“Sesiones al natural”, soundscapes under the blue sky
From the thicket in a field of cockscomb flowers, two trumpeters emerge playing a traditional rhythm. Minutes later, Byt Band gives a concert among the corridors dense with flowers, velvety carmine red, yellow, pink and solferino. This performance belongs to one of the “Sesiones al natural”, a project that blends locations and acoustic themes. Rocksteady, reggae and ska sound in the landscape. Byt Band seems completely natural.
These sessions, framed in the natural setting of the Oaxacan Central Valleys, Zautla, Huitzo or San Antonino Castillo Velasco, are part of one of the projects that the band launched during the Covid-19 pandemic to maintain its connection with its followers. The concerts are performed completely naturally, without connecting to speakers, with music recorded acoustically on a small recorder, and using cell phones. They generate important dynamics to keep playing and give people a moment to rejoice with the videos of the concerts. Each session refers us to the clean blue sky, to a trance of metals, we ride into space.
“Live Sessions”, a sensory experience of art and music
In a traditional adobe house in Santiago Juaxtlahuaca, Byt Band meets with artist and musician Alejandro Vera. The devil masks that he has meticulously created over the years for the dances and festivals of that region form part of the music session where the band and the maestro share art, music and tradition. This is one of the live sessions that has left its indelible mark on the art of the new Oaxsteady album: in the photos, the band members wear these masks and carry their musical instruments in a ritual way over the ochre landscapes of the Central Valleys: forest, corncobs, faint lines and, in the background, sown fields, and villages.
The live sessions with artists and master craftsmen were born from his idea of linking music with figures such as maestro Alejandro Vera, maestro Margarito Melchor from Tilcajete, and maestro Olegario Hernández, who are each recognised in their circles, but little valued in others. In a conversation about recent projects and their new album, Zaira Ávalos (drums) and Alejandro Reyes (bass) consider that “what we need as Oaxaqueños is to begin to unite those circles – as if music already lives very close to art; at the level of human beings we don’t do it, we don’t have those links.“
“There are songs that are calm like a rainy afternoon… there is a song called ‘Armadillo’ that reminds me of those trips we made with the band and we’d stop to eat. ‘Armadillo’ takes me to the smell of the anafre when they are making the memelas. There are tones that I feel are from space… ”, Zaira describes.
In the videos, music is perceived through colours, textures, sculpture and painting, through traditional architecture, soundscape and sensations. In these concerts, we are invited to a set with a splendid curatorship for musical performance in conjunction with the works of artists and craftsmen. Byt Band has a new season of these enjoyable sessions in July; in the meantime, we are looking forward to the next guests.
Oaxsteady: Very Oaxacan rock
Over the past nine years, the sensory and acoustic experiences that Byt Band has lived, the fiestas and the celebrations, and even a period of musical and human introspection have led to the creation of their fourth album Oaxsteady. Zaira and Alejandro tell us that ever since their first album, people have asked them what genre they played. “It sounds like a traditional Oaxacan band, but with a different rhythm (…) They told us it sounded like rocksteady, but that it wasn’t. Some members of the Antidoping group said it sounded like reggae, but Oaxacan. Later, when they were celebrating their anniversary with a concert at the Tlacolula market, a CDMX journalist approached them and said, “It’s a very Oaxacan rocksteady. I would dare to say that they are doing something very different … I would call it Oaxsteady”.
It was this concept that gave their new album the title “Oaxsteady“, which they describe as an album with many nuances. “There are songs that are calm like a rainy afternoon… there is a song called ‘Armadillo’ that reminds me of those trips we took with the band, and we’d stop to eat. ‘Armadillo’ takes me to the smell of the anafre when they are making the memelas. There are tones that I feel are from space…” Zaira describes.
Although in the beginning, they weren’t conscious of the sound that was developing, now, they have found it, particularly that of the brass that comes from the Sierra. Mauro Hernández (trombone) was born in Tlacochahuaya, where music is paramount and where one of the most important organs in America is located. Trumpeter Xaap Nëwex, director of brass, is from Tlahuitoltepec and comes from a family that plays traditional music. Alejandro believes that “the sound of the brass is what gives it that taste that is closer to traditional music” and that the new album Oaxsteady “is a photograph of a contemporary Oaxaca. We couldn’t generalise and say that in Oaxaca, there is a lot of reggae culture. Still, it is such a noble rhythm, as well as being instrumental, which gives us that way of appreciating, of listening to contemporary Oaxaca as a soundscape.”
We can sense the musical maturity of the six members, each with their own unique touch on the instrument they play. Rey Coyote, the most metalhead member on the guitar, contributes another tessitura with certain distortions on the guitar. He has managed to change the energy; he gave Byt Band another face. “Musically speaking, this album is richer; it has more nods to certain influences of Balkan music, Isthmian music, blues, western music – the whole Ennio Morricone trend”, says Alejandro Reyes.
Thanks to the use of handmade microphones and production by Hans Mues’ (former Antidoping guitarist), they were able to capture very particular frequencies in both brass and drums, creating an album in a kind of communal trance. “It was recorded inside a cabin, an adobe studio, which is one of the best materials for acoustic recording drums and wind instruments. That helped us a lot so that the recorded sounds have a lot of warmth, and are heard as the instrument sounds in reality, there are no effects in the middle of the drums, for example, something that enhances it, it is just like the ramrod is sounding, that’s how it is coming out in the software graphics”, explains Alejandro.
Oaxsteady is an album that allows us to get to know Byt Band as it plays on a typical day, that is, naturally. The performances of the album will be done in a hybrid way, with some concerts that offer people an experience, something pleasant after this pandemic. The album has been available since July, as has their re-launched website, which is an invitation to ride through a fabulous photographic experience where musical devils and nature make the instruments sound.
Follow Byt Band on all platforms: @bytband
Photos: Gregorio Chávez, courtesy of Byt Band