Los Patos Poderosos make celebratory Latin dance music you have never heard before, but only one of them speaks Spanish. Made up of a diverse group of musicians from UNT, some of them are classically trained, studied jazz and even have hip-hop projects.
Robert Hokamp plays guitar for the band and works as a music director for a church. His wife, Alyse Hokamp, is classically trained and plays flute and organ for Los Patos Poderosos. We met with the couple and bassist Jesse Coulter as they finished lunch at their Denton farmhouse to the sound of cows lowing outside.
Los Patos Poderosos is Spanish for “The Mighty Ducks.” Coulter says the name came from the Fab Deuce collective of DFW hip-hop artists he is part of. “Quack is a meme of ours basically,” Coulter says. He remembers someone in the group raising some ducks, Indian runners that can’t fly, and says members of the collective once “quacked” at someone to avoid a fight. It worked, and ducks naturally became inspiration for a band. Los Patos Poderosos have eight members, including two vocalists and four percussionists with bongos, congas, timbales, a cowbell and shakers. But with busy schedules and students moving after graduation, the lineup is constantly in a state of flux.
After hearing Peruvian cumbia, or chichi music, the group immediately formed to cover these songs, and booked their first show before they had even a single rehearsal. The music is heavy on percussion, joyous and very easy to dance to. They focus on music from the 1960s and '70s, and many of the songs they cover are from a compilation called Roots of Chicha, which sparked a wave of interest in this music a few years ago.
“I’m very much an avid music collector,” Coulter says. “I dove deep into it and tried to find what I could.” The musicians have a variety of backgrounds that can steer the music in countless different ways. “A lot of the groups I’m interested in can do anything that catches their interest,” says Robert Hokamp. “That’s something that this group does.” Alyse has recently brought traditional Andean flute music into the mix. They have also taken an interest in Colombian and Haitian music as of late.
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But it’s very much guitar music too. “It’s cumbia influenced by American pop music, like psychedelic surf rock. It’s basically cumbia with garage band instruments instead of accordion.” This is what makes Los Patos Poderosos' sound so different. It surprises even those familiar with Mexican cumbia. Another twist is using female vocalists for these songs. “When we play these songs the rhythms are the same,” Robert says. “But men sing these songs.” This changes the keys and brings a fresh approach to the material.
“A lot of the songs are about girls,” Robert says. “Most of the songs are about girls.” They have adjusted the sound, but didn’t change any lyrics. Few notice and nobody cares. “Maybe they like the girls singing about girls,” he says, and laughs. The music resonates with listeners from South America, who always find it strange and hilarious that none of the band is Peruvian and only one of them, singer Isabel Crespo, speaks Spanish.
“They’re like, ‘How do you know about this music?’” Alyse says. Los Patos Poderosos reminds some people of what they grew up hearing their parents listen to. People have also told them they used to hear this type of music on buses. “A lot of the music makes me imagine myself on a bus in the Amazon,” Coulter says. “It is very petroleum-influenced. The whole reason it started is because of the oil boom in '60s Peru. People started moving from the mountains into big cities.” Chicha is essentially Amazonian music mixed with American pop music.
Los Patos Poderosos haven’t put out any recordings, and that isn’t a priority. This is more about having a good time playing music that has captured their interests. Robert Hokamp also sees Los Patos Poderosos as part of a Denton tradition: “We all have deep Denton roots in some way. There’s been a lot of interesting tribute bands. That’s something I grew up really liking about the town.” He saw people playing in a Brazilian brass band or a Fela Kuti cover band just for the heck of it and admired the disposition. “We like this music,” he says, with a shrug.