Fuga: An El Paso band that artfully mixes elements of punk, jazz, ska, blues and vallento. (courtesy photo)

Fuga and Bombasta epitomize the wildly eclectic Nuevo Chicano movement

DJ Robotico, aka "the master selector, dub star reflector de Aztlan," first introduced the concept of El Nuevo Chicano last year with a raw, stripped down five-song EP. Killer tracks like "Eight Wonders (cumbia dub)," "Bigote vs. Zion I (remixed)," and "Las Cumbias Castanuelas (dub remix)," showcased Robotico's ability to fuse dusty Latino gems with new-school break-beats.

In 2003, between digging in the crates and caring for his infant son Manu, Robotico formed Bombasta, a six-man crew with rigorous musical chops and a knack for blending reggae, funk, soul, cumbias, and hip-hop. The group's forthcoming LP, Musica Bomba, makes full use of the guitar, accordion, cajon, djembe, congas, bass, organ, drums, samplers, saxophones, and turntables that define Bombasta's animated vibe. "Crack Nation," the first track off the upcoming debut features Bombasta at its best, tackling politics without campy romance.

In the summer of 2000, even before Robotico laid down his Nuevo Chicano manifesto, a band called Fuga formed in El Paso. Like Bombasta, their distinctive style is a mezcla of influences, including punk, son, blues, ska, jazz, and vallento with strong bilingual vocals. Their first LP, Desde La Frontera, is a near-flawless sonic masterwork and reads like a soulful diary of struggle, oppression, and freedom that is closer to reality than anything At the Drive-In or Mars Volta have ever touched. "Los Olvidados," "Tierra Y Libertad," "Cruzando," and "La Vela," are post-movimiento pearls fueled by defiant hope. Political activism lies at the heart of Fuga and is a major them in the band's music. Growing up on the turbulent Juarez border couldn't help but intensify their acute cultural sensitivity.

Raymundo, Fuga's one-named drummer and one of its founding members, recalls one evening when he and a couple fuguistas were playing along the border at about three in the morning. They stumbled upon a trio of petrified boys furiously running from immigration authorities.

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"The struggle that they have to go through, having to cross the border, and then having to worry about what might happen to them is overwhelming," Raymundo says. "They came to the house, slept over, and you know, they left in the morning because they had to go work to make money for their families. These kids are 7-, 8-years-old, and they don't have the opportunity to go to school. They're living in these conditions of oppression in a sense because their education system is fully out of whack."

Raymundo recalls that he and his friends had a triangle with a word on it, and one of the young immigrant kids asked in Spanish: "Mister, que es free-dom?" The drummer responded that freedom "is what every human needs to know that they're alive."

When Fuga plays, the fire comes from Kiko, a virtuoso accordionist who offers hints of Esteban Jordan with a nod to Jimi Hendrix. Tania, the lead vocalist, completes the band with haunting vocals that recall Curve's Toni Halliday and Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, sans the depressing aftertaste. On recent travels, the band has opened for Ozomatli, Maldita Vecindad, Quinto Sol, and Julieta Venegas, garnering consistently warm receptions. For 2004, Fuga plans to release a "remex" of Desde La Frontera with a heavy Ozo influence. On Saturday, December 20, they make their San Antonio debut, in a show sponsored by Jump-Start and madmedia.

Collectively, Bombasta and Fuga offer a snapshot into the psyche of the quintuple-consciousness of 21st-century raza. The sons and daughters of the Native Tongues, Ramon Ayala, Peter Tosh, and Public Enemy are alive and well in Texas, and are creating a sound somewhere between "frontera rock" and "new urban Latino." For Robotico, a Texas State University graduate, the mission remains the same:

"I try to represent who I am and the way I grew up in San Antonio. There's plenty of people doing the 'Latin explosion' thing, but to get the meat of the Chicano movent, it's still on the underground." •

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