Este Vato Is All Up In Your Business


My girlfriend tells this corny joke: “What do you call a nosey pepper?” “Jalapeño business.” It’s cute. And it happens to be the name of Este Vato’s new EP, about to drop this weekend. This is the third EP from the Latin-fusion group since 2010, and it continues to fuse cumbia with hip-hop (and sometimes rock and reggae) in a way that is mostly fun. Jalapeño Business works well when it’s grounded in cumbia, but with too much of the “fusion” elements it can sometimes lose focus.

In terms of Este Vato’s music on Jalapeño Business, there are two things that bother me with this EP, and both are things that Este Vato are probably okay with. The first is the sometimes disparate styles at play. There are moments where this works incredibly well. Lead track “D’Spacio,” for example, effortlessly flows from (what I assume is) cumbia to reggae to rock and back. It all sounds so natural together that I didn’t even notice the straightforward rock rhythms upon my first pass through it. “D’Spacio” fulfills the musical promise of this eight-piece group.

Yet, “D’Spacio” is immediately followed by “Waiting,” which is nothing more intricate than a late-90’s alt-rock re-tread. It’s not a terrible track, but Este Vato are so much more interesting when their fusion of styles coalesces side-by-side, rather than alternating with, “Here’s our rock song, here’s our reggae song.” The track “Social Animals” was the other song on the EP that I didn’t find as musically interesting as the rest of the record, and both of those tracks pulled me out of the overall atmosphere.

My other issue with the record is the hip-hop aspects of the fusion. One hip-hop element that Este Vato employs to good effect is straight-up rapping. Chano Lopez is a good rapper, whose conscious lyrics are engaging and, at their best, thought-provoking. Yet, sometimes the group’s hip-hop flair is communicated through old-school record-scratching, which can just feel inorganic. On “Social Animals,” the scratching kind of fits and is focused around a sample (of a guy saying, “I know you gonna dig this”) that helps add to the track, but on “Balazo” the scratching feels too inorganic. It’s a cumbia song that just has random record scratches thrown into it for the sake of “fusion,” instead of to enhance the overall composition.

I know that was a lot of space devoted to some of the EP’s drawbacks, but I only say all of that because Este Vato can be capable of such greatness. They close Jalapeño Business with “XX,” which might be the best song on the record. It’s got a driving, propulsive rhythm section that fluidly integrates all of the great musicians. The turntables are subtle and quite effective. The band turns the song on a dime about a minute before the end, keeping the listener on their toes. There are elements of cumbia and reggae working together to build a song that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Every song on this EP has good elements to it, but on “D’Spacio” and “XX,” Este Vato show why they are one of the most interesting rising talents in Austin’s Latin music scene. They are creative and talented, and can appeal to both English and Spanish speakers. And I can attest to the fact that they put on a mean live show. Catch them on Saturday, July 27th (tomorrow!) at the Parish for their CD release party, where they’ll be joined by Gina Chavez and OVRLD favorites Riders Against the Storm.

– Carter Delloro