“We’re really organic in a lot of ways, without necessarily trying to be,” says bassist Arturo Guzman of Very Be Careful.
Guzman and his bandmates – brother Ricardo Guzman (vocals, accordion), Craig Martin (guacharaca), Dante Ruiz (campana), and Ricardo Panta (caja vallenato) – have spent the past decade delving into vallenato, a form of traditional Colombian music that bridges together African, European, and indigenous American sounds, leaving behind their pasts as musicians playing punk, heavy metal, and other styles more commonly found across Southern California.
“We just sort of tried it out the way you would try different kinds of music out,” says Guzman, “and then when we performed, people were so into it, and there was all this dancing, that it sort of converted us into living a sort of vallenato lifestyle.”
He continues, “The fans and the music changed us rather than us trying to fit a certain mold. It’s a very intense and serious change that occurred for us.”
Named for its place of origin, Valledupar, Colombia, vallenato relies on rhythms created by a caja vallenato, a small drum topped in animal skin, and a guacharaca, which features two pieces resembling a fork and a stick that make a scraping sound when rubbed together, and melodies provided primarily by an accordion. It is folk music, acoustic in nature (although Guzman occasionally plays an electric bass), and meant to be taken to the people.
The band, who released its fifth album, Salad Buey, last year, has become an international sensation, playing alongside an eclectic mix of artists ranging from the late punk legend Joe Strummer to contemporary classical outfit Kronos Quartet. Since its formation, Very Be Careful has excelled at bringing vallenato to the masses, whether by playing Los Angeles-area nightclubs, New York streets, British music festivals, or German beer halls. And although the group has played its share of large-scale concerts, Guzman notes that he and his mates still prefer “the tighter, hot, sweaty parties.”
Over the years, Very Be Careful has become well known for throwing traditional vallenato dances in conjunction with various holidays – particularly Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Halloween, and the Fourth of July.
“We’ve made them really special for certain people,” says Guzman.
“Like with Valentine’s Day, you see all these Hallmark cards around,” he adds. “It’s really not about that for us. We’re really embracing it as a lovers’ holiday, let’s get together, single people, married people, and have a good time and not an elitist thing where it’s just for lovers only. We think that’s kind of elitist, that certain holidays only apply to certain people. We try not to do that at all.”
Very Be Careful’s career unfolded naturally, without the additives of over-budget videos, elaborate stage productions, and mountains of empty hype, proving that when music is left to ripen on its own, success can be achieved.
Very Be Careful plays at Air Conditioned Supper Club in Venice on April 17.