While musician Félix Pacheco was doing his laundry one day he kept hearing a familiar rhythm. “Is that a cumbia coming from the dryer?” he thought. So he decided to sample it. Musical inspiration, Pacheco says, can come from all around you. He also included his baby’s rhythmic heartbeat in a song.
“It’s just up to us to listen and grab those rhythms,” says Pacheco, who is co-founder and DJ/bassist for local band Cilantro Boombox.
Cilantro Boombox’s musical influences range from reggae to salsa, and the seven-piece band will perform at the 20th annual Austin Reggae Festival on Sunday. Cilantro Boombox is among Austin’s growing genre-blending bands who fuse traditional Latin American rhythms with contemporary beats such as hip-hop or electronica. The sound culminates in a bicultural mashup that’s both relevant to younger generations and rooted in soulful ancestral sounds.
Across the U.S. the Latin alternative sound has risen in recent years, and Austin’s strong local scene has been fueled with bands such as Charanga Cakewalk and Master Blaster Sound System, whose inclusive music is not just for Spanish speakers or Latinos.
“Good music is good music,” says Rich Garza, founder of the Pachanga Latino Music Festival, which is in May. It’s a fascinating trend, he says, that’s indicative of changing demographics and what’s happening in the U.S. today. “As we’re becoming a bicultural society, there are kids who can pick and choose from cultures, identities and this musical movement reflects that.”
Pacheco — who started Cilantro Boombox in 2010 with saxophonist/flutist Joe Woullard (from Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears) — remembers going through his father’s record collection, which included everything from Kenny Rogers to Fania All-Stars. Pacheco was born in Indiana, where his father attended college, and grew up in Venezuela. He came back to the U.S. at 19 years old with a love for heavy metal and played bass in a metal band in Dallas. In 2010, he moved to Austin.
“As much as I like to say I was a metal head, there was also a funky salsa dude in there,” Pacheco says.
Cilantro Boombox goes beyond a niche audience, says Pacheco, who resists putting a label on their musical style. “We’re a pretty diverse band, and not all of us speak Spanish. We just want to play music, and not limit it to certain audiences. In Austin, the crowds at shows are a big melting pot.”
The up-and-coming act’s debut self-titled album was funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign and includes collaborations with artists such as Frank Orrall of Poi Dog Pondering and Thievery Corporation. And Adrian Quesada of Grupo Fantasma and Brownout mixed the album.
For a band that hasn’t been around too long, Cilantro Boombox has already opened shows for some well-known acts like Venezuelan supergroup Los Amigos Invisibles, who will play at the Belmont in June.
“I grew up in Venezuela, so this was huge for me,” Pacheco says. “It was really amazing, especially since I’ve been following them since I was a kid.”
The Kickstarter fundraising campaign gave the danceable album of smooth grooves and global beats a sense of community, as contributions came in from near and far. Pacheco made it a point to friend the donors on Facebook because he says he was so humbled by the experience. The grass-roots effort meant the band recorded in Pacheco’s apartment as well as a friend’s storage unit/rehearsal space in East Austin in the middle of summer. With the air conditioning off to keep the room quiet, the sweaty and stinky band members cranked out some of the 11 mostly upbeat English and Spanish songs for the album.
As Austin’s momentum in what Garza describes as “one of the strongest Latin alternative scenes in the country” continues, artists are beginning to foster a collaborative community that makes the future of cultural musical mashups one to watch.
Though Cilantro Boombox has ambitious dreams, Pacheco says they don’t mind taking things one step at a time to build a strong foundation. Eventually when someone mentions Austin, he says, “we’d like people to say ‘Yeah, Cilantro Boombox is from there.’”
Austin Reggae Festival
When: Friday-Sunday Gates at 3 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Where: Auditorium Shores, South First Street and Riverside Drive
Cost: $15 for single-day to $35 for a weekend pass
Cilantro Boombox plays at 1:30 p.m. Sunday on the fest’s main stage. They also play at 11 p.m. April 27 at the Spiderhouse Ballroom as part of Austin Vida’s Barrio Bash Vol. III.
Albums available on cilantroboombox.com, iTunes and at Waterloo Records.