Juan “Chi” Yilo Alvarado and his bandmates have been playing music together for their entire adult lives. The Venezuelan percussive post-punk outfit Zeta is a band, but they are also a family. When they moved together to the Miami area five years ago, that family expanded. Musicians and artists from the latinx community in their adopted home became frequent collaborators. Eventually, the band’s rotating cast of auxiliary members earned their own name: the Abajo Cadenas Orchestra. “It always mutates, like every orchestra, but it’s always friends,” Alvarado told BandWagon.
For many years, Zeta’s sound was characterized by mathy percussion, cacophonous, fuzzed-out guitars and shout-screamed lyrics. In a live video from a 2016 house show in Monterrey, Mexico, Alvarado and a ball of moshing audience members scream lyrics into one microphone — everyone knows the words. But, as the members of Zeta have settled into life in the United States, the rhythms of their home continent have begun to seep into their music. When they began writing Todo Bailarlo, the upcoming LP due out April 22, they wanted it to reflect the diverse musical roots of the U.S. latinx immigrant community.
“Every song is a different rhythm that represents a region in Latin America. It was really liberating and really challenging at the same time,” Alvarado says.
On the pre-released lead track “La Flor de la Palabra,” bouncing drums and bass hold down a calypso groove while a wall of affected guitar screeches over the top. A melodic chorus bursts out of the chaos in tight harmony: “¡Guarire!, ¡Guarire! Pa’ curar la tierra con las manos — Heal! Heal! Heal the earth with your hands.” Zeta has not lost its frenetic exuberance by embracing its roots. This is calypso (and salsa, samba, latin jazz…) made for moshing. “It’s still rock and it’s still progressive,” Alvarado assures.
While Zeta’s sound might be described as aggressive, the band’s ethos is the opposite. They are compassionate, inclusive and intent on fostering community wherever they go. Dani “Debuto” Hernandez, the band’s other guitarist/vocalist in addition to Alvarado, is notorious for feeding tour mates, fans and anyone else that walks by. In keeping with the band’s shared pacifistic and environmental ethics, his cooking is vegan (with a Venezuelan flair). “After our audiotree session, Dani started frying up arepas for everyone,” Alvorado remembered with a chuckle.
After touring at a breakneck pace for years, the band has friends in every corner of the U.S. as well as much of Latin America. Northern Colorado is no exception to the rule. The last time they played at Pinball Jones in Fort Collins, a friend who they had met during a previous tour surprised them with a spread of vegan food inspired by Hernandez’s cooking. “He had food for all of us,” Alvarado exclaimed.
Many of the friends that they meet on the road, like the members of Zeta, have come to the U.S. from another country. “We’ve connected to, not only to latinos, but also to immigrant people from other countries and ethnicities,” Alvarado explained. “We all feel very identified with the immigrant struggle. In the band and orchestra we are all either immigrants or the kids of immigrants.”
“Todo Bailarlo,” which means “to dance it all” in Spanish, is a tribute to these immigrant communities. Rhythms are just one aspect. The album’s lyrics, energy and musicality weave together in celebration of forging a new path, while, at the same time, remembering where you came from. “Our communities dance through everything: sadness, happiness, the good, the bad,” Alvarado said. “We are always dancing through life, moving and adapting and looking for better opportunities in remote places.”
Like many U.S. immigrants, the members of Zeta have not seen their home country in years. Alvarado says that the immigration process has discouraged them from visiting Venezuela since they moved to Florida in 2016. Though they have family in America, they left many memories behind.
Zeta’s debut performance was on February 1, 2003 in a living room in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela. The close-knit crew of teenage schoolmates lurched their way through a set of metal and pop punk covers at a friend’s birthday party. “I remember playing Blink-182 and then standing up there tuning our guitars down so we could cover the Deftones,” Alvarado said.
While many young bands lose focus, Zeta’s dedication only deepened. “We were very committed from the beginning,” Alvarado remembers. As the teenagers grew into young men, the band began to venture further away for gigs. At this point, the Latin American indie music scene was truly underground. The band played at houses, unsanctioned DIY events and pop up concerts. “It was really exciting, because it really felt like we were building something,” Alvarado said. “We were connecting scenes and people and places that later on created a little web of DIY music.”
This formative experience — manifesting a network that thrives on creativity and inclusivity — has shaped what Zeta has become. Two decades after their debut concert, the band still thrives on bringing people together to make something greater than the sum of their parts. You can feel it in the crowd at a Zeta concert as audience members sway in collective catharsis. You can taste it in a warm arepa, fresh off of Hernandez’s grill.
Zeta and the Abajo Cadenas Orchestra perform at The Lyric in Fort Collins Friday, March 18 and Lion’s Lair in Denver, Saturday, March 19 as part of a full US tour. They play Tree Fort Music Fest March 23 – 27 in Boise, Idaho and release the LP Todo Bailarlo April 22. More at joinzeta.com
• Dani “Debuto” Hernandez’s Vegan Carrot Sausage Recipe •
- Whole carrots (try to get ones that match your desired sausage size)
- Smoked paprika
- Toasted sesame oil
- Mushroom soy sauce or regular soy sauce
- Whole onion
- Vegetable bouillon or vegetable oyster sauce
- Apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar
Directions for about 15 to 20 carrots (you can make lot)
- Put the carrots, full onion (cut in quarters), a spoon of vegetable bouillon, a spoon of smoked paprika and a teaspoon of salt in a large pot
- Fill the pot with water until all the carrots are covered and bring to a boil
- Cook until tender (Don’t destroy them!! Just get a softer texture. Remember you will cook them again after)
- Now put all the carrots in a new pot with 1/4 cup of toasted sesame oil, 1/2 cup of mushroom soy sauce and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Fill the pot with water until the carrots are covered again. Let it marinade for at least 12 hours.
- Grill them up!!