The Latino band version of Stevie Wonder has arrived – and while they can’t see they can certainly make people groove.
“Los Ciegos del Barrio,” a group with five blind band members, has been entertaining thousands with a multi-genre blend of merengue, bachata, salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, and even rock.
They say they never let their disability get in the way of their musical spirit.
“We can do the same things anybody else can,” said band director, Alvin Suarez. “Luckily, to play music we only need our ears and not our eyes.”
As with a sancocho, the diversity of the band cannot be missed.
Suarez, who was born and raised in Harlem, and is of Guatemalan, Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, shares the stage with his twin brother Derek. Joining them are Dominican cousins Arnaldo “Machete” Vargas and Jaime Diaz and Puerto Rican Jimmy Fontanez.
In 2000, “Los Ciegos del Barrio” released their first album, “No lo dude.” The record included beats from instruments the band shares a common passion for, including the drums, keyboard, accordion, rhythm guitar and bass. Since then, they have released three albums.
Even album sales have been low, Alvin Suarez remains hopeful the band will be a success. “The music industry can take it or leave it, but they can’t take the love of music we have,” Suarez said.
The band’s recent single, “Buscando la luz,” was released earlier this year. Derek Suarez, who composed the song, says it is “about being legally blind yet finding a positive outlook in life.”
“We may be legally blind but it doesn’t take away how we can represent you in a positive manner,” he added.
Thanks to New York City-based Project Troubador, a non-profit that dedicates itself to sending musicians to third world countries, band members have been able to tour Russia and Dominican Republic. They are also planning a concert in Cuba next year.
“When we went to the Dominican Republic in 2006, we did a two-week tour,” Alvin Suarez said. “This gave us a chance to give back to the community that we represent since we played at a school for the blind.”
In December, “Los Ciegos del Barrio” will be performing a Christmas show in Lakewood, N.J.