A Look at Latin American Reality
US BLIND MUSICIANS PLAY IN HAVANA
The Los Ciegos del Barrio band. Left to Right: Machete, Jaime Diaz, Derek Suarez, Alvin Suarez and Jimmy Fontanez. Photo AFP.
South Journal—The US band “Los ciegos del barrio” has brought its music to the public of Havana this week in the context of the International Book Fair, underway in the Cuban capital.
The band, made up of five blind Americans of Latin origin, made their first presentation on Wednesday evening at the Havana-based Casa del Alba center, where the people welcomed the visitors and their music marked by salsa tunes.
“We are the Ciegos del Barrio (The blind guys from the Neighborhood) and this has its own meaning. The El barrio is a sector in Manhattan, New York, cradle of twin brothers Alvin (band director) and Derek Suarez (singer), who created the band in 1997.
Now I do not know why the word Ciego (Blind) is there, keyboard player Machete joked as he introduced the band to the public. The group will also play on Saturday at the La Cabaña fortress, main venue of Havana’s International Book fair, currently underway.
For over two hours dozens of Cubans sang and danced to the music of the US band, which also includes Jaime Diaz (guitar and bass) and Jimmy Fontanez (drums).
With only three CDs on the market, the American band develops different music styles, both in Spanish and in English, including salsa, rock and meringue.
According to local media outlets, the Ciegos del Barrio will also play on Monday at the centrally located Pabellon Cuba, a secondary venue of the book fair, which is dedicated to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas regional integration initiative—ALBA. The bloc, set up in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba, also includes Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, and another three Caribbean island nations.
The fair, whose special guest is Guatemalan indigenous leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Manchu, is being attended by 158 book exhibitors—50 Cubans. This year the event is offering 6 million copies of 2400 books.
L. Chirino - US BLIND MUSICIANS PLAY IN HAVANA « THE SOUTH JOURNAL - February 18, 2011
sábado, 19 de Febrero:
El Proyecto Trovador que dirige Eliot Orborn se presentará por primera vez en Cuba. El grupo Los Ciegos del Barrio esta integrado por músicos de origen latinoamericano, quienes interpretan música tradicional latina.
Celebrando en la XX Feria Internacioanl del Libro
Yannis Lobaina Gonzalez - Kewelta Habana: Los Ciegos Del Barrio - February 13, 2011
La música como puente de hermandad presidió el intercambio cultural que tuvo lugar en esta capital entre los integrantes del grupo norteamericano de origen latino Los Ciegos del Barrio y vocalistas miembros de la Asociación Nacional de Ciegos -ANCI-en la nación caribeña.
La agrupación estadounidense, de visita por vez primera en la ínsula a propósito de la XX edición de la Feria Internacional del Libro Cuba 2011, sostuvo un encuentro con invidentes y débiles visuales de La Mayor de Las Antillas en la sede del Centro Cultural Recreativo de la Asociación.
Directivos de la ANCI expresaron su agradecimiento por tan fructífero intercambio, durante en el cual pudo disfrutarse de la sonoridad de la agrupación norteamericana que incluye en su repertorio la música cubana, además de salsa, bachata, merengue y otros ritmos.
A su vez, los visitantes aquilataron la talla de los vocalistas ciegos de diferentes partes de Cuba invitados al encuentro, quienes forman parte del movimiento de aficionados dentro de esta Organización No Gubernamental fundada el 19 de julio de 1975.
La ANCI nacional agrupa hoy a más de 30 mil cubanos y entre sus objetivos de trabajo sobresale potenciar la cultura como elemento integrador para ese segmento poblacional, al decir del secretario de ese frente de trabajo en la ONG de la ciudad, Guillermo Rodríguez Llerena.
Los Ciegos del Barrio se han presentado en estos días de visita a La Habana, en la sede de la Casa del ALBA y otros espacios donde han promocionado su disco ¿Por qué?, ¡Porque! con diez temas en español.
El grupo, formado por cinco jóvenes invidentes norteamericanos de origen latino está integrado por Machete, Jaime Díaz, Derek Suárez, Alvin Suárez y Jimmy Fontánez. Con apenas tres discos, No lo dude (2000), Dominando (2003) y ¿Por qué? !Porque! (2009), los
norteamericanos cultivan distintos géneros musicales en español e inglés, entre ellos la salsa, el merengue y el rock.
Lissette Martin - Radio Cubana - February 27, 2011
La Habana, 8 feb (PL) La agrupación musical estadounidense Los ciegos del barrio se presentará aquí como parte del programa artístico de la 20 Feria Internacional del Libro Cuba 2011, adelantaron sus organizadores. La banda, fundada en 1997 y dirigida por el guitarrista y percusionista Alvin Suarez, la integran invidentes y débiles visuales de ascendencia latinoamericana.
Los intérpretes de temas como Dime dónde estás y Dominando se presentarán en el capitalino Pabellón Cuba, el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes y La Cabaña, sede central del evento, entre otros espacios. Una Steel Band cubana y el Coro diminuto de La Habana, acompañarán a la banda en dos de sus recitales.
Además de Los ciegos del barrio participarán en la cita editorial artistas como la argentina Liliana Herrero, galardonada en 2005 como mejor solista femenina de folclore de la década y considerada por la crítica como la sucesora de la fallecida Mercedes Sosa.
Yannis Lobaina - La Taburete - February 8, 2011
Entré el lunes 21 (para “hacer” un tiempo) al Pabellón Cuba, donde se mantenía abierta durante otra semana la XX Feria Internacional del libro de la Habana 2011. No puedo decir que me gustara la disposición espacial, ni que el lunes fuera un día de gran vida en el recinto pero en fin… tampoco iba a una fiesta, ¿no? Sin embargo, vi un par de filas de sillas dispuestas y unos músicos haciendo pruebas de sonido y pensé: quizás en un par de horas se haga un concierto. De hecho, efectivamente, a las 6:00pm comenzaba uno. Pero ya eran las 6 menos 10 y allí no había mucha gente. No creo que se esperara…. con tan pocos asientos disponibles. Pero como yo “hacía” tiempo…
Confieso que me quedé un poco impactada. No por la calidad excesiva de los intérpretes en tanto instrumentistas o cantantes. Tampoco por los temas en sí mismos, que casi sé de memoria y que todos podían corear de tanto ir y venir en la música tradicional cubana. Mucho menos por los arreglos que repetían los cánones genéricos y respetaban toda la esencia original. Mi asombro lo causaban las personas, los seres humanos que estaban detrás del piano, el bajo, la guitarra, la tumbadora y la percusión menor. Cinco ciegos de ascendencia latina, radicados en Nueva York, tocaban con el mayor desenfado. Desde hace unos años integran el grupo Los ciegos del barrio y el lunes me demostraron cómo se levantan los hombres ante las barreras y cómo pueden desarrollarse los talentos aunque los caminos parezcan (o en realidad sean) más escabrosos.
No pude quedarme mucho rato. Un compromiso mayor me lo impedía. Dejé a la gente disfrutando. Ya empezaban algunos a bailar. Dos hora más tarde, esperando mi ómnibus en La Rampa, volví a toparme con algunos ciegos, estos ya no músicos, sino cuatro de los espectadores que disfrutaron de este espectáculo sui generis. Estaban tan felices como si ellos mismos hubieran subido al escenario. Solo lamentaban la poca (¿nula?) difusión, siquiera entre los invidentes.
Es lamentable que a veces los que se creen perfectos y/o completos valoran prejuiciadamente tras sus estereotipos, y promocionan los conciertos de DJ, trovadores, gente del pop de esos que tienen gancho y que llenan las salas. Esos, los que no fueron, se perdieron una provechosa experiencia. Yo agradezco a esas casualidades causales del universo porque me pusieron ahí en el momento adecuado. Qué bueno que en New York, en San Juan, en París o La Habana, la gente sigue siendo valiente. Qué bueno que somos diferentes, física, intelectual, espiritualmente. Qué bueno que por la diferencia suenan mejor las armonías y todos, todos, todos, podemos crear y hacer arte, incluso en la oscuridad.
Jorge Enrique Rodríguez / Andrés Mir - Proyecto Esquife: Los Ciegos Del Barrio - February 21, 2011
SOUNDSCAPES | A Limited Vision Musicians' Collective Takes North America
Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 07:00PM
Culture | Interview with Lachi, and Alvin Suarez of Los Ciegos del Barrio, Mar-Apr 2010
Afro-American alternative rock singer-songwriter Lachi has just returned from the American music festival SxSW (South by Southwest) while Latin-American eclectic band leader Alvin Suarez of Los Ciegos del Barrio prepares for shows overseas. They took time to talk to HELO about bringing their music to new audiences, about growing up with music while legally-blind, and about how they’ve worked together for solidarity among limited-vision musicians.
HELO: Thank you very much for talking with HELO Magazine. You guys are united in, would you call it a collective? BeamNYC?
Lachi, singer-songwriter: We’re several visually impaired bands. We get together, do shows, and hang out. We do jam sessions and empower ourselves through our music with fellowship and getting the word out to New York City and beyond.
H: What about your roots? How did you get into music in the first place?
Alvin Suarez, band leader of Los Ciegos del Barrio: We [distinct from Lachi’s band] are a Latin American band. Our roots represent Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guatemala, and of course the United States.
We enjoy music from all over Latin America and we enjoy rock music and hip hop, just about anything and everything. Since we’ve been oversees, we’ve actually picked up music from Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, places like that. Since we’re very passionate about the music we do, we also feel passionate about other cultures, so we feel that music is really a universal language of culture.
As individuals, we represent the visually-impaired and blind community. The roots of our music represent Latin America.
H: And the name of your band, Los Ciegos del Barrio, for the non-Spanish speaking audience? Where does the name come from?
Alvin: It means “The Blind Boys from the Neighborhood”, but I guess we cut it short and modernized it to “Blind Boys from the Hood.” All of us are legally-blind. For those who don’t know what legally-blind means, it does mean that we are not totally blind. We do have limited vision, but there’s a certain legal classification that serves as a border between seeing enough to do activities like drive. The agreed border is 20/200; anything worse than 20/200 but there are other factors.
I have a twin brother. My name is Alvin. My brother’s name is Derek. We don’t see very well at night. We only have maybe five to eight feet of vision, practically blind at night. But our sight improves when there’s lighting. One of the other guys in the band has cataracts better than we do, but has to hold papers up to his face to read it. The other three guys are the opposite as my brother and I. They don’t see when it’s light; they see better when it’s dark.
We initially called ourselves Los Ciegos del Barrio as a joke, but the name kind of stuck. It’s an ice breaker. There are some people in our community that might be concerned with the stigma [potentially related] to the name of the band, but the way we feel is it’s not a weakness for us.
Lachi: For my band, we and Los Ciegos del Barrio share two members. However, I am personally from West Africa and my guitar player is from Trinidad. The other two members are from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. All of our musical elements, especially the newer stuff we’re trying to write together combines it all. What we do is rock, but our roots from other cultures come together to make something more unique than just alternative, straight ahead rock. There are elements of West Indian styles, as well.
We all have our different histories. I can speak for myself on the origins of my music, and it does tie into my vision. When I was a baby, I didn’t learn how to speak until about the age of three. One of those things that helped me learn how to speak other than people just trying to teach me was when my mother bought me one of those little keyboards that have like eight notes.
The more I tried to bang on it, the more I was able to speak. I graduated to a bigger keyboard and then several keyboards and then a grand piano, things like that. As I grew musically, I was able to grow intellectually.
Because I’m visually-impaired, I had issues in school, so I would sort of block myself off and write stories or music. Performing really allowed me to have an outlet and be myself. When I wasn’t performing, I was just sitting in the corner studying or being really quiet. But when I got up on stage and started playing piano I was able to show people who I was. That’s when I knew I had to do music. It really did hold my hand and help me grow.
Slow Down Music Video
Lachi | MySpace Music Videos
H: With the experience of West Africa, was there a stark difference between there and here for you, or not?
Lachi: I wasn’t born in West Africa. My parents and older sisters are from there. However, I go back there all the time. Most of our extended family is back there. Obviously, things are very different. I went there three years ago and went on a date with a guy. The guy said, "You're very lucky that your parents were well off enough to allow you to be raised in America because if you were raised here with your blindness you wouldn't have been given any opportunity to pursue your music career or anything."
I remember going to the bus stop with my parents and there were beggars on the corner. Some didn’t have any arms, and there were a couple who looked fine. We went over there and found out they were blind, and that was the only thing wrong with them. Therein lies the very special thing about being raised here, being able to be supported by social workers, being given the music, and having people realize it’s the music that is helping.
Alvin: Often when we go overseas it’s with a nonprofit organization called, Project Troubador. Our former high school teacher, Eliot Osbourne, the founder of Project Troubador, from the School for the Blind up in the Bronx, took us to Russia. What Project Troubador does is send musicians around to developing nations. We were priviledged. It was 1992 and we had gone to Russia, right after the Cold War ended.
We noticed that the people housing us from the theater company, a lot of the shows they got us were factories. Lo and behold, the factories had a lot of blind people working there. In other countries they have a tendency to either isolate and/or institutionalize the blind community. They’ll stick them in factories or in schools. Some of them will just be at home, not doing anything but being with their families though they’re well into adulthood.
We went to the Dominan Republic. It wasn’t as isolated there for a lot of them. Culturally, a lot of them would still be at home with their families and be taken care of through their adulthood and middle age and such. But there was a small opening for awareness. We played for a music school for the blind in 2006. There were a couple blind musicians that made it big from the Dominican Republic.
In a lot of ways we’re very fortunate in this country. We have opportunity and laws and social work and stuff like that helps us along in accomplishing our goals.
H: We talked about how people have an issue about livelihoods. Sometimes it’s a class issue where the family has been educated that the barriers are not insurmountable, where other families do think they’re insurmountable. It boils down to livelihoods. What is this person going to do for their career for income to support their family? What do you think is that key factor distinguishing the families that empower their child to grow up to earn a livelihood versus those who discriminate against their own child?
Alvin: It doesn’t take much in terms of economics to be educated enough to know how to view a disabled person. Economics matter for the non-disabled as much as for anyone. Economics will always be the haves or the have nots. But it’s how you think of a disabled person that matters.
My Mom, for example, had us very young. She was seventeen-years-old with twin boys, and they’re both legally blind. So now she had it really tough. She didn’t have any money. She didn’t get to finish high school, though she did later on. She made her share of mistakes like we all do when we’re younger and have our first child. [But] she never raised us like “disabled persons.” She always had us go out and play with the regular kids. She fought so hard; a lot of schools didn’t really want us.
We weren’t totally blind, so the School for the Blind was hesitant to take us, but we didn’t see well enough for the main stream schools. But our Mom, instead of feeling sorry for us, bought books and taught us at home [for the first year]. They finally diagnosed us as legally-blind. By the time we were twelve years old, we were reading twelfth-grade level, so my Mom was able to thumb her knows at the idea that there was something wrong with us. I told you, she said, it’s just that they can’t see.
We started playing music when we were about ten years old. My father was a musician and used to bring his band over when we were kids before they split up. We used to pick up the instruments. We would get sound out of it, and enjoy it. When we were a little older, he used to take us to his shows and let us play on stage with him for the first time.
Lachi: There is definitely a formula of your parents not treating you like a disabled child. I ended up being the sixth of seven children. My mom also had kids when she was young, and kept having kids. With me—they didn’t know what the problem was, whether I was blind or not. They thought that I had developmental issues.
My mom also fought very hard to make sure I had everything I needed. At home she treated me just as the other kids. However, she did make sure to fight and make sure I had what I needed as a blind child. I think that’s what distinguishes the strong-willed disabled people from the ones that are really coddled cause they were coddled while they were younger.
H: Not only for limited vision but for full blindness, how is technology evolving? I’m sure people reading this are wondering about how people with limited vision keep up on magazines, which are largely photo-visual as well as print. And second, what about technology for creating music without relying on visuals?
Lachi: You know what was funny? I was doing a master’s thesis at New York University on whether blindness has an effect on musical acuity, musical intelligence. Part of my proposal was that I was going to have an online musical quiz for people who are blind. The first time I sent in my proposal it was rejected. I asked why, and they said, "We don’t understand how blind people are going to take an online quiz. That doesn’t make any sense." I thought, "That’s so cute."
I’m sure most people know that there are things like screen-readers and text-to-speech and speech-to-text. Those are things that non-blind people use as well. That’s pretty mainstream. Some of the things they’re coming out with are cool, like the iPod phone; you can do double-tap or different tapping schemes in order for a blind person to use a touch screen phone. It also has a voice telling you what your options are, so you’re not touching random spots on the screen. It’s one really awesome feat in technology. Also, there are the simple things like zoom-text.
Not sure if you’re familiar with recording software like ProTools or Cakewalk, but now a lot of blind people are able use recording software because the recording softwares are compatible with JAWS or have their own built-in screenreaders within the program.
Also, there are musical notes in Braille. Someone can now write out sheet music and scan it in. There’s a program, I think it’s called Dancing Dots. It can turn sheet music into Braille on paper. One can use the fingers on one hand to feel the notes and then map it out on a keyboard with the other.
H: What gets you riled up about getting your music out there in the music industry these days?
Alvin: A lot of our music comes from deep within. Our minds, our hearts, our experiences. There are things we create the same way an artist would create a sculpture or a painting or anything that is meaningful to him or her, so every bit of music is meaningful to us. We want to share it. Yes, there’s a business aspect of it, but as artists and as people who are just proud of our creations and who we are, any chance we get to share it with anyone else and have it is rewarding for us. It certainly wouldn’t hurt for the industry to get a hold of it, too.
Los Ciegos del Barrio, our music tends to be a bit silly sometimes. We enjoy it when somebody gets one of our jokes, visual or audio. You know when somebody makes a face, something funny with the eyes, we do it with sound.
H: Your music does sound really vibrant and celebratory, and I did hear one which was a little tongue and cheek.
Alvin: Yeah, “Ciegueton.” That’s track five off our new album. Sometimes we tend to make our statements, and this is part of the reward of creating and getting our music out. Part of it is getting our message out. In that particular song, “Ciegueton,” we’re not too crazy about the way the reggaeton industry has evolved, we have a lot of references to a lot of reggaeton artists and hip-hop artists. Part of that music involves self-promotion. We’re the kings we’re better than everyone, but what will happen is they will put something like a silencer on a shotgun.
I will rap a line “You hide behind the” genre. A lot of people won’t say, I’m the king of reggaeton because then they will offend somebody in the genre that is huge. They’re not going to say, I’m the king of hip-hop. They will say, I’m the king of the genre. Our thing is, we’re the masters of everything we do because we actually do feel good about what we do.
We don’t hide behind the genre. We purposely put out a multi-genre album that’s very unlike the industry standard. We combine hard rock and Bachata, and then we have a reggaeton which has a lot of Latin roots to it, Mexican music, Domenican, Haitian music, or the Haitian-style merengue. Who does that in Latin America?
And then we have a rock song full of garage sound. We recorded the first bachata that was ever played on the radio re-did as a rock song and we intentionally made it sound as dirty as possible cause we wanted a raw dirty sound. We play with very high energy and it draws a very good reaction from the public.
H: Lachi, it sounds like you got a new record deal recently?
Lachi: We recently got signed by a record label called, Fanatic Records, distributed through EMI, a bunch of really cool dudes. We were in talks for a while. The lawyers were going back and forth for about six months. It was very exciting to put my name down on paper, but it’s been in talks for a while. To answer your previous question about getting my music out there and what riles me up: I do now have the opportunity to distribute the music to a wide international market. A lot of my songs are very personal. My band members, I love them to death, but I’m the sole songwriter.
Music is really what took my hand and helped me through everything. As a person that was really closed in, I never spoke much, almost clinically mute until about college. I could always open up completely when it came to music. I could always be my complete self when writing a song. So whenever I sang a song to someone, they’d be like, oh wow, that’s who you are?
When I opened up in college after having been nearly mute for so many years, it was awkward. I’m pretty sure this is true for everyone: You’ll go out there and be nice and you’ll go home and then say but this is who you are when alone in your room.
That person that I was out there, that’s part of me, and when I was yelling at that guy that was part of me, and when I was hanging out with my girlfriend or boyfriend that’s part of me. But now that I’m alone, this is who I am. That feeling of this is who I am is what I get when I’m singing my music. That’s why I have so much vigor getting my music out. It’s the only way I know to be myself.
H: Your music, you’ve called it rock, it goes across a range of styles of rock from sultry crooning to sultry trip-hop. What are your origins and how would you describe it?
Lachi: I’ve been calling it piano-driven alternative rock, or jazz-influenced piano-driven alternative rock. People just keep adding things. It’s like a paragraph now. [Laughs] I listen to the Beatles, Alannis Morisette, Lauren Hill, Smashing Pumpkins, pretty much all over.
Yesterday I was [trying new songs on Pandora.com] and realized that no two artists that I like are in the same genre. My music, I don’t sit there and write it like, hey I’m a rock artist. I just say I’m going to write a tune. If it comes out rock, it’s rock. Jazzy, it’s jazz. But the label is like, you have to figure out what you are. I really like it’s out-of-the-box-edness. You can call it alt-rock. [But] it’s really all about the emotion I feel.
H: if you could have a rock music duel, who would you challenge? Somebody you want to jam with, or somebody to take down?
Lachi: Someone I’ve always wanted to open for, write a song with, or at least throw beers back with is Amanda Palmer from the Dresden Dolls. I love her. I will eat her alive. She’s also a piano-driven rock artist. Definitely her. A lot of people have compared me to Allanis Morisette or Avril Lavigne, Paramour, or Alicia Keyes, though I don’t see that.
Alvin: In terms of taking bands down, we don’t feel we’re in the big leagues yet, but do believe we’re a big league band full of big league ideas. Anybody we’d take down is anybody who thinks they can take us down. If we feel like we can take the challenges we have in life, then there’s no band that can challenge us.
I would have loved to have met John Lennon. He would have been somebody that I admire. Johnny Vantura, a Dominican artist, a merengue legend. Blas Duran is another one. He kept Bachata on the map when nobody was listening to it. In the ‘80s, a lot of really silly songs. He had this album in the late 80’s, bunch of goofy songs. A lot of it sentimental, but it was a hit at parties. Anthony Santos. Bob Marley, for his activism.
H: What do you do for fun and catharsis when you’re not performing?
Alvin: I have my family. My two twin daughters. My step-son. A wife at home. Work. I’m actually a central-office technician for a telecommunications company. That’s what has funded my music career. I’m a huge sports fan. Listening to CDs. Throwing a beer back.
Lachi: I jog. I work during the day for the Department of Health in New York City. I have a boyfriend, don’t know if that’s a responsibility. [Laughs] Actually, I do a lot of writing. Apart from music writing, I write poems, shorts stories, novels. I published a novel; I’m actually working on my second. I like web design. I like to throw musical showcases with friends .
Alvin: Lachi’s been a great friend of ours. That’s always appreciated.
H: Thanks very much for joining us. A lot of our readers are going to enjoy checking out you music.
Los Ciegos del Barrio.
HELO Magazine: SOUNDSCAPES | A Limited Vision Musicians' Collective Takes North America - Mar 14, 2010
“Los Ciegos Del Barrio” Hope to be New Latino Sensation
By Shaira Frias
Published November 09, 2010
| Fox News Latino
The Latino band version of Stevie Wonder has arrived - and while they can’t see they can certainly make people groove.
“Los Ciegos del Barrio,” a group with five blind band members, has been entertaining thousands with a multi-genre blend of merengue, bachata, salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, and even rock.
They say they never let their disability get in the way of their musical spirit.
“We can do the same things anybody else can,” said band director, Alvin Suarez. “Luckily, to play music we only need our ears and not our eyes.”
As with a sancocho, the diversity of the band cannot be missed.
Suarez, who was born and raised in Harlem, and is of Guatemalan, Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, shares the stage with his twin brother Derek. Joining them are Dominican cousins Arnaldo “Machete” Vargas and Jaime Diaz and Puerto Rican Jimmy Fontanez.
In 2000, “Los Ciegos del Barrio” released their first album, “No lo dude.” The record included beats from instruments the band shares a common passion for, including the drums, keyboard, accordion, rhythm guitar and bass. Since then, they have released three albums.
Alvin Suarez remains hopeful the band will be a success. “The music industry can take it or leave it, but they can’t take the love of music we have,” Suarez said.
The band’s recent single, “Buscando la luz,” was released earlier this year. Derek Suarez, who composed the song, says it is “about being legally blind yet finding a positive outlook in life.”
“We may be legally blind but it doesn’t take away how we can represent you in a positive manner,” he added.
Thanks to New York City-based Project Troubador, a non-profit that dedicates itself to sending musicians to third world countries, band members have been able to tour Russia and Dominican Republic. They are also planning a concert in Cuba next year.
“When we went to the Dominican Republic in 2006, we did a two-week tour,” Alvin Suarez said. “This gave us a chance to give back to the community that we represent since we played at a school for the blind.”
In December, “Los Ciegos del Barrio” will be performing a Christmas show
Shaira Frias - Fox News Latino - November 09, 2010
Published: September 13, 2010 8:43 PM EST
By: Isaac Davis Jr., MBA
New Music Spotlight
September 2010 Edition
Los Ciegos Del Barrio
Music Now Artist/Band Spotlight Weekly Series
Los Ciegos Del Barrio
Our Webzine is delighted to introduce to our readers a special interview with Alvin Suarez and Machete of Los Ciegos Del Barrio. This amazing band has captured the true essence of Latin music with their own special original blend of the popular genre. The Latin music group from New York City uses Merengue, Bachata, Salsa, Cumbia, Reggaeton, and Rock tones in their music in both English and Spanish that will entertain music fans for hours and hours end. Check out what Alvin and Machete had to say about the plight of the DIY artists and the state of the Indie Music Industry in this honest and in-depth spotlight. Enjoy!
Isaac: HI Los Ciegos Del Barrio! You are living, working, and performing in New York City Tri-State area. Describe the music scene in your location and what does this mean to you as an artist/band.
Alvin: It really means a lot more competition...not necessarily personal competition, but just the fact that the music scene, in general in New York City is very saturated and it means that we have to find a way to stand out even more than with just our music. It's not enough anymore to just have talent.
Isaac: You have listed a ton of iconic music giants as your musical influences. Of these influences, who would you love to work with in a collaboration effort in the near future?
Alvin: I would actually love to play with a Dominican Merengue Tipico legend named Bartolo Alvarado, AKA "El Ciego De Nagua". I've met him personally after one of his shows, but I just absolutely love his music and he represents our communities proudly. I'd also love to work with "Fulanito" who, to me, is a very creative group. They weren't always accepted by the industry right away, but kept persisting with their original blend of Tipico and dance music and have gotten some much deserved success because of their creativity.
Isaac: What’s the biggest challenge of pursuing a career in music?
Alvin: The fact that live music is not as respected and appreciated as it should be...everyone wants to go for the Karaoke thing where someone either sings along to prerecorded music, or someone who is attractive to the eyes even when they can't sing a lick but can sure shake that rump...for whatever reason, they seem to get more respect by club owners and others who look for entertainment...maybe it's cheaper, but it's not better and I can't honestly say it's hard work. The assumption that musicians are just a bunch of dreaming low-lives that are willing to work for nothing but exposure and that we don't deserve to make any kind of living or even some sort of reward for our hard work and creativity, to me, is an absolute slap in the face to us real musicians. That's why we never like to trash what any other band is doing or disrespect any approach that a band wants to take in promoting themselves and making it out there because we know how incredibly tough it is and we are all united in our struggles.
There are way too many people who don't look at what we do as work, but believe me, when you go to the studio on your free time after a hard day's work, or you go and have to sing through cigarette smoke or the stench of 18 different kinds of beer, when you have to spend your own money on promotion because no one's really backing you up, when you have to carry heavy equipment and then have to worry about not smashing your fingers because you need them to play your instrument and then when you are tired as hell, would love to stay home and spend a beautiful day with your significant other, your family or some friends, but you have to either rehearse or play a show...it's hard work.
A lot of people look at the glamorous side to it all, but many of us have to really work at it just to enjoy some of the fun aspects of why we love playing music.
MACHETE: Differentiating fact from myth. Virtually no one pursues a musical career without having some kind of vision that one day they will be influential enough to share their music and ideas with the world at large. Keep in mind, however, I'm not talking about someone who picks up an instrument for a hobby and buys a "how-to" video just to entertain at family gatherings. I'm talking about a junior-high or high school age lion that puts countless amounts of time, voluntarily and involuntarily, into learning the craft. When you begin to step out, you hear stories about Guns 'n' Roses being discovered at CBGB's, or the Smithereens being discovered at Kenny's Castaways or Bitter End, and you think it's as simple as that. You play at the trendy venues, elbow-to-elbow with other bands, you get taken to the cleaners by managers who just want in on your naivety, before you know it, you're cash-strapped, none-the-more popular than when you were in high school, and looking for a day job, recession or not.
Isaac: What do you like about performing in an intimate setting versus a huge setting and vice versa?
Alvin: I enjoy playing for anyone...no crowd is too big or too small. The only downer would be if 150 are expected, but we only have 5 in the crowd...then it could be a drag. But then it gets offset by the shows where we expect 5 people, but get 150. Either way, we are professionals and we are there to make the room move and if all 5 people, or all 150 people, or heck even the 10,000 we played for at some of the more major festivals we've done are all dancing, making noise, clapping their hands or even singing along to what we play...it's all worthwhile.
Isaac: What is the process you take to write? How do you go from a spark to a completed finished song?
Alvin: First, I have music in my head…then I’m usually inspired by my surroundings…maybe the experiences of others and even my own experiences…the lyrics are usually the last thing in mind. Sometimes I’ll come up with the hook or a specific phrase and then I make sure I incorporate it into one of my song ideas. I love writing.
Isaac: When did you decide you wanted to take the DIY (Do It Yourself) route?
Alvin: We have no choice. It’s not like Univision is knocking at our door and I think the industry is too afraid to try and sell an all legally blind band of 30 somethings because it is out of their comfort zone. The funny thing is that we all have our own attitudes, opinions and philosophies that really add flavor to what we do and it’s very different than what you hear on the radio…and then all we hear is how “all the music sounds the same”. And then the industry wonders why they’re not doing so well and why the playing field has leveled in the last 10 years between independent and signed commercial artists. The industry does not realize that indy bands are actually much more valuable and are actually taken more seriously for what they create because it’s not the same as one would hear on the radio…but I guess the industry didn’t get that memo yet.
Isaac: What are the pros and cons of doing everything yourself vs. working with others in the music industry?
Alvin: Doing it ourselves is good because we have control over what we do…creatively and financially…I guess in a sense, we’re not owned…but at the same time, we’re a much smaller voice because when an artist works with others…especially within the industry…there is now a much more powerful and larger entity representing the artist…not always for their interests, but some of it does help because they can get our music out there much faster than we can and to more people…but a lot of that does come with a price and it’s all a matter of what price are we willing to pay to achieve our musical goals…sometimes it’s about compromise and other times it’s about listening to our convictions…either way…no band will ever succeed without first recognizing the balance between the two, and just being themselves and not worrying about what others think as long as they enjoy what they’re doing.
Isaac: What is the most difficult part about juggling family, life, work, and a music career for you as a performer/artist/band?
Alvin: It’s all about time management…obviously, work is our livelihood…it’s where money comes from…without money, there is nothing to offer our family or our music careers. It’s the unfortunate reality. Anyone who is not already born into money, or already has a major label backing them, that thinks they could survive just playing music independently without a financial plan is fooling him/herself. Nothing is free and nothing is cheap and it is our responsibility to take care of our family, music and really just our lifetime needs and without any kind of income, it’s impossible. As much as we’d love music to be our primary source of income and as much as we wish we could do it 7 days a week and 24 hours a day, the reality is that we put ourselves in a much tougher position if we are not willing to have something to fall back on. Music is feast or famine, but family and life will always be around. Only the hardest workers will be able to balance all of that and understand that it’s just the way life is…but we wouldn’t trade any of that for the world because we love our families, we love our work, we love music and we love life.
Isaac: What are your plans for the future?
Alvin: We are planning a tour in Cuba early next year with a non-profit organization called “Project Troubador”, who sends entertainers around the world every year to developing nations for free shows for as many people as possible. Not for fame, not for money and not for recognition, but for the people. Also stemming off the success of our latest CD “¿Por Que? ¡Porque…!“, we plan on getting back to the studio and releasing a new CD in late 2011. We’re not going to stop and the sky is the limit for us
Isaac Davis Jr., MBA - Junior's Cave: Los Ciegos Del Barrio - September 13, 2010
“Los Ciegos Del Barrio” or “The Blind Guys from the Neighborhood” played during the recent beer fest at the Salisbury ski jumps to raise money for the Jane Lloyd Cancer Fund and the Salisbury Winter Sports Association.
Los Ciegos Del Barrio band (Loosely translated; The Blind guys from the Hood) had those attending the recent beer fest at the Salisbury Ski Jumps moving to its fast-paced rhythms. But along with the praises and compliments from the listeners came surprise to learn the band’s name is not just a catchy choice: Most of the members are legally blind noted musician Eliot Osborn, who along with his wife, Louise Lindenmeir, created Project Troubador, which seeks to send entertainers to countries throughout the world to work with local community leaders in support of a variety of issues.
The couple and George Potts also comprise the “Joint Chiefs”, a popular local band. But back in the late ‘80’s, when songwriter Osborn was trying to support himself, he took a job teaching music at the New York Institute for Special Education, which serves students with disabilities.
Osborn helped then, 15 and 16 year olds establish a band and find places for it to play. “They played the Village Gate for a month and Project Troubador took them to Russia,”he said. “Some of them have played in South America and Africa. I started out as their mentor and ended up as a roadie.”
The band has a special relationship to the Northwest corner because of Osborn and has played in area towns on many occasions.
Osborn talked about the men’s disability, nothing about being blind doesn’t make one musical. “It’s not a help unless there is talent. You’re special if you have both. This band is unique. They listen to each other. After all, you don’t see music, you hear it.”
Band leader Alvin Suarez said Osborn “Taught us to be professional musicians.” The three main band members, including Suarez’s twin brother Derek, are legally blind and while they had enough sight to read music as youngsters, they couldn’t do it fast enough. “So we learned it by ear. We’re always teaching each other.” Suarez said more than their disabilities making them unique, is that they are a multi genre group. “And we’re also bilingual.”
He talked about the wonderful trips they had throughout Project Troubador. The band will be traveling to Cuba in February. “We basically play 2 to 5 free shows a day in such venues as schools and parks. We’re ambassadors of good will for the people.”
While they would love for the music to be their full-time profession, that hasn’t yet happened. They all have other jobs to pay the bills. The New Yorkers enjoy coming up to the Northwest corner, usually playing in the area about 5 times a year.
“This is the real deal,” said Jay Bradley, a drummer and music teacher at Webutuck High School in Amenia, NY., who was listening to the band at the beer fest.
Ruth Epstein - Republican - American October 20th 2010
The following is a review from Top40-Charts.com in Los Angeles, CA on November 17, 2009
High Energy Latin Band LOS CIEGOS DEL BARRIO To Release Album 'Por Que Porque...!' At The Parkside Lounge, December 4th
LOS ANGELES (Top40 Charts/ Los Ciegos Del Barrio) - Fresh, driving, lively and bold, the formidable and eclectic Los Ciegos Del Barrio commands upbeat yet fun-loving music and silly but often philosophical lyrics in their new album "¿Por Que? ¡Porque...!" The album can best be categorized as a multi-genre Latin album including aspects of merengue, bachata, West African music, salsa, rap, reggaeton and Latin rock to name a few. The album name translates to "Why? Because...!" which is meant to symbolize their pride in incredible musical diversity and spirit. Los Ciegos Del Barrio, an all blind band as their name implies, has had their music dubbed "impressive" by El Pueblo Latino and "rocking...rollicking revelry" by Elyse's County Journal of Connecticut.
"¿Por Que? ¡Porque...!" is currently being digitally distributed through CDBaby, iTunes and Amazon among others. With an increasing influx of Internet and terrestrial radio play and interview requests, Los Ciegos continues to reaffirm their great artistry in the Tri-State region.
Top40-Charts.com - November 17, 2009