Anyone who's ever been in a band," notes Teresita Hinojosa, "where you rehearse and rehearse and rehearse, and you have these tight, organized songs —the guitar solo's here, the vocal solo's here, and everything is so tight — knows how great it feels to let go of that for a minute and be brave in front of a live audience."
Improvisation is at the root of Lunar Fire, Hinojosa's current band, which began as a side project to Kan'Nal, the lauded tribal psychedelic-rock group from Boulder that's now on indefinite hiatus. Vocalist, flutist and synth keytar player for the world-music/hip-hop/psychedelic tribal fusion rock band, Hinojosa leads Lunar Fire, which has now bloomed into a full-on collective.
With Kan'Nal frontman Tzol and guitarist Tierro currently pursuing different creative outlets, Hinojosa and company — fellow vocalist Precious Hill, bassist Rodolfo Escobar III, percussionists Gil Gonzalez and Lisa Wimberger, dancer Akayate White and sound engineer Mateo — are free to continue their musical journey with Lunar Fire, as well as a few additional projects incorporated under the collective (there's also Inti, a hip-hop project, and a heavily percussion-based group, Lil Sum'n Sum'n).
Lunar Fire, Crescent Moon Carnival, with Inti, Lil Sum'n Sum'n and Uplifted Gormandizers, 8 p.m. Saturday, July 17, Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom, 2637 Welton Street, $15, 303-297-1772.
"The best way to explain it is almost like an umbrella," says White. "Lunar Fire represents the whole collective umbrella, where all the other projects exist underneath in different formations and are allowed to grow."
Some of the players, particularly Hinojosa, Escobar and Gonazalez, who began playing together in 2000 in San Antonio, Texas, have already experienced a great deal of growth since moving to Boulder in 2003 to be a part of Kan'Nal. White, who joined the collective in a more unusual capacity — as a dancer —a year after the other three came on board, has watched her role grow exponentially over the years.
"With Kan'Nal, Akayate and I were kind of this theatrical visual element that supported the music," Hinojosa recalls. "And so Lunar Fire was our opportunity to have the music element support the dance."
"The note to the musicians is, 'Watch the dancer and react to what the dancer is doing,'" Gonzalez interjects. "And that's always been the focus for this band: Really connect with the dancer musically. If they do something crazy, play something crazy. We've had people from the fabric aerialists to stilt bouncing and flips, all that kind of acrobatics. We've really been blessed to have so many beautiful guests."
Not only guests on the dance floor, but also guest instrumentalists and vocalists such as didgeridoo legend Stephen Kent, Stomp Broadway lead Noah Mosgofian, the String Cheese Incident's Mike Travis and many, many more — including Hill's former bandmate, Daniel Katsuk, who will be sitting in on the collective's upcoming Crescent Moon Carnival masquerade ball.
Between the improvisation and the you-never-know-who'll-show-up-on-stage atmosphere, no Lunar Fire show is ever quite like another.
"Lunar Fire's always been about the chaos factor," observes Hinojosa. "We're so privileged; we have this project that doesn't define itself and allows for improvisation and for change. So if we're playing for a more hip-hop audience, we'll throw in some hip-hop. If we're playing for a disco trance audience, we'll make it more electronic. And a lot of our fans in Colorado are jam-band fans, so they want a song that lasts 45 minutes."
"There's a lot of message and substance in the dance as a story and a message, and in Teresita's rhymes and my vocals, and even the drum and the bass together," notes Hill.
That story and message, along with the anything-goes vibe, explains why Lunar Fire is just as much at home playing on a stage at Cervantes' as in the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. Likewise, the members are just as happy selling albums to spread their music as they are raising funds for arts and music programs for indigenous youth.
"We raised a bunch of money for little kids in Guatemala," Hinojosa says, "helping make art and music and dance programs for children who otherwise just grow up farming — which is great, but they don't have access to playing acoustic guitars. And now there are little Mayan girls who play beautiful flamenco guitar."
And they're "performing on stages that we purchased, on guitars we bought, on drums that we bought for them," adds Gonzalez. "And the remodeling of their whole studio — we did it all through Lunar Fire funds."
The collective has a heavy tribal influence and a global mentality — and so it also allows each individual artist to perform without boundaries. "That's one of the things I love about all these projects," Hinojosa points out. "We don't really ask each other to hold back. We pretty much let everybody express themselves in the way they need to. And we'll all limit ourselves in whichever ways are necessary to create harmony and share the space."
"When we play," adds White, "there is that energy that comes from the earth, and it's underlying. And that's kind of why it's called Lunar Fire."
"The whole thing is a journey," Hill chips in. And it's a journey that can sometimes make conservative or fundamentalist religious listeners a tad uncomfortable. "There's definitely that element of ceremony in there," Gonzalez allows. "It's fusion. It's not intense and dark and scary like a death-metal band. It's tribal."
"Most of the people in the band have participated in a lot of Native ceremonies," says Hinojosa, "and so that has been a huge influence in our life, connecting to the earth, honoring the ancestors, honoring future generations, honoring the sacred hoop. And if Native tribal ceremony is offensive or scary to people — guess what? We're in the Americas. This is the land of our people, and this is who we are.
"I think if people come to our shows and they want a more superficial experience — they want to dance to the funky drum and bass and watch the visual eye candy — they can have that experience," she goes on. "If somebody wants to come in and put prayers out to the world or meditate or have a spiritual, divine experience, they can do that; it's okay with that, as well."
"We're certainly not going to restrict the archetype," says Wimberger.
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"Or dictate where it needs to go," declares Hinojosa. "We're not shamans, we're not priests or priestesses, we're not trying to have a religious ceremony. But music is our medicine, and it heals us. And we have to share that."
"Share all our life experiences, all the different things that we've experienced, all the different places we've been," continues Escobar. "We want to bring it in and share it with everybody. Whatever package it may be, it's the same intention. And that intention is healing and transformation."
"Connecting everyone, you know," Gonzalez agrees. "Music breaks those barriers and just connects everybody. All of a sudden, you're bonded from that experience, from going to that show."
"I feel now, playing this music and expressing this music and living it, I feel way more spiritually connected than I've felt my whole life," Hill concludes. "I always felt disconnected and confused. And I think it has that effect on a lot of people who come to see us, and then they fall in love with us because of that. They always felt confusion about how they felt their spiritual connection with the earth. I think that we help bring a lot of that positive spiritual connection out in people."