Experiencing Very Be Careful live for the first time is a rush. The Columbian vallenato quintet’s music is alive with crisscrossing merengue and cumbia rhythms and pulsating grooves that yank dancers to their feet and splash smiles across the faces of listeners. It’s not just that their zesty sound makes for a fantastic sonic party; it refreshes the ear and spirit.
Comprised of bassist Art Guzman, brother Ricardo Guzman on accordion, campana player Dante Ruiz, Rich Panta on caja (goat skin drum) and Craig “Peabody” Martin on guacharaca (scraper), the critically beloved VBC’s been inducing sweaty euphoria at dances, weddings, clubs and concerts for almost 10 years. They’ve also self-produced and released four albums, including last year’s “Ñacas,” which has received solid support from public radio.
All five men grew up in neighborhoods close to downtown LA — Peabody and Ruiz mere blocks from the 110 Freeway and Panta and the Guzmans in what is now Koreatown — but didn’t really start jamming, Ruiz says, until the mid-’90s, when Martin introduced him to the Guzmans at the Peace and Justice Center. Slowly but surely, they left their previous punk, rock, blues and Mexican bands and formed a new one of their own that embraced not only traditional culture, but a more freewheeling, positive attitude that had little use for Hollywood’s shark-like “gotta play the game” mentality. The experience has been liberating for players and fans alike.
VBC’s anchored by the Guzmans, who grew up listening to their Columbian parents’ vallenato records. “It’s good music [but we] rebelled against our own culture, just like a lot of people,” Art Guzman recalls with a laugh. “We eventually embraced it and now it’s more fun than rock music.”
“It reminds me of the blues,” says Ruiz, who says he doesn’t consider VBC a party band despite their good-time reputation. “It could be from the bookends of existence, from sadness to happiness to loneliness to giddiness to silliness and everything in between. … We’re more a remedy for people. Sometimes people need to just chill and take time out.”
Worldwide, vallenato’s been popularized by artists such as Carlos Vives, Tulio Zuloaga and roc en espanol outfit Bloque — all of whom sound considerably more pop than VBC, who favor rootsier instrumentation. Which makes it curious that VBC’s usually slotted on dance bills alongside DJs and hip-hop bands. Guzman credits their relentless beat: “People want to go to a show where they can dance [and] groove … whether it’s music from 50 years ago or two years ago.”