Social activism brought the members of Los Semilleros (The Seed Planters) together, but it was a shared passion for music that cemented the group's friendship.
The group's four members met while working with the Latino Youth Collective, an organization that made national news earlier this year when six of its members were arrested by Governor Mitch Daniels during a demonstration at the State House. These experiences with social activism often spill over into the bands music.
"We're writing a song about the six students who were arrested in Governor Daniels' office," says singer/guitarist Isaias Guerrero.
Los Semilleros are still a work in progress and they know that. The group has only played a handful of shows and they're still developing their repertoire, but they possess a rough-hewn charm. More importantly, the band fills a longstanding void in the Indianapolis scene. The group's sound, which freely mixes rock and reggae with a variety of Latin music traditions, brings a much-needed diversity to the local music community.
I met with Los Semilleros at their practice space as the band was hastily rehearsing for the their first formal headlining gig, less than two weeks away. I spoke with members Isaias Guerrero (guitar, vocals), Gerardo Ruiz Tovar (guitar, vocals) and Julio Cesar Chavez (bass). Percussionist Benito Miller wasn't available; in true activist fashion, Miller was in transit to Alabama where he'll help organize a campaign against the state's controversial immigration law, HB-56.
NUVO: Tell me about your name?
Isaias Guerrero: We were playing at a poetry slam. The group wasn't very formal at that point and we didn't have a name, but someone asked us what we were called. So I just said Los Semilleros. I like the idea of a seed, something that grows and brings something new. That's what we want to do, to bring something new, something that is not yet corrupted.
NUVO: Isaias, you're from Colombia, Benito is from Bolivia, Julio and Gerardo are from Mexico. How does this influence your music?
Isaias Guerrero: What we write is from our experience. The immigrant experience has shaped our lives and we try to bring that experience to the listener when we write. We speak about the repercussions of immigrant life. For instance, Gerardo wrote a song called "Not From Here or There" which talks about the identity struggle immigrants face. So, we try to incorporate our own experience. And a lot of those experiences have been hard and we have encountered injustices.
NUVO: What about you Gerardo?
Gerardo Ruiz Tovar: Most of the music i write somehow ends up being about an immigrant journey and this feeling of wanting to go back home to the beautiful places we grew up in.
NUVO: Can you describe the sound of Los Semilleros?
Isaias Guerrero: We try to incorporate a lot of the tropical sounds, like reggae and cumbia. There's also the influence of the bolero, the love songs that came from Cuba. It's an acoustic sound, with percussion, maracas and bongos.
It's the music we grew up listening to, and that our parents and grandparents grew up listening to and we don't hear that in Indianapolis. People forget about these amazing musical traditions like cumbia and so many other styles found in our countries. What were trying to do is mix these old school traditions of cumbia and merengue with rock and reggae.
NUVO: Gerardo, you've played with a couple local hardcore bands. What appealed to you about this project?
Gerardo Ruiz Tovar: Yes, I played in the bands Nailbiter and Indianapolis Forever. Los Semilleros is totally unrelated to that. Basically, I figured, why not? I speak Spanish and these guys play, so why not try it out?
NUVO: What are your future plans?
Julio Cesar Chavez: In the future, it's a goal of ours to try to bring other bands into this style. We want to get them to go a little outside the mainstream, play a little more reggae, get them into all sorts of music that might not be popular, but that people will enjoy. If we can gather a following and get people interested in different genres of music, it opens up a space for other bands here.
Los Semilleros are hosting an open-stage acoustic music showcase called Occupy the Spot on Saturday, November 12th at The Write-On Poetry Spot. There's no admission fee, but donations are accepted. Call 317-985-7385 for more information.