The seven-person energy wall that is Mandorico has been urgently praised for its shimmeringly sensual, unique-to-this-country combo of traditional Latin music and frenetic ska. And while the sexiness quotient in any music resides most definitely in the ear of the beholder, it’s worthy to reveal that lead singer Jesse Lauricello manages to make even music theory sound attractive.
Latin and ska rhythms work together, he believes, because “the two together accent what the other lacks. Latin is very methodical; there’s a certain recipe [involved in] playing it.” The tried-and-true structure, however, “allows space for the reggae [beat]. … The [rhythms] fill each other in.”
Once a pure product of Jamaica, ska is likely the most tinkered-with musical category of all time. Focus magazine music reporter Chip Edwards once noted, “Even in an adulterated form, ska music has been revived any number of times, with many variations of embellishments. Along with the Jamaican original, there’s the refined essence of bluebeat, then 2-Tone revivalism, adventures into pop ska and even skacore.”
Enter Mandorico, hell-bent on unloading a flood of slick, tight, gaudy-yet-thoughtful originals on audiences near and far.
Lauricello — who led Atlanta staples The Go-Steadys for seven years — was heavily involved in the ska scene when he took a hiatus from music to pursue a degree in Spanish-American literature. A stint in Mexico City infused him with the inspiration to meld his two loves: The resulting offspring (that would be Mandorico) is whipped into dance-hall delirium by bassist Chris Culver, guitarist Mark Solano and drummer Chris Fields (all three late of the Atlanta rock scene) — plus saxophonist Travis Tingle, Puerto Rican percussionist Luis Gonzales and ex-Canadian Kevin “Doc” McKinney, who wields both a trumpet and a doctorate in musical composition from the University of Georgia.
The clash of those diverse backgrounds has been known to engender some healthy creative friction in the studio, admits Lauricello — though as a general rule, he notes, “[The diversity is] definitely a good thing, in a way. … We could have been a straight Latin band, but with our various backgrounds, it turned into something much bigger than that. Some of our members have been greatly influenced by hip-hop, and that element is very present, very alive [in our sound].”
Lauricello points out that the ska-tossed Latin sound is a new mix only to American ears. “I would be inclined to say that it’s an emerging sound, rather than a new one,” he explains. “There are bands doing stuff along these lines, just not so much in this country. It just hasn’t caught on here yet.”
If nothing else, Lauricello feels that Mandorico’s music quenches a deeply rooted boredom with the ’90s music scene. “[Many] people don’t like what they hear on the radio, or else they feel like [certain types of music are] being jammed down their throats,” he posits. “There’s a large underground scene of people who just dig dance music, music that [makes them] move. If you can make people feel a certain rhythm, then they’ll understand what you’re doing, and that has been [the reason for] our success. There’s a little dance catalyst in this music that just gets you going when you hear it. … Nobody can honestly say that [our] music has no soul.”
What of purists (of either persuasion) who may balk at the giddy melange of rhythms so ably dished out by the septet?
“They have to exist, the traditionalists who treat [Latin or ska] like a religion — people out there who think [a coupling of genres] is innately wrong,” Lauricello concedes. “But no one’s ever come up to me and [objected]. People get into it even though it’s not ‘right.’ Sometimes, we’ll get someone who’ll say, ‘Man, I’m a huge Latin fan. … I don’t know what the hell the rest of that was, but you sure have the Latin thing down.'”
The band is currently logging studio time toward a full-length CD ,to follow up their debut EP, Familiar Places (Presidio Productions, 1998). The new effort, Lauricello promises, will more fully showcase the range of Mandorico’s talent.
“Like any band, we like what we’re doing right now. … Anything we’ve already recorded sounds old to us,” he says with a laugh.
Can fans look forward to a CD that perfectly captures the live Mandorico experience?
“Not in a million years,” concludes Lauricello, suddenly dead-serious. “It’s not humanly possible.”