Photo courtesy of Bootleg Orchestra
Good music and the “health of our society” are the two main ideas behind the new Long Beach musical collective Bootleg Orchestra. Heavily influenced by the city’s cultural diversity and therefore, its eclectic music scene, the soul and jazz-inspired pop group want to empower their listeners to create social change on their own.
Bootleg Orchestra released their debut EP on Friday, a compilation of five tracks created by multi-instrumentalist and female producer Menchie Caliboso, producer Chris Walker and singer Vanessa Acosta, who make up the three core members of the collective’s “soulful pop on the edge of jazz-infused R&B” sound.
“When we listen to what our music tells us, we can begin to learn about different communities of Long Beach,” Caliboso said. “Bootleg Orchestra is a representation of Long Beach's diversity. I'm Filipino, Vanessa is Mexican, and Chris is Black-Native American.”
Before the birth of Bootleg, the trio founded rock band Feed The Feeble, a four-year project strained by distance when Caliboso moved to Boston to pursue a career in Music Therapy. All was not lost, however, as she began experimenting with beat production. Inspired by the likes of Bonobo, ToKiMonsta, Teebs and Hiatus Kaiyote, Caliboso made beats in her bedroom for two years, then moved back to Long Beach.
Upon her return, Acosta’s background in community organizing, including her lyrical abilities and “Fiona Apple-esque” vocals combined with Walker’s rhythmic sense and and knack for sound production lifted the bare bones of Caliboso’s work into something much more tangible.
Along with their first EP, the trio also released the music video for “Phenomenon”, a track Caliboso described as “lyrically meaningful” because it carries “a universal message of needing a cultural change in our systems - health care, education, and our economy.”
She continued, “As millennials, we want to create actionable change, but we have the unique problem (compared to other generations) of being hindered by the rising costs of basic needs - education, housing, and a competitive job market.”
Caliboso said that Phenomenon best describes the collective because it’s the one song they began from scratch together, versus other tracks where a member would bring a completed instrumental to the table and then have “Vanessa do her thing.”
“I only had the verse and the drums,” she said, “but we spent hours in the studio building on its sound, with Chris adding a lot of textures[...], Vanessa adding her amazing melodic and lyrical touch, and me just trying to [figure out] where the song wants to go next. In the end, it came out as a story.”
The Bootleg Orchestra trio attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School and entrenched themselves in its youthful jazz scene. Many of the featured musicians on the EP are jazz musicians they went to high school with, who, according to Caliboso, still come home to Long Beach from their professional gigs to play at Que Sera and to jam at Roxanne’s.
David T. Walker (Marvin Gaye/Stevie Wonder), Brandon Eugene Owens (Kendrick Lamar/Robert Glasper), Vicky Nguyen (Anderson Paak), and Emile Martinez (Kamasi Washington) are just a few of the talented friends who assisted in the creation of the self-titled EP. The compilation also includes a track completely produced by Walker himself, while CATO, a jazz and classically-trained vocalist, sings about her experience observing the Charlie Hebdo tragedy from a distance.
“I hope listeners know that Long Beach is a treasure of all sorts of music and it's only like that because of our culturally diverse city,” she continued. “Being situated right outside of LA, there's a plethora of music that we're absorbing and eclectic sounds that we're producing. We should really own that[...]”
She added, “With songs like "Phenomenon" and "Here We Are," I hope the songs challenge listeners to reflect on their role in society and in their future because the livelihood of our society need people to take risks, be courageous, and create change.”
Bootleg Orchestra plans to release a full-length album within the next year and are also working on a live show set to occur sometime in mid-June.