La Misa Negra’s music is so eclectic, the Oakland cumbia band wouldn’t sound out of place playing at a Latin club, dive bar, or even a Jewish wedding. At a typical live show, the group bursts onto the stage with a frenzy of drums and horns. Singer Diana Trujillo bounces to the beat, pirouetting on one foot and letting out a loud, throaty cry; guitarist Marco Polo Santiago headbangs while picking his guitar.
La Misa Negra has been lighting up dance floors with their high-energy brand of cumbia since 2011. Their second, self-titled studio album, due out on Sept. 29, draws on elements of hip-hop, Latin jazz, and even metal to create a sound band members describe as “hella bailable,” or hella danceable.
“Our number one mission is just to make people move,” says Santiago, La Misa Negra’s composer, guitarist, and accordion player.
La Misa Negra has come a long way from their first release, Misa De Medianoche, which Santiago recorded on his laptop with a single microphone in 2013. Their new, self-titled project, nicknamed The Red Album, was recorded in a much more professional setting, at Oakland’s 25th Street Recording; it captures the raw energy and musical prowess of its frenetic live shows.
La Misa Negra’s sound might contain multi-regional influences, but it could only have been born in the Bay Area. Santiago came up in Los Angeles’ hip-hop and metal scenes, and his background is evident in the band’s hard-driving, percussive rhythms. In high school, he played trumpet and developed a deep love for horn lines. After moving to Oakland seven years ago, Santiago connected with a diverse collection of local players and formed a seven-piece band whose name translates to “the black mass.”
With La Misa Negra, Santiago sought to incorporate a variety of Latin and rock influences to create “something that sounds like Black Sabbath in Spanish.” Indeed, the band’s new record opens with an Afrobeat-inspired instrumental cover of the Sabbath tune “A National Acrobat.” Yet La Misa Negra’s energetic performances -- which move at a rapid clip with furious drumming and Spanish-language vocals -- are much more upbeat than the band’s name suggests.
Much of La Misa Negra’s musical grit comes from Colombian-born vocalist Trujillo’s lyrics, which feature feminist themes and progressive political messages. Trujillo penned the cumbia scorcher from the forthcoming album, “Dueña de Mi” ("Boss of Myself"), after the Women’s March in Washington D.C. In it, she asserts her right to make her own decisions, including when to have children and obtain an education. “I am the owner of my destiny and I want to live it with freedom,” Trujillo sings in Spanish over Santiago’s crooning accordion.
“[The Women’s March] inspired me to make my own protest through music,” Trujillo writes in an email to KQED. “Women have been prohibited of expression in so many cultures and that’s what inspires me. I come from a very male, chauvinist society, which I protest with my songs.”
“The female role in Latin dance music is often relegated to a backup dancer or pretty girl in a bathing suit. I really wanted to have talented people in this band who weren’t just guys,” Santiago says, referring to saxophone and clarinet player Morgan Nilsen and the band’s massively talented percussionist, Elena De Troya. “We’re a multi-cultural band, a multi-gender band, and we embrace our differences. Equal treatment of all people is important to us.”
Gun violence, another important issue to the band, is the subject of “Pistola,” a salsa track from the new album. The topic hits close to home for Trujillo, who grew up in Colombia in the ’80s and ’90s when the country was besieged by government and guerilla violence.
“A lot of my relatives died during this time, including my own father,” Trujillo says. "I felt death very close so many times."
Although a good portion of La Misa Negra’s audience aren’t Spanish speakers and likely didn’t grow up listening to Latin music, the band members don’t see language as an issue. There’s no particular scene that shows up to get down, but almost everyone is stomping, jumping, or shaking their hips to the music regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity.
“This is beautiful. I look into the audience and it’s like a rainbow of faces,” Santiago says.
“That’s one of the beautiful things about living in this part of the country, the diversity of the people.”
La Misa Negra performs at The New Parish in Oakland on Sept. 22. More info here.