Conjunto Papa Upa

Conjunto Papa Upa is, first and foremost, the name of a grinding, pulsating, Amsterdam-based
psychedelic dance band, which soars through the traditions of Latin music culture, incorporating
Salsa, Afro-Latin and Caribbean rhythms. “Papa Upa” is also both a tune by the Cuban music legend
and mambo innovator Arsenio Rodríguez and the name of a Venezuelan chewing gum that rotted
kid’s teeth in previous decades. It’s a recycled joke band name that band leader Alex Figueira thought
would never stick.
This new band sees Alex pursuing his musical heritage, the sounds of his Caracas youth, blaring from
car radios, street parties, supermarkets, buses, his neighbour’s yard; the omnipresence of music in a
big Latin city that powers the people of poorer neighbourhoods, who don’t have the luxury of aural
Conjunto Papa Upa does have some of the signature colourful campiness that other legendary bands
coming out of the “Amsterdam Scene” (bands like the Mauskovic Dance Band and Altin Gün).
However, as Alex says, “groove is on top of the hierarchy”. There are no overblown psychedelic
breakdowns, extended guitar solos or emotional sonatas; the band is all about rhythm, finding new
ways to make legs, asses and arms move, and keeping the tension high: “One thing I impose
meticulously on my musicians, is how important it is to remain out of the comfort zone…there’s so
much great music…you can spend whole life exploring”. It is for this reason Papa Upa has touches of
Brazilian and Angolan sounds too.
The astonishing thing is the band’s gritty sound (frenetic percussion, guitar, organ and bass)
combines familiar elements people know and like in a way they have never heard (but will

instantly freak out to): African and Caribbean rhythms, psychedelia, surf, samba, old school
salsa, funk and sarcastic lyrics that cleverly portrait the complexity of the current socio-political
situation in Venezuela.
The end result is an irresistibly danceable meld that manages to be vintage and futuristic, both
scary and fun at the same time.
A constant theme of Alex’s own bands and releases on his ‘Music With Soul’ label, is that they sound
exactly like the record you were always digging for. Helping Conjunto Papa Upa reach this authenticity
is Alex’s fellow Venezuelan native and one time percussion teacher, Gerardo Rosales. Gerardo, who
was actively recording on many hit records in Venezuela in the 70s and 80s, is a perfect
accompaniment within the band, a hot player who looks like they are barely raising a sweat onstage,
while providing all the infectious rhythms to carry the band into the stratosphere live.
Conjunto Papa Upa is not without a manifesto. The cheap Salsa-mania that gripped Europe in the 90s
that brings images of cheap synthesizers and sexy women dancing was the result of the boom riding
from the favellas into the mainstream, as well as European Salsa Cults which fastidiously taught strict
steps in time with the music, blocking an individual’s freedom to express themselves – have tainted
the idea of Latin music in Europe. Conjunto Papa Upa is dedicated to bringing Latin rhythms back to
the people, letting them enjoy the music without preconceived ideas about what “Latin” is and how
they should look whilst dancing…and that is exactly what you will feel, when you hear this amazing
band light up.
In October 2019 Conjunto Papa Upa released their latest 7 inch El Secreto del Metalero on the New
York label Names You Can Trust (NYCT), followed by their first full album Libre Para Amar on the same
label in March 2020, just during the first week of the corona crisis and the start of the global
But the band hasn’t been sitting still and in the meantime have added a sixth member to the band, a
vocalist and percussion player from Chile, Ramon Mendeville. So Conjunto Papa Upa is ready to rock
your socks off. Dance dance dance!

Free show


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