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Agua Pura: 'Quiero Saber'

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A collage of five images of an all-women music group, wearing green, yellow and red clothing.
Agua Pura. From left to right: Erika Toda, Eos Black, Maddie Lui, Gabby Aldaz, Jacqui Corona, Amanda Magaña, Leela Paymai, Rebecca Rodriquez, Mena Ramos (not pictured Belen Cortez). (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Rodriguez/Photo Collage by Spencer Whitney of KQED)

The Sunday Music Drop is a weekly radio series hosted by the KQED weekend news team. In each segment, we feature a song from a local musician or band with an upcoming show and hear about what inspires their music.

Rebecca Rodriguez, the band leader of San Francisco’s all-femme salsa band, Agua Pura, recalls forming the group after almost always being the only girl in the bandstand.

“It’s a lonely vibe,” said Rodriguez. “And it’s fun, but just every now and then you need to be able to feel kind of like you can let your guard down a little bit more, you know?”

She felt it was important to be able to “create a space where girls can come in and be comfortable and feel safe enough to express themselves and take the kind of solos that they want to take.”

Rodriguez describes the salsa music Agua Pura plays as party music one might hear from someone’s radio while walking through the Mission District.  The group covers songs from bands that are traditionally all men, such as the Fania All-Stars or El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico.

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“Quiero Saber” is a cover of a song by the Fania All-Stars that was released in 1988.

One thing she likes about the band is that all of the percussionists are able to switch between playing timbales, bongo, and conga, allowing for flexibility in the music. Rodriguez is a first generation Colombian American who grew up in Monrovia in Los Angeles County. She played piano as a child and later joined her high school’s drum line. While attending San Francisco State University, she starting going to hear the Afro-Cuban Ensemble play that was directed by John Calloway.

“[Calloway] really taught me everything I know and he kind of was able to push me into learning how to play these instruments in a professional way and in a way where there was respect being put on these instruments that are often thrown to the side,” said Rodriguez.

Her dream for the band is to one day tour through Central and South America, as well as other parts of the world where members of the band have ancestral roots. She also has a strategy for  releasing Agua Pura’s album artwork.

“I didn’t want to have anything of our faces on it because I wanted people to be able to just see the name of the band, the fact that it was a salsa record, and take it and assume that it was gonna be, you know, all men or whatever,” said Rodriguez. “I want the musicality to be able to speak for itself and then also to kind of be able to meet that standard of excellence and then that’s our history point, right?

The band’s members also include Amanda Magaña, Belen Cortes, Mena Ramos, Gabby Aldaz, Jacqui Corona, Alexis Harnage, Maddie Lui, Leela Paymai, Eos Black and Erika Toda. If you’d like to hear Agua Pura live, the band will be performing at the New Parish in Oakland on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 9:00 p.m.

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