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5/5/2010

Music

Integration bill
David Wax Museum brings Americana’s neighbors into the fold

 

The David Wax Museum
with Matt Butcher, Aaron Berg
9 p.m. Saturday, May 8
Will’s Pub, 407-898-5070
www.willspub.org
$7

One of the more surprising glimmers of hope for America’s soul reared its head swiftly in the immediate aftermath of Arizona’s enactment of a harsh immigration bill that snatched the “walking while black” concept and squeezed it into a new mold of racial profiling: what New York Times contributor Linda Greenhouse called “breathing while undocumented.” 

Supporters of the bill grossly overestimated America’s tolerance for cruelty. Police chiefs and churches vowed non-compliance and politicians on both sides of the aisle condemned the bill, all remembering that immigrants created and comprise America. 

“Americana,” the musical genre that pulls its ingredients from the shelves of country, folk, Southern rock and Appalachian campfires, however, has not traditionally utilized heavy doses of Mexican music. Perhaps that’s why Mexican-infused indie music, like that of Boston’s white-hot David Wax Museum, along with contemporaries like Devotchka and Calexico, has recently captured the attention of NPR and major national newspapers. 

Founder David Wax conjured his group’s jarana, fiddle and donkey jawbone-assisted son Mexicano while working on a California cattle ranch and, later, in rural Mexico. He went on to study Latin American history at Harvard before teaming with Irish-music pro Suz Slezak, Japanese bluegrass enthusiast Jiro Kokubu and Americana vet Greg Glassman to form an act that, within its first year, was taken under wing by the venerable Avett Brothers. 

“I was surprised [by the positive reception] because I wasn’t sure how receptive people who are interested in Americana music would be to hearing the Latin influence,” says Wax. “I think it’s really too bad how Americana lacks much diversity. I’m not sure how to account for that. I was simply allowing my songwriting to be influenced by a style of music that I love that happens not to be old folk music from the States.”

Wax describes his early following, boosted by “a Mexican contingency around Harvard in Cambridge,” as proud non-traditionalists who responded to the group’s respect for their country’s sound. 

“I can imagine that those who try to understand what I’m doing as son jarocho [a pure Mexican style born out of Veracruz] might not approve,” says Wax. “There’s a proper way to play that type of music. But we’re not a son jarocho band.” 

Always the connectors, the Avett Brothers suggested Wax and the group get in touch with Orlando Americana favorite Matt Butcher about playing together. 

“They’re a full-time band, so it has been really nice to work with people that are so motivated and on the ball,” says Butcher of the David Wax Museum. Butcher, taking a break from recording his new album, teamed up with the band in Knoxville, Tenn., for a leg of the Museum’s current tour. He and Wax are looking forward to playing onstage together. 

“There’s an amazing community of musicians linked up to the Avetts, and we’ve been fortunate enough to be part of that
community,” says Wax. 

Meanwhile, Wax isn’t ready to put much stock in what the growing Mexican influence in indie music can do to help relations between America and its neighbors, but he’s anxious to try. After all, music’s power lies in its inherent ability to build bridges. 

“If we can make our audience a little more curious about the communities where these immigrants come from and the lives they’ve had to leave behind, then I think we’re certainly contributing something.”

music@orlandoweekly.com
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