A cold January 2017 evening, once again rendezvousing at the Bowery Electric. The purpose of this latest visit is to check out the Waldos – Walter Lure and company – for a “pre-album-release party” or something. That did eventually happen – and good old fun it was – but before Mr. Lure and his two-thirds-Japanese musical co-horts take the stage, an unusual, very schizomusical spell is cast. In the persona of a group named Mad Juana. And who, apparently, have been around for quite some time, their first album released in 1997. My first impression of this band is – Carmen rock. The Bizet opera has always been a favorite, well the music anyway, since way back (I think I’ve seen it three times, with a fourth imminent next month), and this Mad Juana takes the costumes, theatrics, and some musical elements and runs with it!
Formed in the mid-1990s in NYC by bassist Sami Yaffa (a.k.a. Sami Takamäki) and his wife, singer Karmen Guy, Mad Juana currently consists of Yaffa on guitar, George De Voe on bass, Marni Rice on accordion and vocals, Danny Ray on sax, Indofunk Satish on trumpet, Mal Stein on drums, Rain Bermudez and Tony Mann on percussion, and bewitching Patti Smith/Chrissie Hynde/Grace Slick-by-way-of-Spanish-gypsy-voodoo vocalist Guy.
The group’s most recent album, 2008’s Bruja on the Corner, is a kaleidoscopic carnival of wonders like “Valhalla,” “Heloise,” “La Bruja,” and “Mad Love.” The stomping spice of flamenco, the bouncing energy of ska/reggae, the exotic fire of mariachi horns, the intense in-your-face-ness of punk, all on display here…and in their live show at Bowery Electric. This time the evening is not sold out, so I’m able to see the actual band instead of a video screen version over the bar, as Mad Juana whips the room into a flaming frenzy. Visually and musically one of the most exciting bands I’ve seen in a while…and a nice change from run-of-the-mill East Village guitar rock.
The name Mad Juana supposedly stems from a stint in Spain back in 1995, when Karmen and Sami were inspired by the story of the insane Queen Joanna of Castile – Juana la Loca – Mad Juana! ¡Olé!
band photos courtesy Noise.fi and ReverbNation.com