California Love: West Coast Musicians With International Sounds World music DJ Betto Arcos joins host Arun Rath with a stack of records by his favorite new California musicians — all with global influences.
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California Love: West Coast Musicians With International Sounds

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California Love: West Coast Musicians With International Sounds

California Love: West Coast Musicians With International Sounds

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Again, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Before I moved here to Los Angeles, I'd always known about California's diverse population, but in the abstract. I really didn't know about the true impact on its culture - how California looks up close, how it tastes, how it sounds.


RATH: And there's no better guide through the diverse sounds of California than the host of KPFK's "Global Village," L.A.'s own Betto Arcos. Betto, glad to finally meet you.

BETTO ARCOS: Hey, Arun. Welcome to L.A.

RATH: Thank you. It's great to be here. So, I know you're excited about this band that we're listening to now. They sound great, by the way. Who is this?

ARCOS: This is literally a band of brothers. These were six brothers. Four of them were born in the state of Zacatecas in North-Central Mexico. They moved here about 20 years ago, and, wouldn't you know it, they formed a band that plays Cuban music.


ARCOS: One of the brothers actually bought a CD of compilation of salsa music. And he was so grabbed by the sound that he said, I want to do this. I want to play. And he learned how to play the instruments. And then he recruited his brothers to join him and learn the instruments, in fact, some of them he taught himself. And pretty soon, they have a band. This is, believe it or not, their first record.

RATH: Wow. They're tight.


ARCOS: Yeah.

RATH: That's pretty tight for a first record. But it sounds like - like you said, it's sort of old-school Afro-Cuban. You could almost expect Dizzy Gillespie to be coming in and play on top of that.

ARCOS: Absolutely. They're very, very good musicians. And, like I said, they've been playing for about 20 years or so, but they never recorded their own album. So this is it. I mean, you're hearing it first right here.

RATH: This is great.


RATH: That's the band Son Mayor with a track called "Aguabella." Betto, there's been a lot of talk about the Latin influence in California, but it's also America's gateway to Asia. And I know there's a huge Asian population here. How does that show up in the music scene?

Oh, jeez. There are musicians from Korea, from China, from Vietnam, from Iran, actually, too. And, in fact, this next tune is a collaboration between an Indian musician, a sitarist who's actually heir to a great family of sitarists, the son of the great Ustad Vilayat Khan. His name is Shujaat Khan, and he's joined here by a - an artist - she's Iranian. She doesn't live in Los Angeles. She lives in the East Coast. But they recorded this album here in Los Angeles.

So we have some Indian-Iranian fusion.

ARCOS: That's right.


RATH: That's really nice. And it's - now, I realize it's not going to sound unusual to a lot of our listeners. It'll just sound foreign. But for me, I'm hearing Indian music with Farsi, I think, sung over it.

ARCOS: Exactly. That's what it is. It's a confluence of Indian music. Think of it as sort of the ragga meets poetry of Rumi recited by Katayoun Goudarzi. It's a beautiful record. I just love the sound of the two arts coming together.

RATH: The other thing this reminds me of is Indian devotional music. They're called Bhajans. They're like devotional songs to God. But here, what's unusual is we're hearing the poetry of Rumi as opposed to Hindu poetry.

ARCOS: Which is, you know what, I'm glad you mentioned that, because this is a ghazal. A ghazal is a love poem. It's very similar to the Bhajan that you were talking about.

RATH: Right. Ghazals are these intense, almost obsessive love songs.

ARCOS: That's right. This poem is about the pain, the longing of missing somebody when that person is not with you, and you're longing painfully for that person.

RATH: Classic.


RATH: Again, that's the music of Shujaat Khan and Katayoun Goudarzi. That's a piece called "Sanama." My guest is world music deejay Betto Arcos, and he's introducing us to some of the diverse music coming out of California these days. I've got a little hint about this next one, Betto. It's a take on the French composer Erik Satie's "Gnossiennes No. 3."


RATH: The Satie version is a piano arrangement. I got to say I like this a lot better than the original. What's the name of this artist?

ARCOS: Her name is Van-Anh Vanessa Vo. She's from Vietnam. She's been living in the San Francisco Bay Area for a number of years. She's playing this monochord called the dan bau, which is a one-string instrument. And this is her fantastic rendition of this, as you say, it's Eric Satie's "Gnossiennes No. 3."


RATH: It's gorgeous. And I have to say - I don't want to offend anybody - but one of the things I like less about Satie is that I feel he sounds a little bit sentimental. And I feel like this loses that quality.

ARCOS: Right. And I love the way she stretches that note. It almost sounds like the slide guitar.

RATH: Yeah. Feels kind of bluesy too.


RATH: That's Van-Anh Vanessa Vo with Satie's "Gnossiennes No. 3." Betto, we have time for one more. What do you got for us?

ARCOS: The last tune is by a fantastic, very soulful singer from Venezuela that lives in the East Bay up north across San Francisco. Her name is Maria Marquez, and her song is called "Entre Copa y Copa."


RATH: Oh, that voice. Reminds me of Nina Simone.

ARCOS: Yeah. She has this kind of liquid approach to singing. And this is a bolero - bolero being a romantic love song from Latin America. But here, it's an arrangement almost like a jazz standard with American instruments, with American musicians. It's a very beautiful song by a well-known composer from Venezuela, Felipe Pirela. Beautiful stuff, "Entre Copa y Copa."

RATH: I love it. What is she singing about?

ARCOS: It's a torch song. It's all about, you know, you've left me, I'm in pain. I'm drinking and drinking because I have no other choice, you know? If you've gone, I'm left behind. I'm in pain.

RATH: That seems to be a theme, this feeling of longing and wanting more. And, Betto, you're leaving us wanting more, so you got to come back sometime soon and bring some more music.

ARCOS: I'll be very happy to do that. It's a pleasure to be here with you, Arun. And welcome, once again, to this, our wonderful city of Los Angeles.

RATH: Thank you. It's so great to be here. Again, that music we're hearing, that's Maria Marquez with the song "Entre Copa y Copa." Betto Arcos has been with me. He's the host of "Global Village" on KPFK here in Los Angeles. You can go to our website for a longer listen to all the music you just heard. That's at


RATH: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR smartphone app. Click on Programs and scroll down. And you can find us on Twitter @nprwatc. Tune in tomorrow. We'll have a visit to North Korea and lessons on living with wildfires. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night.

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