The bright lights of downtown Oakland glow against the pitch-black sky. Only a few people are out on this Saturday night, but it still feels like the big city. At El Reventon on the corner of Webster and 14th streets, a beeline of young Mexican men dressed in urban cowboy ranchero duds makes its way through the door. On May 3, the Fierros family, which runs the place, celebrates six years presenting Mexican regional music at the upstairs dancehall. But tonight Fernando, the twentysomething family member, hosts the next phase in Mex-pop music.
It’s not the usual brass banda ensembles or squeezebox conjuntos, but a grupo rapero (rap group). This evening Akwid (Ahh-quid), the brotherly duo of Sergio and Francisco Gomez from South Central Los Angeles, is in the house with something new and unique. Last year Akwid led a movement that fused hip-hop with traditional regional Mexican music. Banda samples, hot beats, and Spanish-language lyrical flows defined a sound that has struck a nerve with a generation. Their debut album Proyecto Akwid (Univision) has gone platinum behind the hit “No Hay Manera” (Ain’t No Way).
The group’s name is derived from Sergio and Francisco’s nicknames AK and Wicked. They first busted out in the late 1990s doing Spanglish rap as Juvenile Style, and now, in their early twenties, the brothers have fashioned a different Cali-Mex hip-hop vibe. As DJ Mugre (Dirt) pounds out fat beats behind his crate of CD players and mixers, he sends out the call and pulls a line of chicas to the front of the stage. With laser lights dancing to the beat, Sergio and Francisco step in with MTV attitude. They wear Lakers jerseys, baggy jeans, clean running shoes, and black gloves as they go into “Es Mi Gusto” (It’s My Liking), a musical defense of their street lifestyle keyed by a pulsating tuba and delivered in clear Mexican Spanish peppered with street slang. The crowd hollers delightedly as the two do a bit of macho chest-pounding to their critics. It’s that sense of rebelliousness and defiance that makes Akwid so relevant to its audience. Their verses have something organically poetic, metaphorically meaningful.
The first tune ends abruptly, as if somebody pulled the needle off a record, and the bros turn around and mad-dog DJ Mugre. They turn to the crowd and say: “This juey (mule) does that to us all the time.” The crowd laughs. In the next piece a back line of dancers appears. This is when the stiff banda steps get a funkier accent, as couples shake their hips and wave their arms. But when the sounds of the banda come on they immediately grab each other and do the more traditional polka-based dance styles. As Akwid finally closes out with “No Hay Manera,” the Juan Gabriel song they remixed, the half-filled venue is in a solid sweat.
Unfortunately, since the start of the year El Reventon has instituted a no-minors policy that leaves Akwid’s largest fan base outside. But Akwid’s audience saw a dynamic, intimate performance by the Gomez brothers that redefines and reinvents their generation’s perception of traditional Mexican music.
El Reventon is located at 1408 Webster St. in downtown Oakland, and features live Mexican regional music Friday and Saturday nights. Info: 510-835-1813.