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This Lincoln Heights Band Rides Around On A Bike Serenading Los Angeles With Cumbias Pesadas

4:28 PM PST on December 2, 2022

    Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

    Poco Pocho made up of Salvador “Chava” Ornelas, Kevin Campoy, Mark Vega and Arturo “Art” Guzman play their cumbia’s pesadas in the middle of 6th street bridge as part of CicLAvia 2022.

    It’s a bright Sunday morning and people from all over Los Angeles are gathering for a seven-mile bike ride that goes through Mariachi Plaza, Chinatown, the Sixth Street Bridge, Grand Park, and Echo Park. Leading the sea of riders on a makeshift, bicycle-mounted stage is Poco Pocho, the band serenading the streets of Los Angeles with their cumbias pesadas. 

    That day, as the accordion first began to breathe, its cry announced to attendees that it was time to ride, el rascon of the güiro synchronized to every petal and push the bikers took, while the bass had riders bopping their heads to the beat. 

    The band of five set and maintained the mood for the rest of the day, as they began to sing: “Cielito mio ya no llores!” 

    Like many others, Poco Pocho was born out of the pandemic, at a time when everyone was seeking the outdoors and craving human interactions. Early members of the band, Salvador “Chava” Ornelas and Kevin Campoy, coincidentally came together for their love of music and the outdoors. 

    “I’ve always liked cumbias, but during this time I also saw that movie 'Ya No Estoy Aqui' on Netflix and, after seeing the community around cumbia, it motivated me to go ahead and buy an accordion,” said Ornelas, who quickly went on Craigslist to find the instrument. 

    Soon after, he asked Campoy to pick up the guiro, and when finishing their daily bike rides they would shelter under a tree and begin to play. 

    “From that first minute we started making music, we knew we wanted to continue it,” said Ornelas.

    And they did. Mark Vega and Arturo “Art” Guzman joined the band soon after, adding bass and percussion. At first, the band played as "Los Surlys," named after a bicycle company, but as new members joined, their sound changed as well, and they realized their name had to change with it. That’s when they landed on Poco Pocho.

    When asked why Poco Pocho? they said:  

    “It's just how we talk, it’s how we communicate, I always grew up speaking Spanglish,” said Campoy. 

    “Also, pocho has almost like a negative image, but no somos ni de aquí, ni de allá, you know, but that's who we are, we’re a little bit of both, and we’re embracing it and trying to represent it in a positive way,” added Ornelas.

    Growing up, when Ornelas thought of cumbia, he thought of Los Angeles Azules, which have a much softer sound and are a classic in any Mexican household. But now, being exposed to subgenres of cumbia and listening to OG cumbianderos, the band is trying to mix in a little bit of everything. And their sound is reflective of this, drawing inspiration from different genres of music, the sound of Poco Pocho is as unique as each band member, it's simply punk rock gritty cumbias, or as they call them "cumbias pesadas."

    “Cumbia is universal and we all grew up listening to it as kids, it’s such traditional, simple music but it has this energy and historical weight to it,” Campoy said. “When we play we add our own punk and style, it is just so special.”  

    “We’re trying to make people dance,” added Vega. “It's rooted in this combination of Spanish, African beats, and rhythm from where it was born, in Colombia’s Caribbean coast. There’s this communal aspect to it, too.”

    In middle school, Vega and Guzman played san jarocho (regional folk musical), a sound that you can definitely hear in their music now. Some of their more current musical inspirations also include bands like Very Be Careful, one of the first cumbia bands they saw live at a protest fighting to keep the South Central Farms open. One of the things they have in common with their musical heroes is their love for the outdoors and for building community. 

    “When we first started we played at Elysian Park, Griffith Park, and on random streets, we always had that ‘let's play outside’ vibe, making music available to people, to our community,” said Ornelas.

    Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.
    Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO.

    Soon they linked up with bike mechanic Jimmy Lizama, owner of Relámpago Wheelery, and the creator of BiciCrófono L.Á., a makeshift bike that supports karaoke-on-wheels. And acquired the stage for bands like Poco Pocho to play at events like CicLAvia.  

    “Jimmy, he's a very big advocate for cycling advocacy, he's passionate about reclaiming the streets and bringing awareness and safety around bicycling, so when he hit us up we said 'yes' right away, because riding bikes is how we all met, so combining that with music just felt right,” said Campoy.  

    They ended up playing their first CicLAvia and according to Lizama, they were high off the excitement for weeks, knowing that his creation worked: a mobile stage powered by Lizama himself and other riders who pedal their way through L.A. For Poco Pocho though, seeing their city and the many faces that make up their community while playing their music was almost indescribable.

    “It's an emotional experience, it was such a good feeling playing for the community, like we're doing something that I’m sure someone has imagined but hasn't really done,” Vega said. 

    “And cumbia is a mix of cultures, right? L.A. also has a mix of cultures, so its just very fitting seeing everyone vibe collectively to cumbia and enjoying each other," added Ornelas. "And that's ultimately our goal, for people to find joy in the music we make."

    The band has since recorded a self-titled EP, which was purposely recorded live in order to capture each of their personalities and energy. They have played at several CicLAvia events and hope to continue doing so. This weekend they will be playing two shows: one on Friday in Long Beach at Alex’s Bar and the other on Saturday at Mission Bar in Santa Ana.

    “We’re also playing for the new generation of kids who we’ve seen bop their heads to our music, so keeping that tradition of cumbia going but in a different way, helping the new generation reproduce their idea of what cumbia can sound like.”

    Listen to their self-titled EP on Spotify and Apple Music, for upcoming shows follow them on Instagram @poco_pocho 

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