New Audio: Brooklyn’s Banda de Los Muertos Brings the Brass Band Funk of Sinaloa

The founding members of Brooklyn-based collective Banda De Los Muertos, Oscar Noriega and Jacob Garchik have over 20 years in the jazz and classic music world — Noriega is a saxophonist and clarinetist, known for working with Lee Konitz, Paul Motian and Tim Berne while Garchik is a freelance trombonist and arranger for Kronos Quartet.

A couple of years ago the duo of Noriega and Garchik became obsessed with the brass band music of Sinaloa, a Northern Mexican state unfortunately known among Americans and others these days for the Sinaloa Cartel and El Chapo. Noriega, who’s the son of Mexican immigrants immediately felt a powerful and nostalgic connection to the music of his parents while Garchik, who had no prior knowledge of the music, immediately became fascinated by its intricate arrangements featuring incredibly dexterous brass players and sousaphonists, who were absolute virtuosos.

Realizing that at the time, they weren’t any traditional Mexican bandas in Brooklyn, the duo decided that they would start their own. Noriega and Garchik began writing new arrangements inspired by the banda tradition that required Garchik to practice sousaphone. And then they enlisted the assistance of some of New York’s and Brooklyn’s most accomplished jazz musicians including Chris Speed, Jim Black, Curtis Hasselbring, Brian Drye, Ben Holmes Justin Mullens as well as French Horn player Rachel Drehmann and singer Mireya Ramos, of Mariachi Flor de Toloache to fill out the lineup of Banda de Los Muertos. 

Quickly, Banda de Los Muertos was attracting an audience made of brass band fans and Mexican immigrants, as well as praise from one of the world’s most renowned Mexican brass bands — Banda el Recordo. In fact, the band’s monthly residency at Barbès has developed a reputation for bringing together a diverse crowd of Brooklyn hipsters and Mexican immigrants dancing and digging a sound that makes you have to get up and start moving — and is interestingly enough, reminiscent to New Orleans world famous brass band sound.

This week marks the release of the band’s debut effort and the album’s first single “Cumbia De Jacobo” is a breezy yet jazzy composition that allows room for a couple of impressive solos while being propelled forward by sousaphone and rolling percussion. Although it’s distinctly Mexican, I can picture a second line getting down to this, complete with parasols and sombreros; in any case, the main thing is that he composition is incredibly fun and incredibly funky.

Interestingly, the collective had plans to celebrate Mexican Independence Day by serenading Donald Trump at Trump Tower today. Hopefully, the blowhard will be moved to dance to the funk of Sinaloa. They also have a set at Pioneer Works on Friday with Mariachi Flor de Toloache.