By Jose Servin
Relatable tragedies serve as the inspiration for songs by Mexican ska group Los Estramboticos, says lead singer Arturo Ruelas, also known as “Pino.”
Los Estramboticos’ 20-plus-year career is anything but tragic. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones-inspired group has been a leading force in the revitalized reggae scene in Mexico City, becoming one of the pioneer bands in the new-ska movement of the 1990s.
They brought their performance to Club Bahia in Los Angeles on Feb. 14, the second stop on an international tour promoting their new album, Lucha Y Resiste Vol. 1. The album is a collection of new songs and remastered hits featuring the band’s new bassist, Gabriel “El Queso” Bronfman.
The band took the stage wearing uniform onesie-suits, and without introduction launched into “Todos Somos,” a fast-paced song with a circus-themed opening riff.
A pit opened up immediately in the center of the about 200 fans present where people began hurling themselves at one another rhythmically, beginning a slam circle, the equivalent of skanking for Mexican ska.
This introduction seemed organized, like a planned performance, as the crowd stomped away on beat to David “El Chadou” Sanchez’ upstrokes, the signature sound of the ska genre.
Most songs followed the same pattern, save for the sentimental power ballads like “La Herida” and “No Te Quise Lastimar,” where fans swayed together to emotional lyrics and equally powerful melodies.
“Something constant when we write songs is how we always attempt to narrate something collective, something that could happen to any person,” Pino said in Spanish during an interview before the concert.
The seven-member group features most of the components of a Mexican banda group: dominant brass section, smooth, repetitive percussion, thick piercing bass lines and short, segmented guitar chords emphasized on down beats.
But, as their name insists, “Los Estramboticos” are an exaggerated breed. Estrambotico means extravagant in Spanish, and the band’s fusion of cumbia, classic rock, reggae and, most importantly, ska reinforces the explicitly emotional appeal of their hits.
“We chose to play ska 23 years ago because it’s a genre that you can easily combine with the music and diversity in Mexico,” Pino said.
Los Estrambos, as their fans call them, raged on the rest of the night, occasionally clinking Coronas and fist-bumping front-rowers who sang along.