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A Do-Anything Band Blows In From Oil City : Matt Munoz of Mento Buru says it’s not only rockin’ in Bakersfield, it’s also happening.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just because they’re from Buck Owens’ hometown of Bakersfield, there’s no indication that Mento Buru is in any danger of changing their name to Mento Wahoo. Discriminating dancers can save themselves a drive to the Central Valley to check out the band that will play twice this weekend in Ventura. The Buru boys will open for those wacky Bonedaddys on Saturday night at Nicholby’s, then will play substantially longer, commencing at 9, on Sunday night a few blocks away at Bombay Bar & Grill.

Mento Buru has pretty much conquered its hometown, thus the inevitable next step is the road trip. The seven members who like to drive include Matt Munoz (vocals, tenor sax), Joe Vasquez (trombone, keyboards), Scott Thompsett (alto sax), Marcos Reyes (percussion), Terrence Fisher (guitar), Jason Grooms (bass) and Jarred Pope (drums).

From a phone in Bakersfield where the band is based and proud of it, despite the fact it can be too hot, too cold and too foggy, Munoz discussed his favorite band.

What’s with the funny name?

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It’s taken from the Mento folk movement in Jamaica from years ago, and Buru comes from the Buru drummers from the island of the same name. Our music starts with the beat, a Jamaican kind of rhythm.

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People from L.A. tell Bakersfield jokes. Do people from Bakersfield tell L.A. jokes?

All I can say is I’d rather live here than in L.A. because of the vibe down there. Everything seems really tense. Bakersfield’s not such a big bustling town. It’s more mellow, and we’re just a bunch of small-town guys.

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Is Bakersfield rockin’?

Actually, it’s happening. A lot of good bands come out of here, and a couple even got signed--Cradle of Thorns and Korn. There’s a little bit of everything here--ska, reggae and a lot of punk, of course. People may think that there’s a redneck on every corner, but it’s not like that at all. It is a country town, but there’s a big alternative scene, a lot of blues, and just a very diverse scene.

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How did the band start?

At first, it was just a couple of guys getting together to jam, then Joe and I put an ad in a music newspaper. Our original name was Triple R Sounds--roots, rock and reggae. But back in ’91 when we started, we were a real loose band, and the chemistry wasn’t there. Band members come and go--we’ve had five guitar players. But we started to get it together and get more gigs like the Bakersfield Reggae Fest, which is five or six years old now.

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So you guys are more than a reggae band despite the fact you’re often billed as one?

Everything we do can be put into one word: funkyskareggaemambo. We do funk, ska, reggae and mambo but not all at once. At first, we mainly played reggae cover songs, and we have covers for days, at least 50. We do a lot of really obscure ska and reggae songs by bands like the Specials, the English Beat, the Skatalites and Bad Manners. Every set we play is always different. There’s a lot of improvising and everyone sort of feeds off each other, and we’ve started to do more originals lately. We have about ten right now and Joe and I are writing more.

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But you’re still booked as a reggae band. The Bombay, for example, has reggae bands on Sundays.

Sure, we still get booked as a reggae band, but we try to find out what the club wants. If they want reggae, we send them a tape of our reggae stuff. But we have so much material, we can do a reggae night or a ska night--it’s really weird. People think that we still just play reggae, but look at us, we don’t look like a reggae band. We’re a bunch of guys wearing flannel--we look like a regular rock band.

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Plenty of road trips?

Sure. We usually go out three weekends a month, and every weekend, we play somewhere. We go from Sacramento to San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and L.A. We play Bakersfield once or twice a month. Wherever we play, we’ve been blessed by some pretty good audiences. We have gigs everywhere, and everyone seems to like us. And we always tell people that we’re from Bakersfield--that’s part of the mystique.

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Is there a new tape in the works?

Actually, we have two tapes. We have one from ’91-'92, and a newer one with the new sound. The energy is a lot different on the newer one. We’re also on two compilations in Bakersfield--Cultivation ’92 and Cultivation ’94. We’re mixing a new one right now, which, so far, will be in tape form. It’s going to have 10 songs, with five live ones. We’ll have a bunch of them for sale by the time we play Ventura.

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So what’s the plan?

We need to get the attention of the right people and get the right people to see us. Last year was our best year ever, and now it’s time for us to try to do something. After four years, everyone is really excited--we’ve got nothing to lose. We think we have something new to bring to the scene. But if we don’t make it, we’ll still keep going.

Details

* WHAT: Mento Buru, The Bonedaddys.

* WHERE: Nicholby’s Upstairs, 404 E. Main St., Ventura.

* WHEN: Saturday night, 9 p.m.

* HOW MUCH: Five bucks.

* FYI: 653-2320.


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