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Few Miami acts have combined the disparate sounds of the city with as much finesse as local favorite Suenalo. Blending everything including Afro-Caribbean rhythms, hip-hop, rock, funk, reggae, electro, and jazz, the eight-piece for nearly a decade has been making the live circuit dance. The term for its signature sound, coined by the band, is pretty accurate: "Afro-Latin baby-makin' descarga funk."
Frontman Amin De Jesus, saxophonist Juan Turros, and bassist and musical director Carlos "Kako" Guzmán explain it all on a recent night in De Jesus's back yard. Of the colorful description for their music, they say Afro-Latin and funk are the two primary components. (The latter, they say, is supplied primarily by trombonist Chad Bernstein's songwriting.) And who provides the baby-makin'? They cry in unison: "All of us!"
Meanwhile, corroborating that assertion, a few products of said baby-makin' laugh and play inside Guzmán's house. "When we started eight years ago till now, there's like 15 babies between us," Guzmán explains.
"You have to be careful when you come to one of the shows," Turro warns. Laughing, he adds, "Dan Le Batard won't come to our shows because he's scared of having babies."
Anyone who's been knows it's true. The band's music is downright infectious, the perfect fusion of disparate styles and sounds, with the undeniable underpinning of the Latin influence that has come to characterize the city for the past 50 years. "The way Suenalo arranges is very collaborative," Turros explains. "And we all, though we're Latin, come from different countries, listen to different music, learned to play different ways. So if it sounds good to everyone, I think that's the reason it's so infectious. That's my theory anyway."
But the band, like the city from which it has blossomed, has undergone an evolution. Lineup changes played a key role, for one. Former alums include Itagui Correa and Alan Reyna, frontman and former percussionist for Locos por Juana, respectively, as well as Fabi Patino of Lanzallamas Monofónica. Then there was the addition of drummer J.J. Freire, formerly of Bacilos. Guitarists Phil Maranges and Gerard Glecer, percussionist Alan Ramos, and keyboardist Tony "Smurphio" Laurencio round out the current lineup.
But a renewed focus played perhaps a more pivotal role in developing the band's current sound. In the early days, Guzmán recalls, "It was more like a jam band thing. We would do a lot of improvisation, and it was really random. By 2006, for the studio album, that band had been together a longer time. The songs were more arranged, more lyrical."
Then, this past December, Suenalo dropped a new live disc, Live at Transit, recorded nearly a year earlier across a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the downtown Miami club. The tracks show an even more polished band, overcoming the usual trappings of a live record while maintaining the essence and energy of the show.
"Thursday night had this vibe. For some reason, most people didn't know it was happening; they thought only Friday and Saturday. And by the second set, it was ridiculous," De Jesus recalls. "Friday night was my favorite night — everyone came through and it was in full effect. It was totally for the crowd. And Saturday was the culmination, the cherry on top."
"The reason that live album sounds so good is because we had to step up and perform those songs right there," Turros adds. "In the studio, you get separation between instruments. But Everett Ramey and Transit Lounge — the way they recorded this album and got separation onstage was really uncanny. The magic occurred not only with Suenalo but the way it was recorded."
And if the band on that record sounded more polished, the Suenalo that performs today is ever more so. "It took almost a year for that album to be released, and during that year, our live show kept getting better," Guzmán says. "And it really hit us at the release party at Transit, which was packed."
"It was pretty crazy," Turros agrees.
Crazier still is the band's upcoming tour schedule. Aside from regular gigs around Miami and at Key West's Green Parrot, the band will head to New Orleans for a few shows during the city's famed jazz festival this year. But luckily for local music lovers, the boys always come home to where it all began.