|Tom Landa, front right, heads the band Locarno, which performs at the Rotary Centre for the Arts in Kelowna on Jan. 19.|
90-degree turn with his newest project, Locarno, it's really more of a return to his own roots.
Known to many as the frontman for Juno-winning folk rockers The Paperboys, Locarno plays music that is part Gulf Coast Mexican Jarocho (pronounced ha-roach-oh) music, mixed with Cuban Son and tossed together with pop and funk influences, making for a stew that seems a bit unlikely for a Vancouver-based group.
Born and raised in Mexico City to a Canadian mother of Irish ancestry and a Mexican father, Landa lived there until his mid teens. Now 40, the singer and songwriter has always had a Latin beat in his soul; it's just that it took a while to come out.
"Growing up in Mexico, I was a kid that was into rock music," he said, shortly after returning to Vancouver from Christmas in Mexico, where he still has family.
After moving to Ontario at 15, he was even further from the sounds of Jarocho, salsa and the music he had been hearing in Mexico.
"From the age of 15 to 20, I kind of put everything from Mexico behind me," he said.
After relocating to B.C., he started the Paperboys some 15 years ago, and built that group into a mainstay on the West Coast scene. But a listen to the 1988 release by Chicano group Los Lobos, entitled La Pistola Y El Corazon, on which they played traditional instruments, changed things for Landa and sparked a desire to explore the music of his youth.
"In my early 20s, I got interested in my culture again," said Landa.
In 2005, he obtained a Canada Council grant and was able to travel back to Veracruz, located on the Gulf of Mexico, and study the music there for several months, bringing back his rekindled love of Mexican music, including the Jarocho style he first heard years before.
"A jarocho, or a jarocha, is basically how you would describe a person from a certain region of Mexico, which is the Gulf states, and the main city is Veracruz," he said. The music has its roots in different places - Spain, Africa and the indigenous music that already existed. So, it's got some pre-Colombian flavours, but mostly it's got African and Spanish influences.
"I would liken it to bluegrass or old-time music, where it was made for dances. One of the wonderful things is, it was largely improvised â€¦ it's sort of like the hip-hop of its time."
That Jarocho sound is evident on Locarno's debut album. Entitled Una Mas
Y Ya Nos Vamos, according to Landa, it roughly translates as "one more and then we'll go."
"It's that feeling of when you're with a group of friends and you're having a really good time and you're saying goodbye, and then an hour later you realize you're still saying goodbye," he said.
As far as any comparisons to the Paperboys, of which Landa is still the singer and which is still a going concern, he admits there is some common ground.
But Locarno is still a very different band, with its own unique sound. The fact that Landa sings in his mother tongue makes it different from the start.
"Obviously, there's some similarities because I'm in the band and I'm singing," he said. "But really, it is a different project.
"With the Paperboys, more and more we've started incorporating Latin music into what we do, which is a lot of fun and it blends really well, but I wanted something that's exclusively in Spanish. I write in Spanish, I'm not translating," he said.
Landa and the six other members of Locarno were busy this past summer, playing plenty of showcases and festivals, as well as a show here at the Minstrel Cafe in August. They've been well received by Paperboys fans and others alike, with their energetic percussion and exotic-to-our-ears rhythms, spiced up with trombone and trumpet. Landa plays the eight-string jarana, something of a cross between a guitar and a ukulele.
Locarno incorporates the talents of fellow Paperboys members Kalissa Hernandez on fiddle, along with Sam Esecson on drums and percussion, and Cuban-born Miguelito Valdes on trumpet.
There are plans to work on a second CD sometime in the near future.
But ironically, while the Paperboys have played in Mexico before, at a wedding and some other shows in the city of Monterrey, Landa has yet to play there with Locarno.
Still, according to Landa that's definitely a possibility in the future and in a way, would take him full circle back to his roots musically.
"Taking Locarno there would definitely be fun," he said.
Who: Locarno in concert
Where: The Rotary Centre for the Arts, 421 Cawston Ave.
When: Saturday, Jan. 19 at 7:30 p.m. Free pre-show with Kalumba in the atrium at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $30 adults or $10 for students. Available at the RCA box office, online at selectyourtickets.com, or by calling 250-717-5304.