For the past three years, Bryan Vargas & Ya Está have been at the forefront of modern music in New York City. Hitting you hard like a hurricane, they invoke the spirits with the rumble of drums and the screams of electric guitars. Playing what 27 year old bandleader Bryan Vargas describes as "Afro Latino Soul Music," you can forget the pop stars, this is the REAL latin music revolution.
Born in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn (and a current Fort Greene resident) Vargas had led a life in music, despite his relative youth. Playing guitar since age 12, Vargas soaked up the sounds of the city. A regular attendee of outdoor concerts, and a rabid CD collector, exposure to multiple music styles formed a unique world view. "I started to see different styles as different sides of the same coin. Jazz, Soul, Salsa, Hip-Hop, Afrobeat, it's all music of the African Diaspora," Vargas explains. "As I began my professional career, all of this music played a part in the discovery of my own sound." After graduating from NYU in 1997, Vargas naturally gravitated towards the Latin rhythms of his Puerto Rican ancestry. "It's not just what I like, it's who I am. Anyone can dig a sound or a rhythm. It's another thing for it to be a natural part of you."
Often compared to the ferocious party music of Ozomatli, Ya Está is known more as a live band than anything else. Turning smoky clubs into dancehalls, their exhilarating performances are required listening for New York's diehard live music fans. Audience participation is a requirement at their concerts. Even the most stoic listener will find themselves singing, clapping and most certainly dancing to Ya Está's polyrhythmic stew. They are the musical heirs to the legacy of greats like Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo & the Fania All-Stars. They are the stateside counterparts to Latin American textural experimenters like Café Tacuba & Caetano Veloso. Imagine Jimi Hendrix jamming with the Buena Vista Social Club, and you may start to get the idea.
Since their inception, Ya Está have been invited to perform at some of the most important stages, festivals & events in the NYC area. Celebrate Brooklyn, CMJ Music Marathon, the Texaco New York Jazz Festival, AIDS Walk 2002 & Newark Symphony Hall are just some of the venues that have called upon Ya Está to bring their unique sound and vibe into the mix. New York's hippest clubs like SOBs, Tonic & The Knitting Factory feature the band on a regular basis, often asking them to be the opening act for superstar touring acts. The band has shared the stage with salsa legends Oscar D'Leon & Johnny Pacheco, Cuban masters like Vocal Sampling & Juan Carlos Formell, jazz greats like Leon Parker & Jane Bunnett, and local NYC stars like Antibalas, Topaz, and The Screaming Headless Torsos. "We're like rice & beans," Vargas jokes, "we go well with anything."
The band has also developed a nice following doing local the college circuit.Vassar College, Seton Hall, Drew, Columbia & NYU are just some of the schools that regularly invite the band to play, sometimes year after year.
Vargas & co. recently hit the studio with legendary Latin jazz pianist Arturo O'Farrill. Son of the great mambo arranger Chico O'Farrill, Arturo has recently been named the head of Lincoln Center's new Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. O'Farrill took time off from Lincoln Center (and his own busy career) to produce this project for Ya Está."Arturo had just built a studio in the basement of his Brooklyn home. He was itching to test it out on someone, so he offered to produce our record," Vargas explains. "I've known Artie since college. He was an old teacher of mine, and we've remained friends since. This was a perfect match for us."
The end result is "Afro Latino Soul," Ya Está's debut studio release. A stunning listen, the CD takes the listener on a sonic journey through the past, present & future of Latin music. Beginning with "United," an upbeat descarga anthem, and quickly seguing into the reverential "Obatalá" the rhythmic assault hardly lets up. The funky "Guerreros Africanos" makes you want to shimmy, while the Nuyorican standard "Vamanos Pal Monte" mambos its way out of the stereo.The band is joined on this CD by 2 special guests, first O'Farrill himself steps out from behind the mixing board to join the band on piano for Arsenio Rodriguez'"No Me Llores." Then guest vocalist Sandra García Rivera joins them to sing coro on "Lágrimas Negras." The disc ends with the band's theme song "El Sonido (de Ya Está)" wildly summing up the proceedings.
In addition to Vargas' fiery guitar and soulful vocals, the band's lineup features some of the best young musicians hitting the New York scene right now. Featuring: Bostonian Matt Hilgenberg on trumpet and vocals; Cuban-Dominican Ernesto Abreu on congas, percussion & vocals; Japanese Toshi Someya on bass; Boricua percussionist Jorge "Georgie" Vázquez on bongó, campana & vocals; and Italian-American Matt Baranello on the drum kit, & percussion. As sidemen outside of Ya Está, they've been featured with some of the hottest groups today including: José Alberto "El Canario," Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, Arturo O'Farrill, Ronny Jordan, Cooly's Hot Box, Topaz, Chico O'Farrill Orchestra, Viento De Aqua, Yomo Toro, Los Afortunados, Juan Pablo Torres, The Welfare Poets, Tato Torres' Yerba Buena, King Changó & many more.
"...imagine Jimi Hendrix jamming with the Buena Vista Social Club"
- NY Newsday
"...infectious percussive assaults...that thump to a downtown funk undercurrent"
- Village Voice
"Vargas offers a homegrown version of Latin Alternative Music: Cuban son goes up against funk, soul and Bebop"
- Time Out New York