El-Haru Kuroi (The Black Spring) is the unsung hero of LA’s Latin music scene. While many artists in the area are updating the traditional sounds of cumbia, son jarocho, etc. with slightly modern twists, the three-piece Kuroi draws on the influence of various Latin styles, especially bossa nova, and creates a sound that’s familiar yet new and refreshing.
I chatted with guitarist/vocalist Eddika Organista and bassist Michael Ibarra (drummer/percussionist Dominic Rodriguez was on tour with another group) about the band’s beginnings, the origin of the group’s name, their upcoming album release party at the Belasco for Canta Gallo, and the difficulties with juggling a music career with a family and day jobs.
You’re going to celebrate the release of your second album Canto Gallo with a huge party tomorrow (Saturday, 25th) with DJs from Tumbé, Subsuelo and Bodega. Who put that together?
Eddika: We know Mando [Fever of Tumbé]. We’ve done things with him before in the past and we were trying to do the release thing and he offered to help out. He got all these DJs involved.
How long has El-Haru Kuroi been together?
Michael: We’ve been together for about eight years. We started out as an acoustic trio. We did weddings and quinceñeras. As a trio, we played Agustin Lara songs. [Turns to Eddika] when did we decide to go electric?
Eddika: I don’t remember. I think we were just jamming out and we plugged in…
Michael: …and said “ah, this sounds good like this.” Eddika had a lot of original songs so we started playing more of her music and it just evolved from there. Originally, Dominic had a kit, well, first he had a cajón and congas and I play upright bass because we didn’t plug in to play acoustic.
Eddika: And then he jumped in on the drum set. We originally played like that in the jazz department.
I was watching a live video of your show at Taix Lounge and loved how Dominic plays drums and percussion while standing.
Michael: Dominic started doing that after he went to New Orleans.
Eddika: Also with us being in KillSonic (other band) and him playing his snare standing up.
Michael: It sounds huge. He coordinates and he sounds like three, four other guys.
OUR MUSIC COULD HAVE BEAUTY BUT IT COULD [ALSO] HAVE
A LOT OF DARKNESS IN IT. WE COULD PLAY SOMETHING REALLY
BEAUTIFUL AND SWEET BUT THE LYRICS ARE REALLY DARK.
Eddika: How he explains it is that it’s all in the same proximity: just him doing this [air drums a snare hit] and then hitting the bell, it’s all right there. It’s convenient. He’s become used to that. That’s his thing.
Michael: And I figure it fits really well with Eddika’s guitar style. She uses a lot of finger-picking because of the precision of what Dominic is doing. It meshes really well, and I try to fit in there somehow [laughs] with the upright and not feedback.
Eddika, where did you pick up your guitar? That thing’s a beauty!
Eddika: It’s a beefy guitar. It has a beefy sound. I got it at Guitar Center and not a lot of people know the brand. It’s called Waterstone. I was just looking into sound. I wasn’t trying to find like an Epiphone or whatever. It’s funny because I ran into a friend of ours that day and I was trying out that guitar and he was kind of knocking it and I was like, “but I like it!” and I kept it. It has a really bass-y sound.
Michael: That’s a big part of the sound. There’s a difference immediately when she plays something else. We have to play differently, we have to adjust. The frequencies are different.
I googled your band’s name and discovered that Haru Kuroi is Japanese for Black Spring. How did you come up with that phrase for a band name?
Eddika: I was on the bus. My dad had just returned from Japan and he gave me his English-Japanese dictionary. I wanted it not to be in Spanish or English or in Portuguese and I was looking for words that described us in a way. I looked up dark, black, and spring. I was born in the spring. I felt like our music could have beauty but it could [also] have a lot of darkness in it. We could be playing something really beautiful and sweet but the lyrics are really dark.
Michael: Beautifully menacing! I thought it was just a really beautiful word. We had to find a name for a gig and we didn’t have a name. [Asks Eddika] You were on the bus going to school and didn’t you have some Japanese friends with you?
Eddika: Yeah, my friend Aki. I asked him…
Michael: A great classical bass player.
Eddika: …and he told me that it’s grammatically incorrect. Kuroi Haru would be the right way.
Michael: Haru Kuroi sounds so much nicer!
Eddika: And we added “El” because a friend of ours was like “you guys should do something in Spanish. Your stuff’s in Spanish.”
Michael: So I said, “Ok, how about El Haru Kuroi?!” [laughs]
Eddika: And it stuck.
How long was the writing/recording process for Canta Gallo?
Eddika: We recorded this last year.
Michael: We’ve been working on these songs for a while. We have demos, probably on some of these, from five years ago but they don’t sound anything like they do.
Eddika: They’ve been definitely molded, they’ve transformed a lot. A bulk of them we’ve had for a while but there are some that have generated recently. This is a new album but it already feels old.
Michael: We’re already working on a third.
Eddika: We’re working on our new material which is kind of a whole different from our first and our second album. It’s going in another direction.
Michael: It’s more indie-rock. No, I’m kidding! [laughs]
Eddika: We have a theme going. When I was going to school at UCLA, I was studying about different cultures, ethnomusicology, and sabung [also the name of our debut album] is a term that they use in Bali and it’s about cockfights. They’re forbidden in this certain village but they do it anyway. Sabung means many things. It means rooster, it means macho man, it means a lady killer, it has different meanings but, it definitely comes from the rooster. It’s just such a Mexican thing, such a Mexican staple, the rooster. Not even just Mexican but, I think, the rooster symbolizes a lot of things. You hear them everywhere in East L.A. and in Boyle Heights in the mornings.
Eddika, you sing in English, Spanish and Portuguese. How do you choose which language to sing in when you write songs?
Eddika: It definitely depends on the frequency of the sound. It depends on the mood of the song. Sometimes, I’m like, “wait, am I hearing this in Spanish or in Portuguese?” because, to me, Spanish seems to me more…how can I describe it? It’s more pointy, I guess, and Portuguese is not pointy, it’s more flowy.
Michael: It’s really strong, it’s really forceful.
Do you write the music first and add the lyrics after?
Eddika: Yeah, music first and the lyrics usually come from the syllables that I’m vocalizing. Usually, I always do music and then the melody.
Michael: We always work on a rhythm and jam it out.
Is El-Haru Kuroi an East L.A./Boyle Heights band or part of that scene?
Eddika: I don’t know if we’re an East L.A. band because we rehearse there. That was always our point of meeting like Boyle Heights, City Terrace, like that area and it’s kind of central. I don’t want to say “oh, we’re an East L.A. band,” well…
Michael: Yeah, we are. I mean, we love it but as far as like we rep East L.A., it’s not really like that. We love it but we’re an L.A. band. We’ve lived all over L.A. If they choose us to represent East L.A., I hope we do a good job at it through our music. If the community embraces us, I hope we can return it by playing really well, by being good musicians. Actually, Chief [Dominic] reps East L.A. pretty well because Chief’s East Los straight-up.
You’ve been together for eight years and your star is slowly rising. You’ve received lots of love recently from NPR and a number of local stations.
Eddika: We’re just starting to make connections.
Michael: It’s taking a while. [laughs]
Eddika: It’s not an easy thing. We don’t have any management. We do everything ourselves.
Michael: But if there’s anybody out there that wants to pay us a lot of money for making our music, we’ll be more than happy to take it!
Eddika: We’re used to making our own decisions. Lately, it has been more of a topic because it’s a lot of work doing everything and then still trying to be creative. And aside from that, our own lives, trying to make a living, trying to pay rent. All of those things, they get in the way of creativity and music-making.
Michael: I have a 16 year-old kid, I’m married. I’m gonna go out this week and promote the show and I’m excited because I’m gonna go out! [laughs]
How does your son feel about having a musician for a father?
Michael: He loves it but he’s not a musician, he’s a scientist. When he was 11, he came up to me and said “dad, I gotta talk to you.” I was like, “all right, he’s 11, what could it be?’
Was it the talk about the birds & the bees?
Michael: [laughs] He’s really shy so I don’t think it’s bad and he’s like “I just want you to know I don’t want to be a musician.” And I said to myself [looks up to the sky and sighs of relief] I did that! “I want to be a scientist. I want to build robots.” You will build all of our prosthetics!!