Reunited in Rico

Puerto Rico, known for its gorgeous beaches and undeniable contributions to Latin American music and cinema, is also home to a group of four men who had a vision of fusing salsa and other Latin rhythms with hard rock, punk and elements of metal.

After a six-year hiatus, the kings of Puerto Rican metal, better known as Puya, are back with a brand new EP and DVD, but is the world ready for this band’s second coming?

Ramón Ortíz (guitar), Sergio Curbelo (vocals), Eduardo Paniagua (drums) and Harold Hopkins (bass) formed the current lineup of Puya in 1994.

In the late 90’s, they released their major label debut, Fundamental, and stunned the world with their hit “Oasis.” They cemented their popularity by appearing on Ozzfest’s second stage in 1999, touring as direct support to the Red Hot Chili Peppers in South America and touring with the likes of Kiss, Pantera and Sepultura.

By 2001, their follow-up, Union, hadn’t quite sold as well as their now-defunct label, MCA, would have preferred. They decided to split from the label and embarked on a six-year hiatus that many fans interpreted as a break-up.

“The thing about getting back together was never something that anybody pushed for or us calling each other going, ‘Come on! Get off your ass! Let’s do this!’” recalls drummer Paniagua. “It was nothing like that. We sort of let it happen naturally; we never officially broke up. It was never said by anybody. We lost touch for a little while, but I guess [we] needed that. “We were never on bad terms or anything like that. It was going to be the original line-up or nothing.”

Paniagua admits that there were moments during the hiatus when it seemed like the band would never reunite. Ortíz launched another band similar to Puya (Ankla – “anchor” in Spanish) shortly after the hiatus. Hopkins was involved in his solo project, Yeva, back in Puerto Rico while Curbello pursued graphic arts and Paniagua did session drum work.

Seeds of a reunion were planted in 2007, but talks didn’t amount to much. Two years later, the band was offered a headlining spot on Puerto Rico’s “Stereo Music Festival” with co-headliners Prodigy on May 15, 2009.

“With the help of our hardcore fans in Puerto Rico, they wanted Puya so bad that they were heard. We didn’t know what to expect,” Paniagua recalls. “12,000 kids showed up and we were like ‘Oh my god.’ It kind of struck a vein that we were missing for so many years.”

What started as a one-off reunion became a real comeback when all members agreed unanimously that it was all or nothing from that point. Armed with a new EP, “Areyto” and live DVD “Pa’ Ti” (“For You”), Puya is ready to reclaim its glory.

“We are doing this completely by ourselves,” Paniagua points out. “However long it takes us to get a record done and put it out independently then that’s what it will be.”

The new EP Areyto continues with the band’s spiritual and environmentally conscious imagery.

Areyto is a majestic ceremonial dance that is performed by various indigenous people of Puerto Rico. The cover art designed by renowned tattoo artist, Juan Selgado reflects this theme with a Cemi, a sculpture used by Caribbean and South American tribes that is believed to house the spirit of a deity, human or animal.

Lyrically, fans can expect the new direction of the band to be similar to Fundamental’s approach with very little use of English. Paniagua, as well as the rest of the band felt the songs were better suited with Spanish lyrics.

“Sergio sounds better than ever, especially these new songs we’re writing,” explains Paniagua. “There’s a lot more singing in them as opposed to rap or hardcore. There’s some of that cause it’s part of the band, but we can really feature his voice this time. The Latin is mixed in with the metal, but more defined.”

Of the seven tracks the band is considering for the new EP, four will be original and three will be live tracks from their first reunion show in May 2009.

Ortíz wrote two tracks, one being “Ni Antes, Ni Después” (“Not Before, Not After”), which relates to much of what the band experienced during the hiatus and the uncertainty of their future together.

“It really relates to what the band is going through,” says Paniagua. “This is what we’re doing right now and it’s not about the past or the future. It’s about this moment right here.”

Ortíz also wrote “No Hay Mal Que Por Bien No Venga,” a Spanish adage that advocates the silver lining in the worst of times.

Paniague explains, “[Ortíz] wrote [“No Hay Mal Que Por Bien No Venga”] a few months back and he was just keeping it in the vault, but he always thought from the day he wrote it that he had written that song for Puya and that’s why he never used it in anything else. The song is perfect. It’s like no matter if something bad happens, there’s always something good that results. It also relates to the band because we’re back and everybody feels great about it.”

Hopkins wrote the title track, “Areyto” which is also the album’s heaviest song.

“It’s about war, it’s about history when the Spaniards came 500 years ago and they took over the island and took over the tribes and implemented their way,” says Paniagua. “[We are] a result of generations of Spaniards and Indians mixing up and it talks a little bit about the story behind it.”

The new EP will also feature “La Muralla” (“The Wall”), a cover of a popular Latin American folk song that was based on a poem by Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén. It will include guest vocals from Puerto Rican artists Tego Calderón, Tito Auger from Fiel A La Vega and Mimi Maura.

“It was [Hopkins] idea to bring it in do a Puya version of it and make it heavier. We saw the possibilities of making a cool cover. We wanted a song where we could invite some friends from other bands to participate on the record and make it a cool collaboration.”

Puya hopes to release their first live DVD, Pa’Ti to coincide with the EP. Filmed in 2002 at Puerto Rico’s famed Tito Puente Amphitheater, it was one of Puya’s final shows before the hiatus. Although it was initially intended for immediate release, the project got shelved. Hopkins edited the footage on his own during the hiatus and presented it to the rest of the band during the reunion.

“It hasn’t been easy. We’re making a lot of sacrifices, especially coming out as an indie band,” Paniagua admits. “We’re counting on our fans, our name already exists, people know it. So as soon as we get out there and start playing people will respond and that’s what we’re hoping for.

“We’re just taking it one step at a time. We don’t want to commit to anything. We want to look at everything real close before we jump into anything. We’ve learned from the past. After all the sacrifices and all the years put into Puya, it’s just the most sensible thing we can do.”