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“We are our own medicine”: Sanando y Skankiando con La Noche Oskura
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Rolling up to The Chapel, google maps says I’ve arrived at 777 Valencia. I can feel it, I’m at Accion Latina’s 38th Annual Encuentro del Canto Popular. From the low-lit entrance, the smell of pan dulce, sounds of carcajadas, and sights of countless abrazos among entre-conocidos de San Francisco.

I walk through the corridors, and feel the hum of a hundred hearts beating in unison, filling the room with anticipation, ready for an anthem to loosen their buns to—in the pit. Something deeper began to undulate from the stage. As I walked closer, I see La Noche Oskura preparing to revolutionize the vibe. It seems que comenzó la fiesta.

The inception of La Noche Oskura—a band that plays a blend of ska, reggae and rock—began in 2008 in Sacramento, when Diego Fernando (Nando) Estrada, vocalist, lyricist, and remaining original band member and manager, was invited to jam out with a small band that would later become who we know today as La Noche Oskura.

When speaking with Nando about what inspires La Noche Oskura to sing as outspokenly as they do, he highlighted that it comes from a place of personal experiences with the police and what he’s learned about international relations while at Chico State. 

As an undergraduate, Nando spent most of his time developing debating skills in the Model United Nations. Much of what inspired Nando to pursue this in his undergraduate career was to unveil the reasons history remained so “contradictory to what’s going on like freedom for all.” From age 2 to 21, he grew up #undocumentedandunafraid to question everything. For him, music was the primal outlet that allowed him to influence people in a much deeper way than politics ever could.

“Music contributes to culture and culture shapes people and values and morals,” he said.

Listening to Nando, I recall the lyrics from their crowd-stirring song “Popo” and the way that it enlivened the spirits and mended the souls of the community who couldn’t help but shake and groove:

“Pinche popo, pinche migra

Pinche misma porqueria.”

In a nutshell, the song “Popo” emphasizes the disgust felt among black, indigenous, and other communities of color whose lives are continuously threatened by the mere existence of the police. If we take a moment to think back to the inception of the police in this country, their purpose was to capture runaway slaves. Today, we continue to see the same brutality used against black and brown bodies enacted in every crevice of the country. It is songs like “Popo” whose lyrical vibrations sound to reach and uncover those crevices and heighten our attention where media attempts to have it numbed.

I recall. I recall that at the sound of the bass harmonizing with the undeniable truth weaved within these lyrics, the audience rose to revolution and moshed away. On stage, the red and blue lights were reclaimed to spotlight our ability to move our voices and our bodies en contra de lo normal, lo normal being the dissonance that keeps us from realizing “music is medication.”

Back on the phone, Nando began to tell me about the time they were invited to play at a Sacramento Republic Football Club soccer game—a professional USL Championship soccer team. When the time came for them to play “Popo,” at the sound of the chorus, they were allowed to finish the set, but told they weren’t allowed to play there again. Thinking of this and remembering how much life rose from the crowd as this song played, I sit in awe at the thought of how much courage it takes to compose truth-telling music. 

“[We] have to be fearless and can’t be ashamed of saying it how [we] want to say it,” he says.

As a historian, Nando understands that history repeats itself. As an educator, he pushes youth to challenge their circumstances and to feel deserving of equality in every aspect of their lives, especially in their art. As a musician, Nando and the members of La Noche Oskura embody the role of educators who compose the truth with sound that opens the community’s heart to solutions made to break the very cycles that history repeats. 

“Music creates unity…,” says Nando. “Music literally controls space. [So] what better way to make space for people than to make music that controls space…on a spiritual level.”

La Noche Oskura is only one piece of the puzzle for what the members of the band want to do for their community in Sacramento and beyond. La Noche Oskura, Nando says, is a “vehicle” to spread knowledge by people who “look like us and come from the same hoods. [It’s] important that we’re writing our own stories.” 

Along with this, Nando has created a promotion company called “Anarchos Presents” to connect bands within Sacramento. Having performed with bands like La Plebe and Inspektor, La Noche Oskura wishes to help other bands who write for the people. Eventually, they wish to create a cultural hub in Sacramento similar to Acción Latina, where musicians from all walks of life who are moving under similar missions and visions can build bridges and solidify access to music for youth living in underserved communities in Sacramento. 

Simultaneously walking into this conversation with Nando and the memory of La Noche Oskura’s ambiance was like walking into a revolutionary sanctuary echoing with sounds meticulously composed by the most daring minds. 

“Understanding [music] from a cultural and spiritual side helps people in some of the roughest times in our history,” he says. As seen, La Noche Oskura is evidence that “music is medication.” In an era where “there [are] more times where we’re doubting ourselves than moving forward,” music is the way.

The members of La Noche Oskura are currently putting together a new album that they hope to release by the end of 2020. Stay tuned for some soul-deep fuerza. Sana y Skankia, gente! Wepa!

Story by: Xotchilt Espinoza