“No soy de aquí, no soy de allá, I am of the world …”
Cosmic Jibaros frontman Ricardo “Rick” Reyes leans back and nostalgically croons a track off his band’s debut album, recalling the displacement he faced immediately following his move to America from Puerto Rico. The song — “Yo Soy Del Mundo,” Spanish for “I am of the world” — is sung entirely in Spanish on the band’s album of the same name, but Reyes has no problem slipping into English a cappella. After all, he’s lived here for 21 years.
Now, as the lead singer and songwriter of the Bridgeport-based Latin rock band Cosmic Jibaros, Reyes is again in the midst of identity-establishment. With the release of its first CD a little over a month ago, the band has been scrambling to market itself to audiences and fellow musicians. And beyond the difficulty of branding themselves on a coast that has yet to make room for much diversity in mainstream Latin-American music, Cosmic Jibaros also has to worry about how to generate the capital to stay afloat, establish a presence in the music industry infrastructure and prevent their souls from being sucked out by unoriginal wedding gigs. And it is these basic burdens of being a start-up band that have colored, if not dominated, Cosmic Jibaros’ experiences thus far.
“I used to be an independentista, now I’m a realista,” Reyes says.
Though Reyes is referring to his feelings about Puerto Rican independence, he has come to realize that being a “realista” applies to maintaining the lifestyle of a musician as well. Like many others, Reyes’ life is a story of idealisms curtailed to realisms. Now that the band has created a CD, Reyes said, 2007 is a crucial year for determining whether their dreams for performing together can intersect with reality.
Reyes is confident in his band’s ability to find a cross-over audience; Cosmic Jibaros’ mesh of cultures renders the ensemble broadly appealing, and the band members themselves are enormously talented, he says. The group features gospel drummer Christopher Stanley, latin pop and jazz drummer Tony Cintrón, rock bassist Juan Carlos Vega, funk conga player Johnny Durkin, pop-rock keyboard- and accordion-player Tony Senes and guitarist Darian Cunning, who draws on soul and jazz influences.
Though Reyes decided to start a band in 1998, the current ensemble came together around 2002 through a series of random encounters — Reyes met Tony Cintrón and Darian Cunning, for example, at Bridgeport’s Acoustic Café. Sitting in the audience watching Cintrón, Reyes said he then had no idea Cintrón had played with the “créme de la créme of New York musicians.” The percussionist had, years ago, even drummed for Ricky Martin.
“I didn’t know who the hell he was but I thought ‘that guy’s a killer,’” Reyes said. And then I find out he’s this professional well-known musician!”
After 40 minutes of fluid narration, Reyes pauses, and his voice suddenly projects certainty.
“I have the most killer percussionist, I would say in all of Connecticut — even the region,” he says.
A critical year
But being a band in Connecticut — even a band featuring the best musicians in the state — is difficult when the market conditions are not right.
“The people that I’ve met have said, ‘Well I don’t know what to do with a Spanish band in America,’ and the Spanish people I talk to say, ‘Well, we don’t know what to do with this; reggaetón is what’s in,’” Reyes said. “I think if we go to California, to San Diego or L.A., it’d be much easier, but we are this rarity in New England.”
This combination of market forces and uniquely East Coast obstacles forces the members of Cosmic Jibaros to rely on other projects to stay afloat, leaving less time for the band. As a result, Reyes said, scheduling rehearsals becomes a huge issue.
“Sometimes I tell my wife, I’m tired of depending on things, on people, and how it’s not good to depend on anybody,” Reyes says. Sometimes I get tired of depending on the band, of when we can get to play.”
Reyes’ office, filled with guitars on one side and colorful plastic toys and stuffed animals at the corners, gives a sense of the multitasking he must do to juggle work with the band and taking care of his 16-month-old son. In addition to managing and playing in the band, Reyes said, he waits tables at an Asian fusion restaurant a couple of nights a week.
“I’m at the point where I think in order for the project to continue, to survive, we need a manager just because the guy with the house and the wife and the kid and another one on its way — it’s the guy that books the band, writes the songs, sets the rehearsal,” he says.
For Reyes, 2007 is a critical year; if nothing comes of the Cosmic Jibaros’ first CD, Reyes will consider giving up on the band and moving his family to France, where his wife’s relatives reside. Now that “Yo Soy Del Mundo” has finally been produced, Reyes said he needs to create a market for Cosmic Jibaros if the band is going to bring in more money. All of the band members have stayed with Cosmic Jibaros because they enjoy the music, he said, but at a certain point, continuing $50 gigs becomes a little impractical when his band members are being offered $400 at other venues, and need to pay a rent.
‘The greatest thing since Wonderbread’
Additionally, though an industry decrease in CD sales means Reyes may be fighting an uphill battle just to be recognized, he believes that bands today can still be successful through touring or attaching their music to advertisement campaigns.
“You can be the greatest thing since Wonderbread, but if nobody knows who you are and where you’re playing, you’re not going to get anywhere,” Reyes said.
Besides playing in the Bridgeport Acoustic Café, Cosmic Jibaros has a few gigs in New York coming up in the Camaradas neighborhood, known to most as a “Spanish Harlem.” But sometimes, promotion and money don’t go hand in hand.
“We play in New York all the time, but we don’t make a cent because it’s New York,” Reyes said. “Unless you’re playing at Madison Square Garden, you play in New York to expose your music, sell CDs and hopefully find somebody that will give you another opportunity.”
And in a professional world where many musicians are literally starving and/or divorced from their families, Reyes, as a father and musician, is “trying to keep it together.” Though he previously had a stint at Corporate America selling ads in New York, Reyes abandoned that job seven years ago to pursue a passion for which he has no regrets. Regardless of how the band does this year, Reyes said, he’ll continue playing music. Viability, however, dictates whether the all the band members perform together anymore.
“Fuck fame,” Reyes said, his voice devoid of anger. “Fame doesn’t do anything. I just want to wake up every morning and not worry about going in a waiter’s outfit so I can make more money. I want to be able to wake up and know my guys won’t have to worry about doing a wedding and instead to just wake up and be able to work on this song, play at this gig. And I think that’s what we all want, to do that, to be able to do what you want to do.”