Bicicletas Por La Paz's Rolling Revolution, With a Beat

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Bicicletas Por La Paz

Bicicletas Por la Paz sounds like the kind of thing people make fun of the Bay Area for. It’s a bicycle advocacy and awareness collective that’s serving healthy meals from its “People’s Kitchen” and building a center for displaced people in Colombia. Oh, and there’s the smoothies stand — blended using pedal power, of course.

So with all that, the thought of them being a band, too, might have you rolling your eyes. Not so fast.

Take the song “Gigante Elefante,” about the perils of dodging cars while rolling on two wheels, which doesn’t sound like fun. And yet it’s a typically frisky — and accomplished — highlight from the debut album, “Musica por Puppets,” being celebrated with an Aug. 29 release party concert at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall.

Throughout, there’s a mix of South American-angled funk, ska, reggae, rock en español and even some credible rap. On “Keep On,” the band even manages to create sort of an organic hip-hop track.


Bicicletas Por La PazThe Bicicletas is a self-described group of  “musicians, cyclists, circus performers, visual artists, hooligans and environmentalists,” united to fight “corporate power over people and the environment.” Fortunately, the eight-piece band, led by guitarist Adley Penner and sporting a rotating cast of four singers, understands that the best way to further that mission, musically speaking, is to get people to sing and dance.

So the material, by and large, is not specifically topical, but more celebrations and examinations of grass-roots spirit. “On the Clock,” an ode to life in the daily grind, has a dark cheerleading quality, a bit reminiscent of England’s exuberant Go! Team.

They do, though, get really topical -- with righteous fire -- on “Fruitvale.” Referencing the 2009 police shooting of young African-American Oscar Grant on a BART platform, the song lives up to the Johnny Rotten maxim: Anger is an energy. Sprawling over six minutes, it moves from slow-simmer prologue to full-on catharsis manifest in roiling ska and then into quasi-theatrical rage.

The heavy intensity of that works because it’s buoyed by the lightheartedness of free spirits elsewhere, a sense that the musicians feel that anything can be accomplished if they just get on two wheels and ride, literally or metaphorically.

It’s a people-powered revolution and the activism, the politics and the world view all are spokes on one hub, something held forth in what is more or less the Biciclectas Por la Paz anthem, the album’s very first, very joyous song: “Vámonos Ciclista."