Umoja Orchestra
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Umoja Orchestra

Gainesville, Florida, United States

Gainesville, Florida, United States
Band Latin World


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Featured Artist: Umoja Orchestra"

The other day I interviewed a local up-and-coming band in the Gainesville area. They call themselves Umoja which translates from Swahili to Unity. They could not be better described. “We try to bring world music into peoples’ lives,” said Sebastian Lopez, guitarist and vocalist for the band.

A band that can fill the stage with upwards of 10 people, Umoja is a mix of jazz, Latin, afro-beat, and funk; this, even, is too confining. And with an array of styles, people of all castes and colors flock together as one in a sea of positivity.’Umoja means Unity,’ as the band always assures their fans.

There is no consternation of fame and fortune amongst the members. “The only thing we care about is the music and how it’s going to affect the people that listen to it,” told Jason Prover, the trumpet player.

I asked them about how they used online technology such as Myspace and Facebook. “Most of our shows are offered to us through Myspace,” Evan Garfield, Umoja’s drummer told me. Excitement arose when they realized the vast potential that Grooveshark holds for them, allowing for an artist page and reminders of shows for their fans.

When I first met with Umoja it was in a very intimate setting, the band members layered across a living room couch. As I listened to them talk, I realized the band was righteous and honest. Saturday night, to kick off the completion of the first Umoja album, they played a CD release show. I was blown away. No longer did I hear what they had told me, I felt it; I was moved by it. Every person in the sold out show, and even those listening from the streets, shared my same view.

Umoja. Unity. Oneness. Call the power of love what you wish, but call Umoja a band with a gift. -

"Umoja Orchestra releases CD at Common Grounds"

Gathered in a practice space no larger than a dorm room with more instruments and musical equipment than the New York Philharmonic, Umoja Orchestra, the eleven-person afro-beat, Latin music band, prepared to discuss what to expect from its upcoming CD-release show Saturday.

Each band member chimed in with his or her own humorous response on how to prepare and what to expect — when you’re expecting an Umoja concert.

“There will be lots of streamers.”

“Bring your bathing suits.”

“No — bring your pant legs and tuck them into your socks.”

“Ride your bikes.”

“No — just bring your dancing shoes. We still encourage biking because it’s environmentally friendly.”

The Gainesville band could barely contain its excitement for its CD release show at Common Grounds. The show starts at 10 p.m., and the entrance fee is $5. Umoja’s new CD will be sold for $7 during the show.

The show will feature songs from “Abre La Puerta,” or “Open the Door,” Umoja’s second CD following “Umoja Means Unity.”

“We have more musicians, and guest musicians,” said the band’s bass player Michael Pedron. “It’s definitely developed into more of our own sound.”

Pedron said the second CD features more vocals than the first, including guest vocals. But the band said fans can definitely expect to hear more of lead singers Sebastian Lopez and Natalia Perez.

“The last CD was kind of more like jam sessions,” said drums player Evan Garfield. “There’s a wide range of lyrical content.”

With the production help of former band-mate Paul Kronk, “Abre La Puerta” was written over the past year and recorded in Pompano Beach.

“Consensus was really the most difficult part of the CD,” Pedron said. “No one really leads the band. Everyone has a voice and they really use it.”

Besides getting the, at times, more than 11 band members to come together to complete a song, Garfield said another challenging aspect of making the second CD was choosing a name. The album takes its name from the lyrics of “La Puerta,” a song on the CD.

Garfield said the band really liked “La Puerta,” but they mainly chose to title the CD “Abre La Puerta” because the expression means many different things to everyone.

“To us, it means open the door to our music,” Pedron said.

The band members described most of the CD as upbeat, but the first song, “Bahia Portete,” has darker influences. Singer Sebastian Lopez said the song describes an ethnic massacre in northern Colombia.

“The majority of the CD isn’t dark. It’s more light-hearted,” said saxophone player David Borenstein. “There’s love songs, broken heart songs, songs about being an undocumented immigrant, songs about people who gossip — mostly every song you can dance to.”

Umoja said the diversity of its CD represents the different background and interests of all the band members. The band took pride in making the CD, believing that no matter what, they stayed true to themselves.

“Whatever you do, people are going to talk about it,” Garfield said. “You just got to be yourself. That’s the philosophy behind our song ‘Talkatalk.’”

Fans may recognize one song on “Abre la Puerta,” which is “BBD.” The song appeared on Umoja’s first album, but it has been altered to fit the richer sound of the latest CD.

The new CD also features a cover song that was originally performed by Hector Lavoe, one of the bands many musical influences.

Umoja chose to cover the song on its CD because it reflects the Colombian backgrounds of Perez and Lopez.

Though it has a more developed and complex sound, Umoja said it retained its usual afro-beat, Latin and funk beat. In addition to guest vocals, the band recruited musicians from other bands, who play instruments ranging from the cello to the congas.

Though it’s a show featuring many firsts, Pedron said it will also be a night of lasts.

“We’ll be losing our trombone player because he’s moving to New York, but he’s flying down just to play with us for this show,” Pedron said. “This will be the last show we’re all together.”

Pedron also said the band will be celebrating four birthdays that night.

The band said it’s not expecting anything of the show — just a loud, good time, with lots of dancing.

Pedron agreed, and said talking about the success of the band or having as many people show up to concerts as members have seen is nerve-wrecking. He also said they take none of this for granted.

“We play not just for ourselves and not just the audience but for the community that allows us to do what we do,” he said. “This is what the album is for — thank you for lending us your ears.” - The Independent Florida Alligator

"Umoja Orchestra: Where Everyone Wins"

bre La Puerta is the sophomore album by Umoja Orchestra, a group that has become a household name in Gainesville for their irresistibly danceable rhythms and “Umoja Means Unity” vibe, which feels like everybody’s invited to their party. They play with a stylistic sophistication and playful ease on stage that exceeds their youth and sells out shows at Common Grounds. Their newest CD recorded live as a group is a high energy, collaborative effort between musicians who cooperate like old friends who finish each other’s sentences.

Drummer Evan Garfield says Umoja tries to be thoroughly inclusive, even to the point where drum fills that may be slightly off made it on the album as a conscience choice. “It’s who we are. I really think that’s what we sound like,” he said referring to the final cut of Abre La Puerta. Even on stage, when someone messes up, they laugh and keep on. In a similarly all-embracing fashion, Umoja’s music embodies a diverse cultural repertoire of musical styles. Many songs experiment with modal Afro-beat grooves, big band horn lines, and lyrics, which are folkloric in the Latin tradition. For example, “Bahía Portete” was influenced in part by Scott Bihorel playing a guaguancó, or Cuban rhythm, on the congas, followed by Sebastián Lopez, vocals and guitar, writing lyrics inspired by a massacre he’d just learned of about the Wayuu people in Bahía Portete, Colombia. This track, among others like “Talkatalk” and “Indocumentado”, (where Sebastian plays the accordion), tell a story on many levels, and just on the surface, they stimulate a dance party in moments.

For the most part, Abre La Puerta, or “open the door”, is action-packed. On the title track, Michael’s bass line is a worthy backdrop for Scott Clayton’s masterful guitar part, and in El Verano I, Natalia Perez’s alto vocal harmony shines. But there are a few quieter moments that provide a striking contrast. Jason Prover, trumpet, wrote a four-part horn interlude that was recorded by Jesse Hale of Futureman on the cello, but my favorite is the final track. “Yo y Tú y Tú y yo,” was recorded by Michael Pedron in his bedroom with a “mbira” (West African thumb piano), an upright bass, and a cup. It is peaceful and astute in the vein of Brian Eno, and Michael thinks of it as the album’s closure when you finally “exhale.” It leaves me wanting more, but it’s a sweet goodbye like one at a party that’s winding down and the guests are all going home in anticipation of the next fiesta. - REAX Music


Umoja Means Unity EP 2007
Abre La Puerta LP 2008
Dinner at the Republic LP 2009



The Umoja Orchestra is a Gainesville, FL-based band whose music incorporates elements from afrobeat, jazz, funk, afro-cuban as well as traditional African and South American styles. The band's instrumentation is modeled closely to bands such as Fela Kuti's Africa 70 and the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. The band continues to thrive in the diverse Gainesville music scene, often selling out some of the cities larger capacity venues. Umoja Orchestra is a strong presence in the Gainesville music scene and ever-growing.