By Chris Spiewak |
Rock music knows no geographical boundaries or language barriers. It was born in English-speaking countries, but it is popular on every continent these days in dozens of dialects. With the proliferation of the Spanish language in this country, there are many traditional Latin music groups, but one must search a bit harder for a good Latin rock band.
In this area, Asbury Park’s Xol Azul Band fits the bill perfectly with a mix of mainstream cover songs and their own compositions. Generating a sound that fills every dance floor at every gig, it is not uncommon to see a Rolling Stones fan grooving shoulder to shoulder with a Carlos Santana fan, and a Bob Marley fan right beside them.
Founded in 2002, the members of Xol Azul are part-time musicians with day jobs, but they produce impressive shows which might lead one to think they are a full-time band. Lead vocalist and bassist Gidalthi Guillen, known to most people as simply ‘G’, is one of the founding members, along with guitarist Gil Cruz. Interestingly enough, Guillen and Cruz were more influenced by blues and rock artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, BB King and Eric Clapton. Guillen likes to describe the band’s sound as a “beautiful mix” of Latin, rock and pop music; there is literally something for everyone at one of their shows. When you combine these types of music, you get a powerful mix of guitar-driven melodies and an infectious rhythmic beat that is impossible to ignore.
When asked about the band’s longevity, Guillen responds with one word, “friendship.” The camaraderie onstage is obvious, with Cruz, Guillen and talented and popular keyboardist Fabian Rojas constantly playing off of one another. The crowd also picks up on this energy, which is yet another reason the band is so well-liked. Frequent interaction with people on the dance floor can get a bit crazy sometimes, with the occasional microphone being extended onto the dance floor for a talented crowd member to sing a few bars and grab a selfie with the band. In fact, it is quite difficult to record a clean, unobstructed photo of this band; at a recent show at Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park, the dance floor was nearly full after just a minute into the first song.
The two members most responsible for the pulsating rhythm are drummer Susu Leon and percussionist Javier Medel. Leon is a recent addition to Xol Azul and delivers the main beat with perfect timing and flair, working seamlessly with Medel. Javier Medel is a master of all things percussion, standing behind his “kit” which is almost as large as Leon’s. Congas, cowbell, snare drum, guiro, claves, tambourine and chimes are just some of the items in his arsenal. With everything going on in any particular song, these two gentlemen never miss a beat and are wonderful to witness in action.
One sign of a good band is the quality of the original material that they have written. In 2007 the band released a CD entitled “Sale el Xol” with 11 great tracks on it. These songs were recorded at Lake House Studios in Asbury Park and the production is professionally done. Ten of the 11 songs are performed in Spanish, but one can get a very good idea of the artistic talents of Guillen and Cruz, although all members contribute to each composition. There is a great range of genres on this CD, with good rockers like “Memoria de Rosa,” “Tu Amante” and “Miedo,” and a bit of Latin country in “Abre Tu Corazon” and “Ay Amor!” “Herido” has a hint of rockabilly, and “Gritos De Libertad” has a definite reggae feel to it. All are written and performed with a Latin feel to them and it is interesting to hear how the band’s various music influences are interwoven into each selection. In 2013 the band recorded a popular Latin pop song written by Joan Sebastian entitled “Estos Celos,” and are currently working on new material for a new cd.
The band plays frequently in the central Jersey area, so visit XolAzulBand.com for more info and updates.
Chris Spiewak is currently the bassist for Rock/Blues cover band VyntEdge.
This article was first published in the Sept. 27-Oct. 3, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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