Latin Style, Bio Ritmo: The Rhythm of Life >>
Embracing the straight-up, street-wise classic salsa sound of the 1970s Puerto Rican New York, Bio Ritmo brings hard-core groove, creativity, and pure energy back to the forefront of music. Bio Ritmo is a veteran salsa band out of Richmond, Virginia, creating a buzz everywhere they go. They recently won the Disc Makers Independent Music World Series (IMWS) Northeast finals in New York City, beating out 1,700 other independent bands from the entire Northeast region. Their live shows have been called “downright flammable” and their latest self-titled release, Bio Ritmo, on the Locutor label, had been generating top reviews. They’re getting airplay on National Public Radio and tropical radio shows all over the country. Two songs off this current release, “Atrevete” and “Hermano,” are at the top of Italy’s salsa charts. Their album’s national release is slated at the end of March and will be available in stores all over the U.S. and Canada.
Bio Ritmo has had quite a journey as a band, and with this, their fourth release, they are coming full circle back to their rhythmic roots. And with 13 years together as a band, they will not disappoint even the most discerning music lover. These musicians are serious, their songs original, their arrangements tight, and their live shows raise the roof. You’ll hear elements of bomba, samba, charanga, danzón, and bolero in some of the songs. This band can play!
Most of the members of the band hail from Richmond of the Washington, D.C. area. Some members are Puerto Rican or Latino by heritage, but most are born and/or raised in the United States. Although they are a straight salsa band, they are definitely the next generation of Latin alternative, having shared the stage with great bands like Café Tacuba, Ozomatli, and Sargento Garcia, as well as legends Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, and Poncho Sanchez. They definitely appeal to a diverse musical audience and those who truly love good music will love Bio Ritmo.
Latin Style recently had the opportunity to talk with Bio Ritmo’s keyboardist/pianist extraordinaire, Marlysse Simmons, who was described by the hose of a local Latin music radio show as “a master with diamond fingers.” But as she will tell you, the entire band is an incredible group of gifted and extremely creative musicians who work collectively to create their original sound and original songs.
Latin Style: Can you give us a short history of the band?
Marlysse Simmons: It started in 1991 as a drummer collective for a specific show in Richmond, Virginia, with a guy named Jorge Negron (who is no longer with the band), The original members who are still part of the group are Gabo (Tomasini, congas) and Rei Alvarez (vocals and guiro). They kept going and it evolved into what we are today. It first started just with drums, sax, and bass, later they added a piano, and soon after they added Justin Iriccio, our timbale player. They weren’t afraid to start recording right away. They are all very creative people.
This is the band’s fourth album?
Yes. In 1996, Bio Ritmo recorded Que siga la musica (on the Shameless label), the next year we did two, a seven-inch called Piraguero (available at www.merge.com) and Salsa Galactica (Permanent), and in 1998, Rumba Baby Rumba (Triloka) came out.
The last two albums rook a different direction.
The last album, Rumba Baby Rumba, got a lot of press, because it was on a major label. It’s not anything like what the band is about now. The first album, Que siga la musica, is how we’re promoting this album – as Bio Ritmo’s first album! – and we still play some songs from that album which is in that old-school salsa style.
When was this album recorded?
At then end of 2002 and beginning of 2003. It was a live recording. The whole band was in the studio together; Rei was singing but he was sick. So he did the vocals later, except for the bolero, “Rayito” (the last track on the album). He was laying in bed one morning while the rest of the band was in the studio, and he wrote “Rayito.” He came back to the studio that evening and sang us the tune. I added the chords and an intro, we list some candles and recorded it. That was really fun, since it was so spontaneous. The whole album has that live feel, which we wanted.
Would you say that one of the strong points of Bio Ritmo is your live show?Yeah. I’ve heard people say that you gotta see Bio Ritmo live. I agree with that. I get that a lot. We have great energy.
You just won that Billboard Music Disc Maker’s award.
Yeah - that was really cool. We were surprised. It was for bands not on major labels. I knew the contest was rock or pop music orientated. I knew we had a good album, and I thought if the judges like good music, we’ll get in, but I wasn’t expecting it. We just love to play. We’re used to playing two to three hours minimum, but in the contest you’re only allowed 20 minutes, so when we got on stage we went crazy! The energy level was out of control. We tore it up – it was fun.
Who are Bio Ritmo’s musical influences?
Rei always mentions Marvin Santiago and Sonora Poncena. Basically all the styles of salsa that came from the ‘70s, because pre-‘70s was more mambo. The ‘80s was more romantic salsa and the ‘90s fell into a formula, in my opinion. The ‘70s had that hard-line classic-style salsa. It’s all about groove. It goes along with everything in that time. Nothing too complicated. Simple melodies, simple horn lines, simple coros, and also what is very important to Rei, in his lyrics and singing, is that is means something. All the songs Rei put a lot of thought into his lyrics. So what we’re trying to do is that simplicity but grooving stuff. Also experimentation. We’re going more in that direction, keeping it natural.
You all write your own songs.
For this album Rei had most of the ideas. Bob arranged the horns and I would suggest different chord changes. Justin wrote the instrumental and added different things to the arrangements, such as rhythmic changes. Sometimes it takes a long time or sometimes it’s really quick. But it’s a collective process and that is what Bio Ritmo is about. Nobody’s in charge. On stage, Justin is our leader, but overall we all make decisions together. I think it make the group happier. Everyone feels like they’re as important. It works out.
What are your touring plans for the next year?
Mainly we have plans this summer to hit the Northeast, Chicago, Ontario, and we have plans to hit everywhere in the U.S. eventually. It’s up in the air, because we don’t have a booking agent that works the whole country. We need someone. The tour information is updated on out website, but we may hit the West Coast in the fall.
You’ve survived for a long time as a band.
Yeah, this is like a rebirth for Bio Ritmo.
Where do you see the band going in the future? 03/01/04
I see us making more music. We have a dozen new songs already. I’ve got ideas, Rei’s got ideas, Justin’s got ideas. We’ve got a lot of ideas for new songs. We want to put out another album by the end of the year. I see us making music. We’ll be traveling around. I want to play in Europe. Starting in March, Bio Ritmo will be all over the radio. You can hear Bio Ritmo on NPR radio, local Latin shows, XM radio, I-Tunes, Napster and Batanga. The CD should be released March 9th. Our first CD release party will be March 29th at S.O.B.’s in New York City.