"OCOTE" (pronounced "oh-coat-eh") stems from the Nahuatl word for "pine," a tree heralded across Mexico for its combustibility. Its setaceous appendages and brittle bark will ignite even when damp, and a small quantity can begin a roaring and sustained blaze in a remarkably short time. It proves to be a formidable metaphor for Ocote Soul Sounds, a band borne of another impetuous fire: the musical chemistry between Antibalas' Martín Perna and Grupo Fantasma's Adrian Quesada.
In the five years that Perna and Quesada have been working together, and despite the fact that they now live in the same town—Perna relocated from Brooklyn to Austin in 2005—they have spent very little time together in the studio. Both are involved in myriad other musical projects; for example, Grupo Fantasma won a Grammy for 2010's El Existential, while Antibalas arranged and performed the score for the Broadway musical Fela! "But somehow, we've managed to make four records together at this point. It's pretty remarkable," says Perna, almost in disbelief.
Perna and Quesada worked with an outside producer—Thievery Corporation's Eric Hilton—for the first time and were therefore freed up to focus on writing and instrumental synthesis. "We could really get into the creative hemispheres of our minds," says Perna. "We didn't have to look for cords or worry about the computer crashing. It was very liberating." Perna also likens Hilton's presence to that of a personal trainer: "He was the one to push us, to say, 'I see what you're trying to do, but try it this way to get the result.'"
That result, Taurus, exemplifies the intrinsic connection between the two musicians. It fans the flames of the pan-Latin psychedelia Ocote conceived in 2004 with El Niño y El Sol, but this time, with confidence in its unbridled exploration of their very original confluence of Latin-Afrobeat. So, while it's easy to drift off aimlessly in the experimental whirs of tracks like "Pirata," the concepts behind the music are recognizable; that particular song is rooted in Somali melodies and Ethiopian folk, telling a tale of rogue politics and survival. The rest of Taurus follows suit, cerebral enough to ground the listener, while remaining as moving to the body as the mind.