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Sunday, July 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A&E >  Music

Milonga blends styles from the Spanish speaking world

Milonga will bring the grooves to the banks of the Spokane River on Friday, July 13 as part of they Rhythm and Brews series sponsored by the Hotel RL. (Tim Halloran)
Milonga will bring the grooves to the banks of the Spokane River on Friday, July 13 as part of they Rhythm and Brews series sponsored by the Hotel RL. (Tim Halloran)

Local band Milonga certainly lives up to its name. Translating literally to mean “song and dance,” a milonga is an informal, traditional gathering involving live music and dancing. Milonga frontman Nicolas Vigil refers to a milonga as a “musical potluck.”

The band holds their namesake close by focusing on bringing the sounds of Latin culture to Spokane audiences. In addition to exploring a diverse variety of sounds – from flamenco to Afro-Cuban – band members also use music as an avenue to take a stand on current social issues they are passionate about.

In April, the band played at a fundraiser to help raise money for legal assistance for families that are being separated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “We’re all Americans, we come from Latino families, we come from mixed families, we come from white families, we come from black families and Asian families, but we’re all Americans,” Vigil said. “We believe that family is kind of the building block of society and shouldn’t be separated.”

Vigil, who also plays guitar, accordion, and percussion, talked with The Spokesman-Review. Other members of the band include: George De La Rosa (hand percussion), Eddie Ramirez (bass and background vocalist), Chris Newbury (drums), Paul Flores (saxophone), Jesse Flanagan (trumpet), and Frazer Wambeke (keyboard). Answers have been edited for length.

Q. How would you describe your sound?

A. We are a fusion of pan-Latin dance grooves. We try to play dance grooves from all over the Spanish-speaking empire. … We’re not one particular type of music. We’re not a salsa band; we’re not a mariachi band, although we do those styles. It’s a pan-Latin experience sprinkled with some reggae, some funk, some hip-hop, some jazz, some rock and roll.

Q. Do you perform mostly covers or do you write original songs as well?

A. We predominantly write originals. … We try to make it our own if we do cover something … We have recorded an album we released back in 2009 called “The Brown Album” and now we’re working on putting together another one. We got an offer from a really great producer to help us with our next album and he also hooked us up with an arranger who is really dynamite; both of them are Grammy winners. We’re going to be moving ahead with a Kickstarter fund coming up here soon and hopefully get enough funds together to record a real album.

Q. What styles of music or musical artists do you take inspiration from?

A. A lot of what we do stems from the traditional artists that have done this for years and just the traditional styles that have developed. … There’s also some fusion artists that we really like … There’s a guy up in Canada who’s originally from Cuba; he goes by Alex Cuba and he’s a really great fusion of Cuban soul and rock and roll … Probably one of the bands that’s been the biggest influence to us is Ozomatli, out of L.A. They’re a fusion of a lot of different globe styles … Another one we really look up to is Quetzal. Quetzal is an amazing band with a really fierce, socially conscious stance on a lot of the issues that are going on today for Latino Americans with immigration and social issues.

Q. What would be your dream venue to play?

A. Oh gosh, I mean Red Rocks would be cool. We love playing at festivals where there’s a big crowd, it’s outdoors, it’s just kind open and free. Those are always just the most fun for us because the crowds seem to be the most interactive and that’s what we really enjoy. We recently, in May for Cinco de Mayo, we got to play at the Bing Crosby Theater with Spokane Jazz Orchestra. It was really a treat. That’s a venue we never saw ourselves being a marquee attraction at, and lo and behold, Cinco de Mayo was a marquee attraction in downtown Spokane.

Q. What are the biggest challenges and biggest rewards of playing music?

A. I would say the biggest challenge is trying to get everybody’s schedules, it’s like getting the stars to align. With so many players in the band and so many of them play in other bands, it’s hard to get gigs where everybody’s there. It’s near impossible to get a rehearsal that everybody can make it … But, you just have to forge ahead with whoever is able to do whatever they can do. A little bit of progress is better than no progress. The biggest reward is reaching people. The coolest thing about what we do is we’re able to reach out and get people to dance who wouldn’t normally be into Latin groove … Our audience is not just Latino, but it’s comprised of a lot of people. There’s people of all different ethnic backgrounds, walks of life, and ages. It’s cool to look out there and see people setting their differences aside to come together and enjoy something cultural like this.

Q. What are your favorite songs to perform or which songs appear to be crowd favorites?

A. I think “Viva la Musica” is one of our ones that people latch onto. It’s got a catchy hook that people can remember and sing along with. It’s danceable; it’s got a salsa groove to it. “Spain In Your Face” is a crowd-pleaser because it changes the rhythm, it changes the style. It changes the tempo several times throughout the song and it’s very much a story. “Lindo Guacamayo” is another one and that’s also got a story behind it. It’s a lot of fun, interactive stuff with the crowd, jumping, screaming, singing, having a good time.

Q. What advice do you have for any other Spokane locals who might be interested in pursuing music or starting a band?

A. I think the thing is you just have to keep forging along with the direction you want to go and what you want to do. People come and go from your project, from your vision, and that’s fine. It’s rare to stay with the same group forever … Just keep doing your thing and eventually you will get better and you’ll pick up momentum … Persistence pays off, they say.

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