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The LA band Jungle Fire lays down some tropical funk

by Betto Arcos | The Frame

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L.A.-based Jungle Fire re-creates Colombian funk sounds from the 1970s. Jungle Fire

The band, Jungle Fire, draws influences from a wide array of music icons: James Brown to Fela Kuti; Irakere to War. In their second album, called “Jambú,” they establish an original sound the band calls “Tropi-Funk.”

On a recent evening at the group's studio and rehearsal space, on Pico Boulevard near Vermont, the ten-piece band forms a circle and starts its monthly ritual.

Various members explain the band’s sound and purpose: “It’s been described as a ten piece Tropi-funk juggernaut from the City of Angels … I think Jungle Fire is just kind of a melt-your-face, audio-slap-to-the-face’ party band … It’s a party, it’s love, it’s forget about everything else and just let yourself loose and bring it all together.”

Jungle Fire at the band's rehearsal space in mid-town Los Angeles.
Jungle Fire at the band's rehearsal space in mid-town Los Angeles. Betto Arcos

Jungle Fire came together as a jam between friends six years ago. Bass player Joey Reina says a friend called him and said he needed a band for a music festival he was organizing: “And ever since then, it just started to gain popularity and people liked it and became more serious. We got the core members of the band, kind of figured out, and it became what it is today.”

Jungle Fire plays a wide range of related music styles. They can lay down a groove of deep funk. They can re-invent Latin America’s most popular dance music, in a tune called “Cumbia de Sal.” And tip their hat to a major figure of West African music in the tune “L.A. Kossa” — a reference to Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa.”

Steve Haney is one of three percussionists — the foundation of the Jungle Fire sound. He says the band re-creates Colombian funk sounds from the 1970s: “We gravitated towards that because that’s how we heard the sound of the group going. And we wanted to bring some flavors of L.A., Southern California, obviously War — that’s a big part of what we listened to, as a lot of us were born in the '70s.

Guitarist Patrick Bailey says Jungle Fire is a musical reflection of the L.A. metropolitan area: “C’mon, it’s 2017! It’s such an amazing cauldron of so many cultures, it just gets more and more diverse and I think this band is definitely, definitely a product of that. We don’t sit down and think about what sound we’re going to do, We’re gonna do Afrobeat, we’re gonna combine this Colombian rhythm. The beautiful thing about this band is it just kind of happens.”

The ten-piece band, Jungle Fire, describes its sound as "Tropi-funk."
The ten-piece band, Jungle Fire, describes its sound as "Tropi-funk." Farah Sosa

Percussionist Alberto López says the group's debut album was like a first date for the band — a musical explosion of friendship among the members: “But then we had a couple years of playing together and touring together between the first and the second record, and I think that shows. The second record showcases experiences that we could have not have imagined when we first got together.”

Haney says anytime the band plays a show, they want to make sure people have a good time: “Letting them forget at that moment, forget about all this B.S. that’s happening, because there’s so much evil that seems to be opening up everyday.”

And if the fans like the music, and take it home and share it with their friends and family, Jungle Fire is doing their part for a better world.

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