Volcan performs during a preview of Luminaria.
Volcán performs during a preview of Luminaria in November 2018. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

After playing to a packed and energetic Pearl Park for the First Thursday Night Market, members of popular San Antonio band Volcán loaded their gear and luggage into a 15-passenger van and began the nearly 900-mile drive to Tucson, Arizona.

Tucson was the first stop on a 7-city tour that will find Volcán playing in California and then El Paso on the way back home. It is the first time the self-described “indie orquestra Latina” will perform outside of Texas.

“This is us betting on ourselves, betting that we are ready to find bigger audiences and to get closer as a musical family,” Mejia said.

The show at Pearl Park was a combination warmup and send-off for the group. Led by conceptual mastermind, songwriter, manager, and multi-instrumentalist Jaime Humberto Mejia, Volcán has, in its five years together, moved from playing small nightclub gigs to official Fiesta events.

In its fullest incarnation, the young group, whose members range in age from 22 to 36, has 16 members. But, for a number of practical reasons, the tour finds the band pared down to a core of nine members.

The group’s huge and eclectic sound all starts with cumbia, a widely popular Latin American genre that originated in Colombia. From its roots in cumbia, Volcán branches out to bachata, salsa, vallenato, banda, and calypso. But, that’s not all. The band’s complex, full-to-bursting sound also incorporates elements of pop, funk, and psychedelic rock, making for a singular and electric fusion.

Volcán congregates at the Pearl on Aug. 1.

The instruments employed by the group, which is fronted by charismatic and gifted lead vocalist Jose Juan Huizar, include accordion, piano, saxophone, trombone, guitar, drum set, congas and timbales, and violin.

Mejia, 29, is a self-taught Latin music scholar and formally trained percussionist who grew up with Latin music styles and began writing and self-recording at age 14. 

“This music is a part of me, of my heritage, my identity,” he said. That’s why his work with Volcán is powered by a deep sense of responsibility to “preserve the music and the culture around it, but also to make it more modern and accessible.”

He believes that many people in the United States, with disparate Latin American roots, simply haven’t gravitated to more traditionally-inspired types of music because “they can’t identify themselves in the music, which can feel like it belongs to another time.”

Wanting to see traditional Latin American music as “alive in the modern world,” Mejia looks to use Volcán to uplift cultures and communities: past, present, and future. He hopes that the band’s own “authentic love” will translate in such a way as to make people feel more at home in their own selves.

“Without the ensemble, these songs are just notes and words on a piece of paper,” he said. “The songs don’t live without the band members being able to see themselves in the music.” 

That act of full identification, which Mejia expects from his team, is also an integral part of what he hopes to bring to audiences in San Antonio and elsewhere.

“I want people to identify with Latin American culture through us and with us, and, even if it’s in a small way or for a small number of people, to show that it’s OK to love your culture and the music that comes with it.”

Mejia believes the band has “really built something special and magical here in San Antonio,” but feels that Volcán’s momentum is just getting started.

“People in town come up to us after shows and always ask where we are from because they just can’t seem to believe that this came right from their own backyard,” he said.

Mejia is hopeful that Volcán, which has released one EP, one live album, and a few singles to date, can transmit its power and energy to wider audiences as the band gears up to finish work on a forthcoming record. He said he also hopes to build relationships with California counterparts.

“We are representing our cultural music to a bigger audience and doing it with a younger aesthetic and spirit,” Mejia said, noting that he wants people to feel “like this music isn’t just for their parents or their grandparents.”

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.