Machete Kisumontao is a Puerto Rican band from Pittsburgh that blends Puerto Rican rhythms and Afro-beat music through Afro-Latin percussion and horns. Often referred to as “Puerto Rican Riot salsa,” Machete Kisumontao is an experience to see live. As soon as they take the stage you begin to move with excitement. Your ear is tickled by their take on classic Puerto Rican salsa and Boleros, giving you the sweet nostalgia of being a little girl back in your abuela’s kitchen. As the beat enters your heart, you cannot help but get up and dance.
The band, now in their 10th year, started accidentally. Their first (and initially meant to be the only) performance was as a part of Pittsburgh’sLatin American Cultural Union 20th anniversary celebrations in 2006. The lead singer and percussionist, Geña (originally from Quebradillas, Puerto Rico) asked friends and fellow musicians Vijay Bakrania (guitar, percussion), Dino Lopreiato (congas, percussion) and Ketan Bakrania (bass, percussion) to perform classic Puerto Rican songs as an assemble ad-hoc group for this one event. At different times, some of them had performed as part of the African Drumming Ensemble at the University of Pittsburgh and were familiar with the African beats that made up the sounds of salsa, however, none of them (other than Geña) had any knowledge of Puerto Rican music. Given this fact, the rehearsals were stressful as the group worked to become a cohesive sound while learning all news songs. All their practice paid off—after that first performance, to their delight and surprise, requests for more Machete Kisumontao shows came pouring in. Since then Machete Kisumontao has been performing all over Pittsburgh.
What makes Machete Kisumontao so special is that every song they play, despite being a well-known classic, is done in a style unique to the band. Because the band members have a varied musical background and the instruments they use are often not the traditional ones, their own twist on classic Puerto Rican music creates an experience for their audience that is unlike anything ever heard before.
For a band that has been together for so long, it will surprise many people that Machete Kisumontao has never recorded an album. In a 2014 film about the band called, “Machete Kisumontao: El Documental” made by Pittsburgh based production company Spinning Goat Productions, the band’s lead singer, Geña, was asked about recording an album. Her response indicated that we should not expect an album anytime soon. She said, “We were kind of afraid of recording for a while because we feel like it’s a very live experience. It’s something that needs to happen. You just have to be there. Because it’s more about what happens in that space.” Which means that you may have to plan a trip to Pittsburgh to see them live soon!
If you want to learn more about Machete Kisumontao you can visit their website for upcoming events in the Pittsburgh area. You can also watch the full documentary by Spinning Goat Productions which follows the group’s story from the beginning to present day and includes live footage of their performance.