Maturing into romance

Over a decade, local Spanish ska band La Noche Oskura shifted from loud to love songs

A lone man stages a protest against posed smiles.

A lone man stages a protest against posed smiles.

Photo BY Eduardo Meza

Check out La Noche Oskura’s EP release at Ace of Spades 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 21. Katchafire, Mystic Roots and others are also on the bill. Tickets are $22.

The mechanics of a ketchup bottle can be quite complex, and La Noche Oskura’s keyboard-guitarist Jesse Morales has all the answers.

“You’re supposed to hit the ’57 varieties’ label,” says Morales. He taps the bottle’s sweet spot at Oak Park Brewing Co. for trumpeter Justin Klava as lead vocalist Nando Estrada and drummer Christian Kelleher watch in wonder. The ketchup flows, the fries are shared and the stories start to spill.

La Noche Oskura, established in 2008, found their groove by infusing a variety (though not quite 57) of genres into their songs—ska, punk, reggae, hip hop, jazz and pop, to name a few.

“That is what separates us from the normal third-wave ska,” Estrada says. “We are very fast but we combine a lot of different styles together and sing half the songs in Spanish.”

“I don’t even know what I’m singing, but I sing along,” Klava says.

“—and that is the beauty of music,” adds Morales, “You can feel what is being sung even without understanding the lyrics.”

Their new EP, LNO, evokes romance. The first track, “By Your Side,” is a love song that Klava’s girlfriend likes to joke was written for her. In fact, Estrada and Morales were inspired by a Bob Marley song (sorry, ladies).

The EP’s Spanish track, “Mi Luna y Sol,” is reminiscent of a tumultuous relationship; it begins with a soft piano melody before veering into a jarring drum rock-out and closing with brass instruments to bring the tempo back down. The tightknit group has come a long way since its inception. Their older songs are harder and have more of a death metal feel. As they grew up, their message changed: Now they focus on spreading love and kindness throughout the community, which is why they’re often seen playing at public events, including the Sacramento Taco Festival and marches for Caesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr.

“Also, love songs bring more women to shows, and women bring men,” shares Estrada from a simple marketing standpoint.

The band is determined to grow their audience. All the members have or are currently pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering, business, music, international relations and education; however, their day jobs are just that.

“Eventually our end goal would be a world tour because music is such a big part of our lives,” says Estrada. “We are inspired by musicians that we’ve had the pleasure of playing with, including The English Beat, a British band that was around back in the ’80s.”

Morales and Klava laugh about the amount of “frisky cougars” they encountered when playing with The English Beat but get coy about the details.

Despite their ambitions, they don’t take things too seriously. Improvising is key to their successful performaces and has inadvertently become their initiation ritual: Four of the seven members had to play huge shows right after joining.

“I played songs for hours on a little electric drum kit, and then the next night was a huge Ace of Spades show,” says Kelleher, who had less than a day to prepare.

“We just don’t worry too much about stuff,” Morales says. “You can get through anything if you’re motivated, and we are all damn sure motivated.”

Their EP release will be held at Ace of Spades on April 21, but they can’t promise frisky cougars.