For a crowd of curious students, some devoted fans, and one or two skaters who had the guts to show how the music made them feel, Upground performed an amazing set at UCLA’s Worldfest 2009.
Upground was born and raised in East L.A. It is composed of eight members that play a variety of different instruments. Aaron Perez plays guitar and alto saxophone, Joseph Quinonez plays the trombone, tenor sax, and flute, Eric Carillo plays alto sax and percussion, Danny Estrada plays guitar and sings. Anthony Medina plays keyboard, Chris “Bolillo” Manjarrez is the bassist, Adolfo Mercado Jr. is the drummer, and Everado Garcia does vocals and trumpets. Together, these talented individuals create a fun and positive mix of ska, reggae, cumbia, punk and many other genres along with Spanish and English lyrics.
“Most of us met up in high school,” said Perez after their set. Quinonez added that many of the original members had been in different music programs, such as marching band, and those “from around the neighborhood.” From 1999 to 2003, the band experimented with different sounds and different members under the name Upground Rage, when they “were trying to sound cool like Rage Against the Machine,” as Estrada put it. Then in 2003 they dropped the “Rage” and changed their vibe from politically driven to culturally inclusive. “We play for everybody,” Perez said.
The band performs original music written by all the members as well as a few cover songs of their favorite artists. Estrada joined the interview just in time to list them off with Perez. They included Tito Puente, Bob Marley, Rage against the Machine, The Beatles, Led Zepellin, The Scadalites, and local artists such as Quinto Sol, Quetzal, and Ozomatli. “I like Lady Gaga, too,” Estrada added.
“Overall we try to have a more positive perspective, fun vibe, a nice party mood,” said Perez, “Being down the establishment, but having fun while doing it.”
Their lyrics include narratives that connect to their generation, but there is always room for experimentation. “We’re always down to play at colleges,” Perez said. “We’re all like peers, so to speak.” Many of the members are college students.
For up-and-coming Latino bands, the members of Upground offer advice from their own experiences, “Stick to your roots, don’t try to make your staff popy,” Estrada said. “Keep it about the music, don’t let it all go to your head.”
Printed Spring 2009