The Good Vibes. La Buena Onda. A couple of years ago, Gabriela Aparicio followed her heart to San Diego from Florida to sing about them. Along the way, she has gotten a band together, become a fixture in the live music scene, and is in the process of a putting together a new album. Her music is acoustic pop that draws on reggae, Latin, and soul influences—with a message.
“Life’s got too much bad stuff going on all the time. Music is supposed to lift you up, take you somewhere and encourage you, get you through a bad time, a bad moment, or even a good moment,” says Aparicio. “I have a song called “Matter,” and it is a pretty simple message: everybody matters—because we do. It’s these small daily reminders, and that is what my music is about. How precious life is, how precious we are, and not to forget to love ourselves and love each other.”
Her family is from Uruguay, and she grew up in Florida as a kid who loved to draw. This also meant exposure to plenty of Latin music, including tango and Uruguayan folk music, along with American R&B and the universal music of the Beatles. With a natural talent for art, she nurtured a love for music. When she started college, it was as an art major.
“I went to school to be a graphic artist, but I’ve always been a fine artist. I grew up drawing ever since I was little. I realized music is my preference and my passion for expression, but art is something that I just do and I’m good at. I have these colorful, bright pieces of art that I do now, which pretty much go with my music.” Though her primary focus is on her music now, she is still active; she painted the menu board and tree on the interior of Java Joe’s in Normal Heights.
Aparicio also had interests in dancing and cheerleading in high school and college, and not just as a passing fancy. She was on competitive teams in both areas and performed in front of thousands at football and basketball games as well as on ESPN telecasts—maybe helping her develop a drive to be a crowd pleaser in the music world.
“I had been playing music in Florida, probably since about 2000. I had been doing the scene down there in several bands. I didn’t really do Latin music there; it was just kind of singer/songwriter stuff, pop, blues-influenced.”
She played a lot of restaurant and bar gigs, did voice overs and, in the early 2000s, produced some early demos. In 2004, she recorded a full album of pop tunes, In the Interim. This contained a single that got regional airplay and good local and festival gigs; she sang the National Anthem at an Orlando Magic basketball game.
“After that I hooked up with a producer from New York City—Darrell Briscoe of Two Galleries. So I started going to New York; I would go for a month at a time, working on the album—this was going to be my second album. It was going to be a little more indie/pop influences like Annie Lennox, more soul, the Beatles for sure. We recorded about seven tracks.” Fate in the form of three hurricanes intervened in the summer of 2004 with corrupted files leading to a cancelled album release.
“That was kind of a blow for me and it took me a few years to get back to the grind. I never stopped doing music in Florida, it just made me refocus and regroup and figure out what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. My intention was always to bring my South American roots into play; I felt that there was a big calling for it here in San Diego, in California. I had been wanting to come here for more than 12, 15 years. Finally, I decided it was time to come out here.”
Aparicio cites Bob Marley, Sade, Manu Chau, Mercedes Sosa, and Sting as influences, along with more recent performers like Ceelo Green, Jarle Bernhoft, and Buena Vista Social Club. Another big inspiration is local product, Jason Mraz.
In February 2014, she moved here for good and formed an important connection right away. She met Kimo Shim at an open mic night at Rebecca’s Coffee House and found a musical partner. Soon, she was building a band that would become La Buena Onda.
“So I came out here, and my Latin music and the Spanish was received very well, and I decided I wanted to master my craft at songwriting. My intention out here was to master my craft and also my instruments, my voice and guitar.
“The band started with Kimo. He and I play the majority of the gigs together as a duo, so that makes up the core of the band. So when it is just he and I, we both have loopers and he has his hybrid cajon, and cymbals and percussion. I have my guitar and my looper; we have a really full sound, just the two of us.”
She started a process to search for musicians that fit the vibe of the band, with good skills and good synergy. She says, “No drama is allowed in this band. If there is drama, you’re not invited back, let that be known.
“For us, it’s very much about the vibe—La Buena Onda means good vibes. A harmonica player (Gonzalo Dremoniz) whom we just started playing with—I absolutely love because he doesn’t sound like a harmonica, he sounds like an accordion, which goes back to my Spanish roots. The other band members include Israel Maldonado, who plays lead guitar and on bass is Jacob Miranda. Percussion or congas is Saul Silva, and, of course, Kimo.”
Other projects for Aparicio at the moment include singing in a “psychedelic Cumbia” group called Goma, and she is interested in collaborative projects like her recent songwriting effort with Tolan Shaw, and working with the B-Side Players’ Karlos Paez. As for La Buena Onda, they have been gigging regularly and have an album in the works.
“We just played a few days ago at the Music Box downtown, which was absolutely amazing. We opened for a Latin Grammy winning band, Monsieur Periné, from Colombia. It was the best night musically—we were a great match for them because of our Latin vibe and their Latin vibe. They won the Best New Artist Grammy, it was one of our best shows because the crowd for us and for them was the same.”
“I’m recording a full album right now with Alan Sanderson at Pacific Beat here in town. That will be with the band, it is taking a little longer than anticipated. We’re four tracks in, but I am going to do a crowd-funding effort to get the funds to continue recording. All the while, I would like to put out a second CD because I have so much material.” Sanderson is a Grammy-winner whose resume includes artists like the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Elton John, and San Diego’s Eve Selis.
“Once the album is done, we have plans to take it on the road. It hasn’t been planned out yet, because I want to focus on the album. I definitely want to play festivals; I think my band would do very well with that vibe. Right now I am trying to get a new home town following and support, to be able to build my press kit to get into those festivals.” She is encouraged by videos from the early May show with Monsieur Periné, which may do a lot to help her kit.
Aparicio still takes time each day to practice and keeps over 120 song ideas at any one time on her phone. Besides playing at gigs like the Music Box, she and her band like local hangouts like The Rabbit Hole, and enjoy open-air gigs like the Art Walk and Farmer’s Markets. They play every Friday evening at the Turquoise Café Bar Europa in Pacific Beach. Aparico, who is starting a regular showcase gig at Java Joes one Sunday a month, is also the host of Tuesday Night Open Mic there.
“I have a featured artist each week that plays for 20 minutes. I do feature an artist, so that is kind of exciting. Also, I am starting to do my own showcase at Java Joe’s as well, which came from the open mic thing.”
The skies have cleared in time for the Open Air Farmer’s Market in La Jolla. Crafts vendors by far outnumber the produce vendors, but hot food is available—pastries and confections of all kinds—along with lots of handmade jewelry, leather goods, and flowers. In the back, through a break in the fence and under a canopy, Gabriela Aparicio is setting up to play in a largely empty field. Today is her birthday.
Her audience at the beginning of this set will be a mixture of people taking a rest and generators and compressors farmed out to this East pasture—clattering away and giving her some at times fierce competition for ear attention. She has a nylon string guitar, several pedals that attach to a loop player and PA, and charges into a set, undaunted by the conditions. It is a study of a working musician performing her craft.
“You Captivate Me” is the clever opener, a snappy pop original and a tune that she released as a single in 2015. Without a break she moves into “I Don’t Want to Wait in Vain,” with a version that has echoes of Annie Lennox’ great cover of the tune. On a table in front of her is a box with her 2004 solo CD and a live EP from 2014 for sale, as the backing vocals and percussion come through unobtrusively behind her smooth vocals.
“Corazon,” another original, in Spanish, with a play-out at the end between backing vocalists and drums that are both programmed, it still clicks. Ceelo Green’s “Only You” gives Aparicio a chance to go get some high notes, and it is good, ear-catching pop. Meanwhile, seagulls have gathered and little children face off against them; a big gull decides to challenge Aparicio for noise rights briefly, she just says hi into the mic and it scampers away.
The songs keep coming and reggae is a predominant theme, along with a growing group of appreciative listeners, many of whom have young toddlers out for a Sunday walk. The Spanish songs include “Sin Miedo,” about living life without fear. The gulls are establishing their hierarchy while fighting over tortillas; then they leave and black birds take their place.
After “I Love Your Everything,” Aparicio is ready for a break, accepts a birthday wish, and is off to the vendor area with a couple of bills from the tip jar, perhaps to include a cupcake on her special day. Later, she has this to say:
“What should people expect when they come to a show? My intention is to be open and honest and connect with everyone who is there, whether it is one person or 10,000. Having a good vibe and having my own person being authentic, and open and warm, people feel that through the music that I do, they leave feeling good. And that is what it is all about.”