Working a relentless 250-night-a-year touring schedule, San Diego's B-Side Playersshow up on Bay Area stages more frequently than a lot of local bands. Their infectious Afro-Cuban beats grind into downtempo reggae splashes, pushing a message that's as steeped in politics as it is in rhythm. With forward-leaning lyrics spanning everything from jailed freedom fighter Mumia Abu-Jamal to California's -- and the band's own -- borderland ethos, the B-Sides are musical revolutionaries bent on giving props to society's underdogs. But their quarter is hardly a one-sided coin: Moving the masses is one part getting people to change their minds and two parts inspiring folks to shake their asses.
The band's vocalist, Karlos "Solrak" Paez, flips verse in both English and Spanish, backed by a solid Afro-Cuban percussion section. Solrak pulls double duty as resident poet and dance-floor inciter. But with the bristling instrumental chops that the other members of the band bring to the table, he's playing second fiddle half the time -- funk-laden horn riffs coalesce over a loping bass line, jazz-inflected piano trades time with wah-wah guitar. Elements of ska, soul, hip hop, and funk creep in among hip-stirring salsa beats.
Last year's stellar sophomore album Culture of Resistance put the B-Sides on the map -- that is, if living out of a van up and down the West Coast didn't. After earning attention and stage space from heavyweights like James Brown, Will Harper, and Sly & Robbie, the B-Sides' days of playing intimate small-venue shows are numbered. Smoke 'em while you got 'em.