By Setota Hailemariam

Something needs to be said about the local music scene in College Park. Though largely underground for now, it’s holding some major talents that are bound to blow up – if Humbalaya is any indication.

The seven-piece jazz fusion band played a stripped-down acoustic set of their “tasty jams” at The Board and Brew April 11.

Comprised of Sam Cook (guitar, vocals), James Lord (guitar, vocals), Brandon Mediate (keyboard, vocals), Jack Cantilli (electric bass, vocals), Connor Milam (percussion), Kyle Pett (drums) and Ben Laurenson (saxophone), the band is based out of College Park, with the majority of the members attending this university.

Though casual patrons may only know the cafe for its endless array of board games, longtime regulars remember its recurring open mic nights — a series, management announced, that would be returning monthly with performances by featured bands to close each night.

Humbalaya’s performance kicked off the series.

Various acts took the stage in the hour-long slot before Humbalaya’s set. Performances ranged from Tallest Man on Earth, Dave Matthews, Anberlin and Sara Bareilles covers, to a wordless and atmospheric keyboard, guitar and bongo drum display.

By the time Humbalaya arrived on stage, they were playing to a full house. Customers to the right of the stage were playing the board games the coffeeshop is known for, prompting Lord to comment, “Connect 4, that’s my favorite … Candyland, too.”

They immediately swung into action, each member getting into their own groove, but still coming together as one. Cook closed his eyes as he strummed his guitar, doing his part to contribute to the song’s rustic sound. Pett artfully skimmed his drum with brushes, staying true to the band’s jazz roots. Laurenson wrapped up the number with a saxophone solo, a move that was expected but didn’t feel cliche.

Their songs played like extended jam sessions, characterized by short bursts of vocals followed by lengthy musical interludes. The “fusion” in jazz fusion was apparent as they explored different elements from a variety of genres that ranged from reggae to gospel.

Lord spoke on this after the show, saying “[Our influences] really expands the whole map. I think that’s what Humbalaya really tries to embody, a lot of different sounds.”

The highlights of the night were their performances of “Disco Snake,” a standout track with a chorus that is sure to be permanently etched in your brain, and “The Girl from Ipanema,” a cover of the timeless bossa nova song that featured wispy guest vocals and classic jazz scatting from Ashley Eskalis, a friend of the band.

When asked what he hopes for the band in the future, Lord said he’s “taking it one day at a time,” but is “excited to see where it takes us.” Humbalaya may be part of the underground for now, but they’re definitely on their way up.

Check them out at https://voidlife.bandcamp.com.

Featured Photo Credit: Humbalaya of College Park interviews with Writer’s Bloc. The band is set to compete in Battle of the Bands in the Baltimore Room of Stamp. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)

Setota Hailemariam is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at setotah98@gmail.com.

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