Emerging out of the Latin music scene of Chicago is Radio Free Honduras with virtuoso guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Baran, who will be playing the Black Swamp Arts Festival on Saturday.
Radio Free Honduras was founded by Dan Abu-Absi, longtime guitarist for JT and the Clouds and Birds of Chicago. They play mostly originals, but their live shows often feature a variety of re-imagined cover songs.
Mostly acoustic, Baran’s songwriting “is a little more timeless, in a way, and I think of it as a traditional folk singer song writer style,” Abu-Absi said.
The band was founded about five years ago.
“It was kind of like, a long time coming. I had seen him play in Toledo, in Casa Linda. At the time, I didn’t know anything about Latin music and was amazed by his guitar playing,” Abu-Absi said.
Abu-Absi feels like he’s going back to his roots, having played the Black Swamp Arts Festival last year with Birds of Chicago. This year, in addition to playing with the Birds of Chicago, the Toledo native will also be playing with what is rapidly becoming his main band, Radio Free Honduras.
The band has created a new Latin music from its home base in Chicago. Baran’s Honduran roots and founding membership in the band Banda Blanca combine with jazz, flamenco and Cuban-style dance influences.
Banda Blanca is regularly considered the definitive modern Honduran punta band, with over 3 million copies of “Sopa De Caracol,” or “Conch Soup,” sold worldwide.
“American music, classic rock, is all over Central America and classic rock is something we share,” Abu-Absi said.
He and Baran are the core, but there are some percussion elements to the band that will strike some as unusual. The band has horns and several percussionists that play with them on a rotating basis. They will have two in Bowling Green, one with a standard drum kit and another that could be loosely described as a Latin style percussionist, using a variety of both traditional Central American and modern Latin drums and other percussive instruments.
Abu-Absi plays both guitar, mandolin and supplying harmonies.
Latin music is a broad category and there have been comparisons of some Baran’s songs to music from the Beatles.
“That was one really influential band for Charlie. I’ve heard him talk about his early record purchases. He’s an amazing guitar player … the three-part harmony stuff. Keeping the songs tight, like the Beatles did,” Abu-Absi said.
“We don’t have any particular style or form. We don’t try to put the music into any particular genre,” he said. “What Charlie is doing is coming from a very different culture. We use Latin Americana as a term, which may not be in use anywhere else. It’s a combination of American roots, by way of blues, folk and rock ‘n’ roll.”
Baran’s guitar is sharp, precise and searingly fast. Recommended songs hit a broad range including “Picale Picale,” the romance of “Cancion de Amor” and the more rock-oriented “Otra Cerveza.”
Recent Radio Free Honduras gigs include Fiesta Del Sol in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, which is the largest Latino Festival in the Midwest.
More information on the band can be found at http://radiofreehonduras.com/