11/04/2020 East Bay Express, Feature story , 'Los Mocosos - Snotty-nosed brats come of age'

When bass player Happy Sanchez and trombonist Victor Castro started playing together as Los Mocosos in 1997, they had no grand career plans. They'd both been making music in various Mission District bands since they were teenagers and, although they knew each other well, they'd never collaborated before.

"The band grew out of Aztlan Records," Sanchez said. "I started the label with a friend in 1995. We wanted to document the growing "rock en español" movement. Latinos were playing rock, punk and ska. In 1997, we put out a compilation called Puro Eskañol, Vol. 1, with tunes by various Latin ska bands. I had a song of my own, 'Soul Mocosos,' that I wanted on it, so I called Victor and asked him to go into the studio with me. It came out pretty good."

"Soul Mocosos'' was an energetic fusion of ska and surf music. Jed the Fish, a DJ at L.A.'s KROQ, put the song in heavy rotation. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, a Latin ska band from Buenos Aires, called asking Los Mocosos to open their upcoming American tour. "The joke was that there was no Mocosos," Sanchez said. "It was the name I made up for the compilation. Victor helped me get a band together. We wrote a bunch of songs, made an album—Moco Locos—and hit the road. Our ska version of Herb Alpert's 'Lonely Bull' is still getting airplay."

When Aztlan folded, the band signed with Six Degrees, a San Francisco world-music logo. Their second album, 2001's Shades of Brown, got rave reviews and the band kept touring.

"Around that time, I got a call from a publisher in New York City," Sanchez said. "They specialized in music for movies and TV. I sent him some songs I'd been working on for the next Mocosos album and did a deal with them. I quit Los Mocosos and started Hip Spanic Productions with Karl Perazzo, percussionist from Santana's band.

"We created the Latin Soul Syndicate and put out three albums. Our publisher promoted us as a real band, but we were a studio group. We got music in over 150 TV shows and movies, including Dexter and The Devil Wears Prada."

When Sanchez and Perazzo started writing music with the musicians they'd been working with in the studio, they created The Hip Spanic Allstars. They made two albums, Jazzy Afro Latin Funk and Old School Revolution. When the band was invited to play at the Fillmore Street Jazz Festival, the studio musicians were all touring, so Sanchez turned to Castro and Gordon "Shorty" Ramos, from the now defunct Los Mocosos.

"Once we reunited, the chemistry kicked in and the urge to get the band back together set in," Sanchez said. "Shorty knew a young singer, Juan Ele Perez. He told us he'd make a great front man and he still had hair. He thought he'd be a shot of musical Viagra for us old guys."

Perez came to a rehearsal of the reformed Mocosos and blew people away. He grew up playing organ in a Black Baptist church, while listening to Mexican folk music at home.

"We wanted a more soulful sound, and he has a great youthful voice that's perfect for Latin and soul music," Sanchez said. "Mocosos loosely translates as 'little snotty-nosed brats.' Since it's been 15 years since we last recorded, we called the new album All Grown Up. It's rock, soul and R&B, with a Latin influence and intricate harmonies. It's an honor to get together with guys I've known all my life and make music again."

Sanchez said the band composed the music together, with everyone contributing musical and lyrical ideas as the arrangements developed. Since everyone in the band plays in other groups, the songs were assembled slowly, building on the bass lines and drum loops Sanchez laid down.

As in the past, the band combines humor and astute perceptions of the current political situation. "United We Stand," a funky R&B anthem, examines the anti-immigrant hysteria generated by the current administration. Perez delivers an uplifting message supported by the ensemble's backing harmonies, sustained chords from the Hammond B3 and multi-layered percussion. Twangy surf guitar and a cumbia meets dancehall reggae beat drives "Mirala," a racy song that praises true love—even in a time when the rent is unpaid. "Viva Los Mocosos" combines ska and salsa, played at breakneck speed. Blazing horn stabs and Perez's punk/rap vocal help kick the tune into high gear. The hardships of immigration and a prayer for a better tomorrow make "Brothers & Sisters" the album's most uplifting track. The salsa/ska/funk groove gives the tune an international feel, in keeping with its message of economic justice and global unity.

The band had a record release party planned for Yoshi's, but they're readjusting to the new reality created by the pandemic. "We'll do some virtual stuff around the release, but it's not easy," Sanchez said. "Nobody seems to have the answer to how things are going to go right now."