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King Chango Turns to Ska Instead of Its Rock Potential

September 23, 1996|ENRIQUE LOPETEGUI

With King Chango, the world of Latin rock--alas--has a new ska band. Ska's fun, no doubt about it. But, hey, isn't 217,000 of them enough by now? At least, it seems that many.

Why do musicians from Puerto Rico--who should be able to add spice to the rock en espan~ol movement by drawing from their own musical heritage--want to settle for such an over-applied formula?

King Chango, now based in New York, is obviously good enough to get a record deal with David Byrne's Warner Bros-distributed Luaka Bop Records, and it is entertaining enough to steal the show Saturday night at El Guateque III, L.A.'s most important annual underground rock en espan~ol festival.

Unfortunately, that victory said more about the weak level of the festival talent than any strength of the ska-accented band.

Of the six bands preceding the New Yorkers on stage, the most impressive was Ozomatli, a relatively new 12-piece Chicano band, which also has a ska base but which is far more interesting when it switches to its Latin-funk-hip-hop side.

The festival, which attracted several hundred fans to the Aztlan Cultural Foundation parking lot in Lincoln Heights, sounded at times more like a six-hour rehearsal of some promising and some struggling young bands rather than a showcase of some of the best underground rock en espan~ol.

All King Chango needed on this night to stand out was the charisma of frontman Blanquito Man, a few good songs and the simple but solid work of Glenda Lee in bass.

Yet the group wasn't impressive instrumentally, and touches of punk, cumbia and Afro Cuban elements didn't disguise the group's derivative ska base.

* King Chango plays tonight at the House of Blues, 8430 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 11 p.m. $5. (213) 650-1451.

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