Oregon, United States
Latin Rock / Latin Pop
Mexico City, in all of its magnificent contradictions, was the birthplace of Victor Ponce-Juarez. His early life was marked by poverty, child labor and constant harassment by the judiciales, but also by exposure to the cosmopolitan musical influences of a major world capital -- everything from salsa, cumbia, boleros and danzon to blues, jazz and classical music. Most of all, classic American-style rock-and-roll permeated the airways and echoed through the streets.
Ponce’s earliest musical influence was his grandfather, Severino Juarez, who performed professionally in the “Trio” style (Mexican golden oldies from the forties and fifties arranged for three guitars, with close harmony vocals). Twelve years later, after having saved the fabulous sum of seventy pesos (about $7.00 at today’s exchange rate), Ponce bought his first guitar. At that time, the heavy metal movement was sweeping Mexico City’s youth, and Ponce’s first original songs included distorted guitars and “heavy” rhythms. From the age of 17, in the free hours he had from working as a master carpenter, Ponce played with every garage and street band he could find, often enduring arrests and beatings from police, who considered rock music a form of subversion. This involvement culminated with Ponce sharing stages with some of the most influential Mexican rock bands of the seventies and eighties, including Vago, Mara, and the now-famous Three Souls In My Mind (known today as El Tri).
But ultimately the world of rock-and-roll was too small for Ponce. A brief stint in music school, limited by his scarce funds, taught him the basics of music theory and notation, and he moved on to playing “Musica Versatil,” a Mexican term of the day for groups whose repertoire encompassed a wide range of styles, including salsa, bossa nova and jazz. On tour with the band Hermanos Calderon, Ponce left the capital for the first time and encountered the culture and music of Mexico’s rural communities. Although fame and fortune continued to elude him, each new experience expanded his musical horizons.
At the age of 30, Ponce came to the United States, where he experienced culture shock. Mexican immigrant audiences in the US cared little for rock-and-roll and mostly demanded “Banda,” or Mexican-style country music, while Anglos wanted to pigeonhole him into the genre of “Mexican” music. While he learned English, Ponce toured the US for several years with the group Banda Sol de America, playing the music that was expected of him. But when the group broke up, he knew that the Banda style was not for him.
Ponce moved to Oregon and began recording his original material. His first album, 2001's self-produced Corona de Crystal, represented his last attempt to work within the socially-prescribed bounds of “Mexican” music, including such dance styles as cumbia, quebradita and zapateado. It encountered some success with both Anglo and Mexican immigrant audiences, but Ponce was still not satisfied. He ultimately left his last band, Salvaje Show, to focus on further developing his unique original style and to seek his musical compadres from sources as diverse as his influences.
Victor Ponce’s new album, Fuego, represents a new phenomenon in Latin music, a style that is true to his Mexican roots while also faithful to Ponce’s own artistic vision. He begins with Mexican dance forms, primarily cumbia, and adds Caribbean-style rhythms and American-style rock-and-roll leads. Carlos Santana is an obvious influence, but other influences include everyone from Eddie Van Halen to Pink Floyd, and styles from heavy metal to flamenco. Fuego brings the cosmopolitan soul of Mexico City to the United States, in a way that is complex but accessible to American audiences. This album also highlights Ponce’s skills as a modern renaissance man -- singer, songwriter, arranger, recording engineer and one-man band.