disco Anal" and "Ponerte En Cuatro"(Put You On All Fours), from 1998's The New Sounds of the Venezuelan Gozadera, and "Masturbation Session" from their millennial release, Arepa 3000: A Venezuelan Journey Into Space. Often, the band's sexual energy is directed in satirical and even self-deprecating ways, in songs about humorously doomed infatuations, the antics of clubland lolitas and lotharios, and regular old boy-girl mushy stuff, like missing their girlfriends on the road (and the attendant solitary sexual exercise). "Invisible friends" turns out to be a good name for a band with so many fantasy characters in their songs.
Launched in 1991, Los Amigos Invisibles put out an acid jazz release in Venezuela in the mid-'90s with a title that sounds like a dissertation on ethnomusicology: A Typical and Autochthonal Venezuelan Dance Band. It was their first counterpunch at a music scene they figured had gotten too serious and pretentious for its own good. They turned up the sex machine, literally, with The New Sounds of the Venezuelan Gozadera, getting funkier and bringing in more Latin rhythms at the same time. With Arepa 3000, the Venezuelan mothership landed (in the shape of a cornmeal arepa, the main staple and comfort food of Venezuela, much like grits in the South) with one of the best party albums of Y2K.
If the title of their new release is to be believed, The Venezuelan Zinga Son, Vol. 1 is musical superfly. Like their previous outing, this party flows seamlessly out of a goody bag of beats from funk, dance/pop, bossa nova, swinging '60s lounge, '70s and '80s funk, and Latin salsa. The Indy recently caught up with Los Amigos' bass player and manager, Jose Torres, who dished some backstories on the band's new album.
Indy: How do you like living in New York?
Jose Torres: It's like going to university. You've got the opportunity to see every band on earth coming here to play. If you buy The New York Times on Sunday it's like an encyclopedia.
How often do you go back to Venezuela?
Like once every month and a half. We have a new record coming out on May 4. That record was already released in Europe, in Japan, and in Venezuela which is like our hometown. One of the salsa songs we have on it is a number 10 on general radio stations, so we go very often there to play.
Is that, "Esto Es Lo Que Hay"?
Yeah. The salsa of these days is very commercial. In Venezuela, salsa music is one of the biggest styles, but we hate it, because it's very pop. You gotta listen to some old school radio shows to find some really good salsa from the '70s. We all grew up in Venezuela in the '70s and the '80s, so we had funky music and disco music coming from the U.S. [and] salsa actually was coming from New York. Even though we are not a huge orchestra--we are just six guys--we try to recreate that feeling of the '70s.
That's very interesting that you say that.
Yeah, it's like trying to recreate the salsa from the ghettos here in New York, the Puerto Rican with the Dominican people made salsa here. And actually, the producers, Masters at Work, it's very funny, because ["Little"] Louie [Vega] is from Puerto Rico. He's what they call Nuyorican, and his uncle was Hector Lavoe. So, he kind of understood pretty much what we wanted to do.
Wow. I had no idea you were so close to that tradition.
Yeah, of course! We grew up listening to that music.
Let me ask you a question about the new album and the title in particular. What is "Zinga Son" and what is Venezuelan about it?
If you speak Spanish, and if you are a little smart, people understand Los Amigos tries to joke about our own culture. We know we grew up in that culture, we love it, but at the same time it's funny. I heard in a TV show that we are the third happiest country on earth. At the beginning I was like, wha... But in the end, I was like, yes. In Venezuela everybody is joking, so we try to not forget our roots. We come from that background and we cannot be depressed, we cannot compose as if we were born in Scotland.
I'm saying all this because I remember, it was at my birthday party, there was a lot of people, very elegant people, snob people, and the party was doing normal, regular. I have a friend, and he gave me a bottle of a drink that was called "Zinga Parao," which means something like fucking while you are standing. After that bottle came to the party, the party went crazy. And everybody wanted to drink and everybody was like, Zinga Parao, damn! So if I drink this bottle, I'm gonna fuck all night long with whoever, you know. So it was really funny that day, I remember. So, when we got to the point to have a name to the record, and somebody said, let's [call it] the Venezuelan Zinga Son! And people laughed, and nobody took it seriously, but it was [the title] in the end. It means something like, a Venezuelan fuck session.
With all the indecency problems now, that will be under the radar for most people.
That's it. I know a lot of American people say, man, I love your music. But at some point they find somebody who translates the lyrics, and they don't believe what they're listening to. They're like, WHAT? And the thing is, we are not taking too seriously all these statements about sex. It's like jokes about how the music goes in Venezuela, and how the pop scene is in Venezuela.
Tell me about the title of your second album, The New Sounds of the Venezuelan Gozadera. Is that a word play also [on the sexual meaning of gozar]?
Yeah, actually, now that you say, that has been kind of a trademark for Los Amigos, to exploit that part of a concept. When Los Amigos were created, the scene in Venezuela was very serious. All the names of the bands were very deep, and all the lyrics were very deep, and at some point, we said, damn, listen, you're our guys, you are not coming from England, or Spain, or whatever, you're coming from the Caribbean. So we started approaching a very sexy concept. Actually more like a very sexual concept. One of the guys who inspired Los Amigos was Prince. That kind of sexual is what I'm taking about. Sexy, but at the same time very strong.
What's an example of one of those bands that had a really deep name or a name that was trying to sound deep?
One of the most important bands in Venezuela ever was called Sentimiento Muerto, which is like Dead Feeling. They played something like the Cure. They were huge in Venezuela, it is kind of a goth punk band. For some reason, we have had a lot of influences from all around the world. We always had access to every record that was just being released in the UK or in the US.
The third album was Arepa 3000, and I noticed you have the recipe for arepas on your website. Is that a joke with a serious side?
It's kind of a joke, but in the same time, it's cool. For us it's very important, the arepa, it's like the main dish, what you eat every morning in Venezuela. And nobody [outside of Venezuela] knows it! It's the mothership connection, Funkadelic, but this is a huge arepa. It's like we appropriate, or we borrow things from what you've lived here in the U.S., but we take it for us, like if it was ours. I think that's what it is Los Amigos is, trying to take anything from all the world, not just from Venezuela, but at the same time to realize that we come from Venezuela.
Give us a sense of your live performance and what that will be like.
If you listen to the record it's one experience, and if you see a live show, it's [an]other different experience. If we can add a sample in a recording we do it, if it's good for the song. The thing is that when we play live, we are just six guys playing. We don't have machines, or anything, we just use a lot of noise to make similar sounds to the sequencer or whatever. It's a very interactive experience, very organic. [If] people go thinking they're just going to see a band, and they're going to have a drink and then go home, no no no no no. This is the night where you're going to have a girlfriend...
...have some Zinga Parao?
Exactly. This is the night! This is going to be the night, you're going to dance, you're going to meet a lot of people, and you're going to go back happy to your house.
Editor's note: This extended discussion of song titles and strange word usage didn't fit in the printed edition, but we're happy to slide it in here.
Indy: Let me ask you about song titles. "Comodon Johnson"?
Jose Torres: To be comfortable, is estar comodo.
And comodon is like the same but more so?
Well, it is not good to say that, it is not well said. But, it's like joking, you can say comodon, like estoy comodon. At the same time, you are saying, I feel like Don.
Oh I see, a pun between the English and Spanish?
Exactly. It's like a double meaning. So, in the end, when you pronounce this Comodon Johnson, you're meaning, I'm feeling like Don Johnson.
What about "Majunche"?
Yeah, that's a very popular word, I think but it doesn't appear in the dictionary. It's like, that is majunche, that is kind of weird, not well finished. But, I mean, obviously you can use that word to mean whatever you want. I don't know, it was funny. Majunche.
It was funny at the time, right?
Yeah, that is the thing. Maybe when we are 40 years old and I say, what the fuck [was] I thinking playing all these fucking stupid words? But now it's like, well, at the moment, it was important.
Ok, "Mambo Chimbo"?
Chimbo...we were jamming, the song stopped, and we kept playing. We didn't know how to finish it, and you've got to check out the end. When you listen to the end of the song, you're going to know what I'm talking about.
Another word I don't know, "Calne"?
What the word really wants to say is carne, which is meat. But calne, is how the poor people would say, calne, instead of the r, they would say an l.
So that's a Caracas accent?
Yeah, like a gangster thing. Calne. A malandro in Venezuela is a gangster. So calne is something that a malandro would say, like, hey, un calne! Means of course meat, and of course, the double meaning is, you know...ladies. [That] you can touch the meat.
Tell me about the song "Superfucker." No double meaning there, I take it...
No, not. The song is like a guy saying to a woman, come on, if you don't try me, you're going to miss the Superfucker. Like, hey, come on baby, you're about to meet the guy that is going to make you feel like whatever, you know.
So are you making fun of that guy with this song, that kind of guy?
Yeah, of course. Remember, in Arepa 3000 we have a song "El Sobon," which is a merengue. It's because we have a very close friend, he used to work with us, and we couldn't stand his way of treating women. He was meeting women, and he was always touching them, and we were like, damn, but you're crazy, I mean be respectful! So, we did this song for him, and it's about a guy [called] The Flounder. It's like the guy that is talking to you, he doesn't know you, and then he starts touching, like on the hair, and you see the ladies are like, damn, what's happening with this guy.
Cool. Thanks very for your time, Jose!