Former Raigambre frontman Sam Miranda evokes another California with Sol Peligro
Sam Miranda is a formidable looking man. The 33-year-old’s shaved head and the tattoos scrawled across his muscular forearms might elicit a particular vision of middle-class fear. A tattooed, Hispanic male just might—at least in the minds of middle-class white Americans beset by ethnic stereotypes—equate to a particularly frightening vision of the “other”: violent, criminal and potentially evil.
Then Miranda starts to talk, and such stupid stereotypes are quickly washed away. From his deep, resonant laugh to his enthusiastic discussion of music and family, Miranda is in many ways “one of the guys”—a friendly, affable man on the brink of fatherhood and one who has a new lease on his life as a musician and, perhaps, a new vision of his life as a Latin American.
Sacramento-area music fans probably will remember Miranda most easily as the former frontman for Raigambre, a Latin-rhythm-infused bilingual group that has been a Sacramento favorite. When Miranda left the group late last year, it was a shock to many fans. “It was my choice,” Miranda told me, sipping a cold Corona, his black Pancho Villa-emblazoned T-shirt cut in two by the edge of the table. “It was mutual. They respected my decision to move on.” Miranda had become increasingly interested in being his own musical master and hence needed to move away from Raigambre in order to pursue his own project.
That project is called Sol Peligro—literally “The Sun that People Feel Threatened by.” “I like to think of it as that I’m the bright spot that everyone fears, so to speak,” Miranda said. If Miranda is indeed the bright spot, then he must be blindingly so, for the band he assembled to pursue his vision ended up being something of a Sacramento music-scene supergroup. Miranda found himself joined by Gerald Pease (of ¡Bucho!) on guitar, Ken Rego (of L’Attitudes and Sonic Empire) on percussion, Jason Tescher (formerly of the Steady Ups) on trombone, Chuck Bond (of Titan Hot 7) on trumpet, Jesse Olswang (currently of Sinclair) on drums, Kiah Robinson (formerly of DemiUrge and Eye Scream Headache) on bass and Michael Glick on keyboards.
The combined result of the eight members of Sol Peligro is music that is decidedly Mexican in flavor. The sound of Sol Peligro is formed around the Mexican cumbia rhythm—a rhythm that Miranda describes as “Mexican reggae” (and indeed it shares a strikingly similar beat pattern). It’s not quite as party-oriented as Raigambre—in fact, much of it is slower and minor-key—but even the Ennio Morricone soundtrack vibe of the slower numbers has a certain laid-back, post-party feel.
The “post party” feel and cumbia rhythm make Sol Peligro an undeniably Californian band, an idea most apparent on the second track of Sol Peligro’s debut CD. Titled “CalifaSol,” the song is a paean to California and represents Miranda’s take on a theme that has been picked over by surf bands for years. Miranda’s version—all in Spanish and set to a distinct cumbia rhythm—offers a musical vision both similar to and radically different from other “California sun” songs. Miranda seems to imply that there is another California—an older, Spanish-speaking California—that occupies the same landscape and lives, loves and works under the same hot summer sun.
The idea of “CalifaSol” seems to thread through much of Miranda’s music, as does a sense of responsibility and, in particular, a sense of family, particularly in regard to Miranda’s parents: his father, Oligario (a retired farmworker), and his mother, Irene. When Miranda mentions his mother, his voice quiets, speaking in hushed and reverent tones. Irene succumbed to breast cancer when Miranda was 15 years old, but her message stuck with him in the form of two words he has tattooed on his right forearm: “Vida Digna.” “It means ‘worthy life,’” Miranda translates. “Something my mother always preached to me: ‘Whatever you do, just make it worthy.’”
Irene would have been proud of Sol Peligro. Vida digna, indeed.