Rock, Latin, and Electronica, the Experiences of Charanga Cakewalk

Bloomington, Indiana, USA – Coinciding with his Spring 2005 tour, the man behind Charanga Cakewalk, Michael Ramos, talks about his experiences and the new album, Loteria de la Cumbia Lounge (Triloka Records).

As a kid growing up in a Texas small town, I’d hang out with my buddies in
front of school
,” Michael Ramos recalls. “We’d listen to Bad Company and talk
about all the rock groups of the day. And my mom and aunt would drive up with
Mexican music blaring out of the radio. I remember slinking down in the back
seat. My mom would say, ‘You shouldn’t be ashamed.’ But try to tell a
13-year-old kid not to be embarrassed by his family. The fact that this crossed
cultural boundaries made it that much more difficult

But now I really feel bad for people who only experience one type of music,”
says Ramos. “There’s so much out there. And that has always been something I
have thrived on. As a kid, I might have felt a little strange. But now when I
look back, I think, ‘What a great foundation.’ I pulled all those influences
along, from classical piano training and the Latin music my grandparents played,
to the Beatles, Rolling Stone, and Dave Clark Five records my dad would buy. It
all came together as I got older

What was originally a studio project has become a touring act; opening for an extensive Patty Griffin tour. Ramos
has played regularly as part of Griffin’s band (he produced the title track for
Griffin’s Grammy-nominated

1000 Kisses
), so it made sense to have Charanga
Cakewalk open on the tour.

The name Charanga Cakewalk—also a song on the album—came from a sign in a church
parking lot spotted by a friend of Ramos. The CD title, Loteria de la Cumbia Lounge, combines the name of a Mexican-style bingo with the name of Ramos’
recording studio, the Cumbia Lounge. “When I see people who have found true
love, I think finding true love is like winning the lottery
,” Ramos explains.
It happens, but it doesn’t happen to everyone every day.”

I love the Mexican groove form cumbia and based a lot of the songs around the
cumbia groove
,” says Ramos. “So that’s what I named my studio. Not lounge in the
sense of remix CDs or chill out music, but simply a place to hang out. Even on
tour, that’s the name of my dressing room where I have my candles burning and my
mobile studio. Cumbia Lounge is wherever I am making music

Ramos has taken his time with releasing his own record, partly because he has
been so busy touring with Griffin and Mellencamp, but partly because he is a
cautious musician. “I really hate it when I am in the car with someone and a
song comes on the radio and they say ‘That’s the sound from the Yamaha Motif’ or
‘I have that sound in my keyboard too
,’” Ramos says. “I like using real
instruments, to make it as organic as I can. But sometimes you can’t do that, so
I try to alter all the keyboard sounds and make them my own, instead of
recording with whatever they give you. I try to make it where people cannot
recognize where the sounds are coming from. Sometimes you don’t know whether it
is a keyboard, a sample or the real deal

It took Ramos a long time to acknowledge that people—especially the big-name
musicians with whom he worked—saw him as an accordion player. He kept doing it
because the versatility of keyboards and accordion helped him get gigs. “One of
my biggest complaints about the accordion is some people want me to play it all
the time. If you put on blue sunglasses, you say that’s pretty neat, but after
you have had them on for 30 minutes, you forget all about it; your eyes adjust
to it. And it is the same with your ears. You have to use accordion sparingly
for a good effect

The world has had a lot of bad news in the last four years,” says Ramos. “At
one point I felt we were all sort of depressed and bummed out about the state of
things with our planet, so I just wanted to make music that makes people feel
good. I wanted to keep it on an airy, light note. Some songs are serious, some
are born from pain, and they all come from the heart. But I just wanted people
to relate to it on an essential level

[Read the CD review

A Cakewalk on the Latin Side

buy the CD

[All photos courtesy of Triloka Records].