A Colombian summer in Philly: welcoming El Caribefunk

3 minute read
The guys of El Caribefunk take on Philly's summer music scene. Image courtesy of the band.
The guys of El Caribefunk take on Philly's summer music scene. Image courtesy of the band.

It took six months, two American advocates, a full tour schedule, and one lengthy visa process to get four Colombian musicians to Philadelphia for the summer.

Ryan and Bronson Tennis, Philadelphia locals and brothers who each have their own band in Philadelphia (Ryan Tennis and the Clubhouse Band and De Tierra Caliente, respectively) spent the past six months working to bring their friends, the guys who make up the band El Caribefunk, for their first tour in the United States. Colombia natives Alfonso Salas, Andres Mordecai, Junior Valencia, and Yamil Chagüi are El Caribefunk (pronounced "El Curr-eeBay-Funk"), and they've already been touring throughout South and Central America.

During an interview with Broad Street Review, Ryan Tennis explained how he worked for six months, with help from his brother, to go through the rigorous US visa application process, which included gathering press clippings from Colombian and other international press, recommendation letters, and a full tour already booked. Tennis laid his own reputation on the line for El Caribefunk, promising venue managers that El Caribefunk would get here and rock the house, because he knew firsthand how great the band is. The Tennis brothers have toured Colombia the last two winters as the opening act for El Caribefunk.

“I’ve seen them play 50 or 60 shows. I knew that as soon as I had them here, people would love it,” Ryan Tennis said during a Skype session last week from the South Philly house where he lives with his brother.

And he was right, Ryan Tennis said. The band came to Philadelphia in early June, playing a public show or doing private jam sessions with area musicians every night. They’ll play dozens of shows through August. “Everywhere you go, people can’t stop smiling and dancing,” Tennis said.

“We didn’t know how the people would react,” Mordecai said. “People go crazy. They dance with us. People are so warm.”

The band’s music combines the strong African heritage of several Caribbean countries with funk and other modern American musical genres that share African-inspired beats. Though Tennis called it their own genre, he compared El Caribefunk’s music to that of the Beatles, saying “you can immediately like it.”

The band started as a personal project for Salas, who started writing his own songs in 2004.

“All the songs he wrote in that time investigated the Caribbean music,” Mordecai said. Salas sought to “capture the feel and traditional sound.”

Ryan Tennis praised the band’s poetry, all in Spanish, which draws upon children’s rhymes and folk stories from Colombia “about the joy that exists there,” he said.

With their music, El Caribefunk is “giving life to the histories of our people,” Salas said.

Bronson Tennis was the original bass player for El Caribefunk while he was living in Buenos Aires in 2011, but he had to leave the band when he moved back home. The following year, the current and final band lineup was finalized. Salas is the songwriting lead singer who also plays guitar, Mordecai and Chagüi both do percussion and vocals and Junior Valencia plays bass and also sings.

“The four of them are such a tight unit. They practice, perform, and live together. Their level of communication is so amazing when they play,” Ryan Tennis said. “This is one of the most special bands I’ve ever been close to.”

Audiences can catch El Caribefunk in and around Philadelphia at the Penn Museum's Summer Concert Series, June 18 from 5-8pm (for the full summer lineup at Penn, running through September 3rd, click here), Destination Frankford (June 28 at 2pm), the Ardmore Music Hall on July 25 at 9pm (with West Philadelphia Orchestra), Bethlehem Musikfest (August 1), the Barnes (August 3 at 1pm), and the Philadelphia Folk Festival (August 15-17). For more of the band's regional performances, click here. For a taste of their music, click here, or find the band on Facebook and Twitter.

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