Lingua Franca

Orixa's rock en español is a stew of global ideas. Just don't call it Latin music.

The Latin tag hasn't always been a burden. When Orixa started playing in 1993, the rock en español label was perhaps an asset in setting the band apart from the pack of run-of-the-mill alternative rock bands and getting it accepted by an already established scene. "There's a little underground scene in the United States that's been going on for the last seven or eight years, and we were probably the first one in the Bay Area that was part of that scene somehow," says Caipo. "So it benefited us in the sense that there's this scene happening, and people were like, 'Oh, you guys are part of this,' and we could jump on that bandwagon, the rock en español bandwagon. And it benefited us in that we would get airplay, on college stations, Latin stations, alternative stations, faster than we would have if we had just done rock."

But the band now prefers its own "Latin ruckus culture" moniker, which Jimenez says is meant to convey the fact that "Latin music is not just a piano and congas," and Caipo sees a kind of glass ceiling imposed by the phrase "rock en español." "We want to export this, you know, take it international, take it everywhere, without someone saying, 'OK, you can play at this club on this night because it's Spanish night,'" he says. "And that was the whole purpose of the thing, you know. We never wanted to just play for Latin people."

That need for a wider audience is apparently what doomed Orixa's once-promising relationship with the San Francisco-based Aztlan Records, which signed the band in 1995 and released one self-titled album by the group in 1996. As the first U.S. record label to focus exclusively on the exploding U.S. rock en español scene, Aztlan, founded by immigration lawyer John Melrod, looked perfectly positioned to break Orixa into the wider market that the band craved. But the label floundered for lack of funds and what Jimenez and Caipo both describe as a painful lack of music business experience.

Orixa: Eddie Caipo, Juan Manuel Caipo, Rowan Jimenez, Mark Caipo, and Paul Yturriago.
Jay Blakesberg
Orixa: Eddie Caipo, Juan Manuel Caipo, Rowan Jimenez, Mark Caipo, and Paul Yturriago.

"Most of [the problem] was they were learning the business at the same time we were," says Caipo. "They were getting people interested, publishers and whatnot, because the rock en español movement is there, it's happening. But they were trying too hard to make money fast. They were cutting corners on everything and it was always really sketchy."

"It turned into this really sour, bad relationship," adds Jimenez. "They didn't understand where we were coming from; they didn't listen to us. They had all these people who wanted to take us in a different direction. They wanted us to sound like other bands. It got really complicated. Like for example, Smashmouth comes out. And they're like, 'Fuck! You guys should be playing music like Smashmouth!' And we're like, 'What?'"

Still, the experience with Aztlan wasn't without its benefits, as Caipo and Jimenez are quick to point out. Their one album with the label gave them some exposure for a while, and because they were frustrated with Aztlan's limitations, the band was forced to adopt a more DIY approach that has led to it happily releasing 2012e.d. on its own. "I remember saying, 'We could call all these people, we could do this ourselves,'" says Caipo. "So we learned, we toured, got a record out, we got a little bit of leverage. But we were stuck there for years. We wanted out, and we couldn't get out. That's why it took so long to release this record. That's why this record is like giving birth to triplets! It's like," he says laughing, "all the time you're like, 'I want to have a kid! I want to have a kid!' But you can't, and then, all of a sudden, boom! Three of them!"

The "e.d." in 2012e.d. stands for "elegua digital"; Elegua is the Yoruban god of the crossroads. It's an appropriate reference, with the band producing and marketing its own album in stores and on its Web site (www.orixazone.com). It's a crossroads Orixa perhaps stood at when it initially signed to Aztlan, but the outlook seems different this time around. "I think what happened [with Aztlan] was, they didn't really believe in the product. And what's happening now is, we have this record, and it's a really honest record, and we truly believe in this record," says Jimenez.

"I think right now we're like a little bomb. And it's going, 'Tick, tick, tick.' And the only question is, maybe we're all of a sudden going to go boom! Or maybe in six months, or a year, we'll gradually get out there. But it's going to happen."

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