Santa Cruz Latin Collective: Keeping the Music Alive

While the Santa Cruz Latin Collective came together in 2017, its roots extend back to the early 1970s. The Bay Area has a proud history of Latin and Afro-Cuban music, and that music initially broke through in a big way thanks to a scene featuring four local bands: Sapo, Malo, Azteca and Santana. Sapo and Malo scored local, regional and sometimes national hits with their music, but by the late ‘70s their popularity had crested. Oscar Estrella had been a founding member of Sapo, and after that group broke up, he wrote “Nobody’s Perfect,” a song included on the debut album from ex-Malo guitarist (and brother of Carlos) Jorge Santana.

In the years and decades that followed, Estrella kept in contact and sometimes made music with other former members of those groundbreaking Latin rock bands. And in 2017 he met a youthful fellow musician and serious fan of that ‘70s scene, Jimmy Palafox. “When I got out of high school,” recalls percussionist Palafox, “I wanted to put a Latin music project together.” His goal was to create a group that would pick up musically from where Santana had left off after their first three groundbreaking albums. He and Estrella began working together, initially as a studio project. “And then 2020 hit,” Palafox recalls. “We never got around to performing those songs live.”

But the duo continued to write songs. “That’s all we had to do during that time,” Palafox says with a laugh. “We wrote 12 or 13 songs.” Once the worst of the pandemic passed, they began assembling a group, adding bassist Noah Mogor (who’s also in Floratura), Flat Sun Society percussionist Tubbyz, former Malo drummer David George, vocalist Luis Felipe Argueta from Orquesta Latin Heat and other members of the Latin music community. “The band ended up being half young musicians and half music veterans from back in the day,” Palafox says. A schedule of live performances began in 2021. “We’ve already played about 60 shows,” Palafox says.

In addition to playing concert dates, the group has begun work on an album. “We’ve also started making a documentary film,” says Palafox. “We’re going to feature members of Santana, Malo, Sapo and Azteca talking about their histories and how all that is merging with Santa Cruz Latin Collective.”

Palafox says that he and his band mates aren’t in it for the money. “The documentary is going to go on YouTube for everyone to see for free,” he says. “Same thing for the album, which will probably come out next year.” He emphasizes that Santa Cruz Latin Collective’s goal is all about “reinventing the music in our own way, and keeping Latin rock music alive.” He says that with its emphasis on percussion, the group blends the blues with Afro-Cuban traditions. “It’s music to get people up and dancing,” Palafox enthuses. “This thing with veterans and younger people getting together to make music, it’s not a regular occurrence. It’s special.”