Band of the Week: Very Be Careful

Music Features Very Be Careful
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Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Fun Fact: While Very Be Careful plays numerous vallenato standards, it also play originals written by Daisy Guzman, the mother of two of the band members.
Why It's Worth Watching: VBC's music carries with it a modus operandi inspired by the words of George Clinton: free your mind and your ass will follow.
For Fans Of: Alejo "El Negro Grande" Duran, Alfredo Gutierrez and Funkadelic

At first glance, Very Be Careful hardly lends itself to cross-generational accessibility. Its five Angelenos part ways with the music taste of most urbane thirtysomething musicians by playing a traditional form of Colombian folk music called vallenato. To the uninitiated, this music, the name of which literally translates to "born in the valley," sounds like a sun-soaked, country cousin of Colombia's popular dance music, cumbia. Since 1997, the group has independently released five albums, each filled mostly with cover songs, that channel the sound and texture of early vallenato recordings. Meanwhile, the quintet just finished Salad Buey, its sixth record and first of all original material. This output would make sense for traditional Colombian troubadours or nostalgic Latin Rock stars, but not really for a bunch of guys who are often mistaken for an indie-rock band. Yet, along the way, the group has made fans of artists like Joe Strummer and the Kronos Quartet.

The acclaim can be traced to Very Be Careful's clear and deliberate musical vision. Unlike fusion-minded neighbors Ozomatli or predecessor Santana, VBC adopts a more nuanced view of second-generation immigrant identity. "[Ours] is a purist style that strives to pay tribute to the classics, and [we strive] to compose in the same vein," bassist Arturo Guzman explains. "This is a greater achievement for us than dropping in some obscure unrelated beat to the music."

Although VBC's outlook may seem rigidly traditional, it can also be viewed as a response to past generations' multicultural melting pot ideal. In fact, the group's essence is arguably more modern if only for its bridging of the world music generation with the fractal generation of college radio, clubs and the ever-expanding Internet.

VBC's gift lies in translating this primal two-step for audiences living in the current and more traditional genre matrix of hip-hop, rock and country western. The group's music appeals as a stark contrast alone—refreshingly lucid and to the point. However, VBC adds subtle layers of its wiseacre personality and metropolitan visions. On Salad Buey, the band captures vignettes of daily escapades. "Songs about dogs, love affairs, escaping to the big city, local drama and small-town meditations," Arturo says, listing typical VBC song themes. Focusing on the band's time living in Los Angeles and the Bronx, the frame of reference is distinctly cosmopolitan—a far cry from the form's traditionally provincial slant.

Yet, considering that a fair amount of its audience does not understand Spanish, the attraction to VBC is clear—the beat is undeniable. Which perhaps explains why the proverbial dance floor accompanies each of the band's performances, be it in a hotel basement or at a street festival, at a cramped club or an outdoor rock festival. Neither setting nor language can hinder Very Be Careful's ability to set a sea of bodies and souls in motion. And really, what's more universal than that?

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