Into the Valley of Dance

Very Be Careful

At the MultiCultural Center Theater, Friday, March 10.

Musical exoticism and the sure, surging power of universal dance music shook the MultiCultural Center Theater last Friday night. The L.A.-based vallenato band Very Be Careful was in town to unveil its mighty, rustic, and undulant sound before a large crowd that became increasingly animated as the night progressed (more on that later). Of course, the word and idea of the exotic — the e-word — is risky and relative in describing cultural vocabularies.

The regional style of vallenato was formed in the early 20th century through the merger of African and indigenous musical elements and the introduction of the German accordion in the city of Valledupar on Colombia’s Atlantic coast. The music is hugely popular in Colombia, and has strong stateside contingents in cities such as Miami and New York, where there are large populations of working-class Colombians. Out here on the far-flung left coast of Southern California, though, the music is rarely heard in any pure form. Very Be Careful wisely carries the torch, and word of its vibrancy is spreading wherever hipsters, world music fans, and all-purpose music lovers gather.

For the uninitiated (present company sheepishly included), this music is something of a revelation, especially when heard live and played with this kind of raw passion. Ricardo Guzman plays the button accordion and sings, often in call-and-response patterns between vocal and squeezeboxed tunes, while his brother Arturo lays down the ones-and-fives on acoustic bass. Melodies are sweet and infectious, but rhythm is very much in the bones of this music. Instead of a drum kit at the core of the band, there are three critical percussion parts making up the integrated whole: Craig Martin plays the guacharac, Rich Panta the caja, and Dante Ruiz on the campana, each with a specific role in the rhythmic machinery of the grooves.

Groove is the operative word: This music gets under your skin and down to your feet and other body parts, in the best way. For its first set, the band played songs leaning heavily on the fantastic new album, ÑACAS (Downtown Pijao), in the intimate but full-service MCC Theater. By the last song of the set, the aisles were teeming with dancers. After an intermission, the show logically migrated over to the MCC lounge, where the band played another set for listeners liberated from the confines of theater seats.

Very Be Careful’s show achieved that critical balance of being very much about the live, present-tense heat of the moment, and the ability to take you someplace else. It’s someplace seductive, non-commercial, and, well, exotic.

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