Anyone who has seen Melbourne’s liquid-hipped Latin legion, SAN LAZARO live, know they put on a great show. For those who haven’t experienced the band’s magic mix of Cuban Son, NuYorican soul, boogaloo, psychedelic Cumbia and funk, luckily we caught up with one of them recently. Ahead of the band’s anticipated Global Rhythms Festival debut, bassist Robert Douglas spills the beans.
For those new to San Lazaro and your 2016 album ‘La Despedida, sum up what it is they’re yet to experience.
San Lazaro is an eight piece band. We call what we do alt-Latin or psychedelic-Latin. We get down with all kinds of Afro Cuban and South and Central American music and mash it all up our own way. Expect a lot of percussion, some deep grooves, vocal harmonies and blazing horn solos. We play a lot of Salsa but also a number of Cumbia and funky Afro sort of feels. It’s for the dancers and the seated contemplators too. It’s all original music we’ve been writing together since 2003.
How would you sum up 2017 so far for San Lazro? What have been the highlights?
Well 2016 was an album year for us so that was really busy. This year we’ve been taking it easy – but now we’re writing new music and preparing to get a new record underway. Writing and recording is what I really love doing, any year we’re doing that is a good year for me.
2017 has felt a little crazy times out there, the world seemingly getting madder by the moment. Music can shine a light on the madness and being a great avenue for protest, but music is also a great balm for people and a provider of solace and source of positivity. Dancing at a festival is a terrific way for people to reenergise, reconnect and forget the madness for a while to live in the moment. What are some of your go-to albums or songs when you need to let-loose and shift your mood?
Honestly, anything. I’ve been caning a bunch of Soundway and Mr Bongo comps of African music this week and dancing round the house, but I’m sitting in the office listening to King Krule right now. The upside of living in a hyper-speed hyperconnected world is all the music that ever happened is only ever one click away. If I really want to unwind I have to turn the phone and all the devices off – but there’s always a good DJ playing somewhere in Melbourne.
Tell us about a memorable outdoor festival experience you’ve had?
In 2008 we played Fest Napuan in Vanuatu to an all Melanesian crowd that had never heard Salsa before. It was pretty weird. Every other band at the festival was a ukulele string band or a reggae band. It was a hot tropical night and the festival grounds were totally unlit so we couldn’t see anyone except the front row and everyone stared at us like we were insane at first, but at the end we got a lot of approving nods. They weren’t a dancing or a clapping or cheering crowd, but they came on the journey with us and stayed the whole set. I felt like it was a pretty unique cultural exchange. Gotta get back to Vanuatu one day.
You’ve just released a new single ‘Ladridos’ and it comes with a deep electronic remix by Cy Gorman. Why did you chose Cy for the remix and what was your reaction to first hearing it?
I flipped when I heard it. It’s so over the top and transcendentally weird and symphonic but it still feels like the same song with the same sentiment. It’s an amazing balancing act. Me and Cy go way way back – I played bass for him when he was still primarily a jazz saxophonist almost 20 years ago, so our friendship throws up opportunities for us to work together every few years. This came up really naturally we were actually shopping around for remixes for another song, but Cy wanted ‘Ladridos’ and we went with that.
One of the terrific things about San Lazaro is the range of influences in your music. Do you have a personal ‘first love’ when it comes to a certain region’s music/rhythms?
I think the answer would be different for everyone in the band. I tend to like the 70s era New York stuff the most. Keko is all about the Cuban Son and always has been. Oscar loves Chicha and Jethro and Seb just want to play Timba. It all comes together when you simmer it long enough.
Will the eight of you pile into a minibus and head up the Hume Highway to get to Global Rhythms and if so, what’s likely to be on the bus mixtape for the trip?
We’re grown men and consequently too ill-tempered for interstate van touring. Assuming Tiger Air doesn’t let us down we’ll all be listening to our own playlists en route. Keko likes Ibrahim Ferrer and Victor Jara, I’ll be listening to Fania All Stars and The Original Sound Of Mali compilation that came out on Mr Bongo this year and Oscar, Jethro and Sebastian will be listening to hip new school Timba like the Pedro Martinez group and La Clave Secreta. I have no idea what the horn section listens to.
San Lazaro play Global Rhythms Festival in Glebe, Sunday September 24