Very Be Careful

At the MultiCultural Center Theater, Friday, March

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

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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