By Esther Sanchez
Here at CV Weekly, we frequently and great-heartedly boast about the quality of music that originates from our beloved desert and we are proud to be able to showcase the wide variety of musical genres that are so impressively represented in our community.
For most desert residents, it is no longer a surprising fact that top-notch artists performing country, hip-hop, jazz, reggae, metal and everything in-between can easily be found at multiple venues throughout the valley on any given weekend. There is definitely no exception to that when it comes to Spanish language music in the Coachella Valley and if you don’t believe me, you have yet to meet the guys from Nel Pastel.
Nel Pastel consists of brothers, Juan Carlos Barajas (lead vox and rhythm guitar) and Jesus “Chuey” Barajas (drums) along with Geraldo “Jerry” Caballero (bass) Erick “Castro” Magaña (lead guitar/vox). Each of the five members of the group was born within different regions of Mexico and migrated to the Coachella Valley during their childhood which is an important detail that leads to an interesting fusion of musical and cultural influences. They have found some success in the east valley and lately they have started booking gigs in a wider geographical area. That said… these guys are striving for opportunities to expose and prove themselves to a multi-lingual, multi-cultural audience.
Over the holiday weekend I had a fantastic time hanging out with founding band members, Juan Carlos Bajaras and Erick “Castro” Magaña while they reflected on the journey of what has become, Nel Pastel. Bajaras: “Erick, Chuey and I started playing together back in 2009 when we formed our previous band. The reason we got together in the first place was because a band that was booked to play at a New Year’s Eve party had to cancel and the gig paid a thousand bucks. I knew I could sing and play guitar and my brother was a drummer.”
Bajaras continues: “I contacted Erick and a bass player to ask if they were interested in the job. They agreed and somehow we booked the gig. The catch was that we had to do three sets for that party which means we had to learn somewhere around 40 songs in just a few days. It was a variety of stuff like rock, banda and cumbias. It was basically a bunch of popular, Spanish covers that we knew the people wanted to hear. Miraculously, we pulled it off.”
Magaña: “Yeah, it’s funny because before that we were all friends we played with separate bands. We had never played together before. When I got the call and he was telling me this party was on New Year’s Eve I was like, ‘Dude, that party is three days from now!……..Oh well, f*** it! Let’s do it!’ Everything went really well. The crowd loved it and people kept asking us when and where we were playing next. That’s when we decided that maybe we had something here and should stay together.’’
Bajaras: “We did our thing with that band for a short time and then life sent us in separate directions for a while. Erick moved to Alaska………jobs, families and all that separated us for some time. Eventually, he came back and I asked him if he wanted to join another band I was in. He said yes and did that for a little while.”
Magaña: “The problem was that we were still doing the same old thing and some of us felt stuck. We wanted to evolve, work on original material and expand artistically. Not that we minded doing covers…….those are great, but even with the covers we were doing……some of us wanted to be able to put in our creativity to adapt the styles and improvise more. Unfortunately, other members of the band wanted to stick as close to the original versions as possible. Artistic differences, I guess. The band we are now still does plenty of covers and our audiences like it that way. But now when we do covers we can turn them into something completely our own.”
Bajaras: “We love to mix genres like rock, reggae and ska with Latin American styles of music and switch them up mid-song. Ultimately, what we would love to see is our fans that are into the Spanish stuff get into the rock stuff and visa-versa. We think we have something for everybody.”
For links and show dates, like Nel Pastel on Facebook. Facebook.com/nelpastel