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Bakalao Stars stirs up tasty musical stew 

The music goes straight to your feet. It lifts you up and bounces you around with irresistible riddims that get under your skin and hotwire your dance control buttons. When Bakalao Stars cranks up, you can't stand still.

Depending on who you ask, Bakalao can be either salt cod or Spanish Rave music. But what Charlotte's Bakalao Stars is serving up is a fresh dish — a blend of reggae, punk, Latin ska and rock in Español.

Colombian native Christian Anzola and his brother, bassist Javier, started the band in '02. "We never had in mind to release CDs or anything, we just wanted to have some fun with music," the drummer says.

The band built its sound by incorporating the music of The Skatalites, Jamaica's signature ska band, with the bass-heavy off-beats of reggae from Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, adding a punky edge with the second wave of '70s-era ska that featured the sounds of the Specials and UB-40. Topped off with vocals in Spanish, the mix is a lively Caribbean musical stew that goes down easily. Add a penchant for dressing in banana suits, gorilla masks, afros and wide-brimmed Mexican sombreros while the band rips through its original tunes at breakneck speed, and you've got a recipe for interactive musical fun that lights up venues.

But getting people to come out to see rock in Español proved difficult at first. "There was a lot of people here who liked the music," Anzola says, "but unfortunately there wasn't hardly any bands; some of the big names never came to Charlotte."

To help solve that problem, local entrepreneurs Tony Arreaza and Juan Miguel Marin started Carlotan Rock, the area's first Latin rock festival, in 2004. The Bakalao Stars was on that first bill and many thereafter, helping build the movement. Although the number of local Latin bands has diminished, Anzola says the movement is still going strong, with more big names, including Mexico's premier ska/blues/soul fusion band Inspector coming in last year. New bands like Tropic Culture also help enliven Charlotte's local Latin scene.

"It was hard for us to play an English venue because the owners really didn't know there was really a Spanish crowd here," Anzola says. "The whole movement and playing at the Neighborhood Theatre opened up a lot of doors for us."

The band put out its first album, Peguele Al Trifasico Con Azpero Sumbein, in '07. Its energetic live performances of songs like "Momentos Kodak" helped fill venues. Although the song is about a girl, Teresa, dumping her fiancé at the last minute, it's more of a celebration of the Kodak moments they shared than a lament. "The chorus is, 'I'm gonna drink a beer, Teresa, I'm gonna forgive you,'" Anzola explains. "I'm gonna forgive you by drinking beers and being with my friends." The band toasts the ex, with one band member holding up a picture of her as the others raise bottles of beer to a galloping ska beat that incorporates snatches of UB-40s "Red Red Wine" in the mix.

"Kokoa Brown" also salutes the ladies, with the band extolling the physical attributes of Latin women. "We compare them to the curves of an acoustic guitar," Anzola says.

For its latest, Soundcocho, the band has taken a slightly different approach. "Sancocho is a traditional soup in Latin America, pretty much a melting pot, a blending of things," the drummer says. "We decided to call this CD Soundcocho because if you listen to us, you can tell we're a fusion band, we have mixtures from everywhere." The reggae flavored "Gitana" features a guest vocal from Charlotte reggaeman (by way of Jamaica) Ras Congo, who was recently featured on NASA's "Money" with Chuck D and David Byrne.

On "Verde," guest vocalist Itagui, from the Grammy-winning, Miami-based Cumbia/reggae band Locos Por Juana talks about being green, helping to save the environment. "We want people to put the feeling out that these guys are doing this because they really like to do it, not just because they just want to record CDs," Anzola says. "We just want people to feel that passion we feel when we play."

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