Robert Livar’s son, Manu, was born in September 2003, three months after the Spurs won their second NBA championship. So, naturally, all of Livar’s friends in the Alamo City instantly assumed the baby’s name was an homage to the court artistry of Spurs guard Manu Ginobili.
It was a logical assumption, but an erroneous one. The name came from world-music icon Manu Chao, a major inspiration for Livar’s beat-crazy, seven-piece collective Bombasta. Chao has devoted most of his career to obliterating artificial barriers and consciously jumping, within the space of a single song, from one language to another and one set of grooves to another.
It’s a lesson absorbed not only by Bombasta, but also by B-Side Players, an acclaimed San Diego band that Livar is bringing to SA for a special show at the Guadalupe Theater on October 26.
Any self-respecting musician will say that they don’t want to be pigeonholed, that they’re too restless and creative to be defined by any single musical category. It’s such a common argument that it often feels like a politician’s talking point, like part of the touring musician’s stump speech. But in the case of Bombasta and B-Side Players, the argument is actually true.
B-Side Players formed in 1994 and have steadily built a zealous cult over the course of seven album releases and countless club dates. Their new album, Fire in the Youth (their first for the Concord label) serves as a microcosm of their 13-year career: The agit-prop “Nuestras Demandas” is a horn-driven Jamaican ska/dancehall number, “Pleasure and Pain” has a Brazilian bossa-nova lilt, and “Unplug This Armageddon” is salsified funk. Elsewhere, they appropriate cumbia, hip-hop, and hard-rock elements in combinations that would be unsettling if they weren’t executed with such flair.
A longtime B-Side Players enthusiast, Livar noticed that they were coming through Texas on their Fire in the Youth Tour, and emailed them with an offer to have Bombasta open the shows. “They’re such a good band,” Livar says. “They’re kind of similar to what we’re doing. A little bit more on the reggae side, but it’s still kind of a similar message that they’re getting out there, and similar instrumentation. So it was kind of a natural thing.”
B-Side Players thanked Livar for his offer, but informed him that their touring lineup was already set. Not long afterward, however, the band’s Nashville-based touring agency contacted Livar with a request for help.
“They told me that they’d booked everything in Texas except for San Antonio, and they needed some connections down here. I sent them my contacts for different clubs and told them if they needed anything to let me know,” Livar says. “They called me back about a week later and told me they weren’t getting any responses, nobody was getting back to them. They were having a real hard time booking the show, so they asked me if I’d be interested in producing and promoting it.”
Initially, Livar took the show to Sam’s Burger Joint, but the club already had a gig booked for that night. Livar says Jack’s Patio Bar & Grill showed an interest, but he felt an ideal venue “needed to be something centrally located.” A child of the South Side, he recalls, “When I was growing up, everything was on the North Side. So I wanted this show to be accessible to everybody in town.”
Eventually, he approached reps of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, who were already anxious to reach a younger demographic by using the Guadalupe Theater as a music venue. With a lineup that also includes Salvador Santana (Carlos’s keyboard-playing, hip-hop-obsessed son) and Hollywood’s Cipes & the People, the show should make for a buffet of internationalist polyrhythms and love-and-unity exhortations.
The gig comes at a time when Bombasta is putting the finishing touches on an as-yet-untitled new album. They cut the rhythm and horn tracks at Austin’s Ramble Creek Music and have spent recent months overdubbing vocals and other parts at their various home studios.
Livar says that the trickiest part of any Bombasta recording project is simply getting the group’s seven members (and occasional cameo guests) in the same room at the same time. Between working a full-time job, taking graphic-art freelance assignments, booking and promoting shows, and spending time with his wife and son, he finds it difficult enough to get himself into a creative, music-making zone. But he approaches his tasks with a diligence that’s come from years of learning that no one can be a better advocate for your music than you.
“When I was in my 20s, it was about partying and having a good time,” he says. “But having a wife and a family, there’s a lot more responsibility on my back, not to mention six other guys who rely on me to line everything up. I’ve got a lot of people depending on me, so I can’t let them down.” •
with Bombasta, Salvador Santana Band, and Cipes & The People
7 pm Fri, Oct. 26
$10 (advance); $12 (day of show)
1301 Guadalupe St.