May 1, 2010

Umoja Orchestra - Abre La Puerta


Introducing Abre la Puerta

The album is called Abre la Puerta, which means open the door. It has a specific meaning to the band, but at the same time can have different meanings based on individual interpretation. On one level it can mean that, like welcoming you into our home, we are opening the door for you to intimately share with us the feelings and emotion that we put into the songs. I think the album embodies this intimacy. No song on this album lacks intense personal meaning- they all demonstrate the passion, joys and pain that we manifest in our music. I believe the album also embodies the diversity that makes Umoja what it is. From big band arrangements to classical string quartets, from screaming sections with 16 players to folk duets, this album is a microcosm of the diversity that exists within the Umoja Orchestra as a whole. We're all so exited to get it out to all of you.

Thank you so much to all of you for your love. You know we love you back.



A band that can fill the stage with upwards of 10 people, Umoja is a mix of jazz, Latin, afro-beat, and funk; this, even, is too confining. And with an array of styles, people of all castes and colors flock together as one in a sea of positivity.’Umoja means Unity,’ as the band always assures their fans. Umoja. Unity. Oneness. Call the power of love what you wish, but call Umoja a band with a gift.


Abre La Puerta is the sophomore album by Umoja Orchestra, a group that has become a household name in Gainesville for their irresistibly danceable rhythms and "Umoja Means Unity" vibe, which feels like everybody's invited to their party. They play with a stylistic sophistication and playful ease on stage that exceeds their youth and sells out shows at Common Grounds. Their newest CD recorded live as a group is a high energy, collaborative effort between musicians who cooperate like old friends who finish each other's sentences.

Drummer Evan Garfield says Umoja tries to be thoroughly inclusive, even to the point where drum fills that may be slightly off made it on the album as a conscience choice. "It's who we are. I really think that's what we sound like," he said referring to the final cut of Abre La Puerta. Even on stage, when someone messes up, they laugh and keep on. In a similarly all-embracing fashion, Umoja's music embodies a diverse cultural repertoire of musical styles. Many songs experiment with modal Afro-beat grooves, big band horn lines, and lyrics, which are folkloric in the Latin tradition. For example, "Bahía Portete" was influenced in part by Scott Bihorel playing a guaguancó, or Cuban rhythm, on the congas, followed by Sebastián Lopez, vocals and guitar, writing lyrics inspired by a massacre he'd just learned of about the Wayuu people in Bahía Portete, Colombia. On this track the Umoja Orchestra had the privilege of having guest percussionist Allan Rmaos from the Miami band Suenalo play congas. The track, among others like "Talkatalk" and "Indocumentado", tell a story on many levels, and just on the surface, they stimulate a dance party in moments. There is a guest rapper Amin De Jesus from the band Suenalo who drops smooth rhymes over a breakdown in their song "BDD" also.

For the most part, Abre La Puerta, or "open the door", is action-packed. On the title track, Michael's bass line is a worthy backdrop for Scott Clayton's masterful guitar part, and in El Verano I, Natalia Perez's alto vocal harmony shines. But there are a few quieter moments that provide a striking contrast. Jason Prover, trumpet, wrote a four-part horn interlude that was recorded by Jesse Hale of Futureman on the cello. Hale also recorded over a flamenco breakdown in "La Puerta." My favorite is the final track "Yo y Tú y Tú y yo," which was recorded by Michael Pedron in his bedroom with a "mbira" (West African thumb piano), an upright bass, and a cup. It is peaceful and astute in the vein of Brian Eno, and Michael thinks of it as the album's closure when you finally "exhale." It leaves me wanting more, but it's a sweet goodbye like one at a party that's winding down and the guests are all going home in anticipation of the next fiesta.


s a native of Miami, any disc of salsa and meringue influence certainly brings back childhood memories, and this disc is certainly no exception.

Umoja, a Swahili word meaning unity, is certainly appropriate here. This outfit is certainly one tight ship considering its immense size as well as its ability to borrow rhythms from a variety of influences. From vocalist-guitarist Sebastián Lopez-Velazquez to Adam Finkelman on the timbales, Umoja Orchestra stays on point, keeping the dance party moving almost effortlessly.

With over a dozen members that take such Afro-Cuban influences as meringue and charanga and combine them with mainstream Afropop elements such as the singing guitar on “Talkatalk,” Umoja arrive at the Afrobeat altar by its roots as opposed to indie rock like other bands such as Vampire Weekend. These guys probably listen to as much Orchestra Baobab’s Pirate’s Choice and Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra as they do Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria in an effort to make sure all the bases are covered.

Not everything here is a grand-scale Latin collaboration, however. There’s also the lighthearted, stripped-down voice- and-guitar of “Indocumentado,” which sings of the virtues of being anonymous outside of one’s home country. Rock also comes into play on the next track, “La Puerta,” although guest musician Jesse Hale’s cello meets the Santana-style guitar of Scott Clayton early on in the track. Bossa nova and flamenco styles of guitar also duel in the two-part suite “El Verano I” and “El Verano II.” As the title suggests, it’s truly a celebration of all things summer.

While the lyrics are largely in Spanish (the CD’s title translates to “open the door”), it has its Anglo moments, such as the rap break near the end of the mambo workout “B.D.D.” courtesy of Amin de Jesus. Although the influences are many, Umoja Orchestra’s main mission is to bring an international party to the people. It’s refreshing to have a debut recording of such diverse energy from a band right here in Gainesville.



1. Bahia Portete 8:34
2. Baile 6:11
3. Pa' Colombia 5:03
4. Talkatalk 6:13
5. BDD 5:48
6. Intermicion 3:06
7. Indocumentado 2:54
8. La Puerta 5:15
9. El Verano I 2:04
10. El Verano II 4:30
11. Yo Y Tu Y Tu Y To 2:22

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