Outlook

You say Charanga, I say Pachanga

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pachanga Society

The Stearns County Pachanga Society consists primarily of musicians who have studied, graduated or taught at St. Cloud State University.

If a crime scene investigator were to dust the Stearns County Pachanga Society for fingerprints, St. Cloud State University would be in big trouble.

That's because nine of the members who comprise the musical group have studied at the University, including seven degree-holders. Interestingly, none of those degrees are in music.

The leader and founder of the group, Michael Hasbrouck '87 '88, studied Spanish, French and education while a student more than he played his guitar and he studied abroad in Spain. Today, Hasbrouck is a Spanish professor and the chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature. He plays alongside keyboardist, Jim Feia '85, who studied abroad in Alnwick, England and bass player, Jim Bjorklun '91, who studied in Ingolstadt, Germany.

"We all have a really strong interest in other cultures and world music," said Hasbrouck, who had the vision for the group, which began performing in June 2002. He had to convince many of the other musicians that a group playing Latin music would be successful, including his younger brother, Mark, one of Central Minnesota's best guitarists and original songwriters.

While he was studying various Spanish-speaking cultures, Hasbrouck realized what a big part of life music played. Those cultures "had a vast knowledge of American and English music," he said. But the reverse didn't exist. "Here, there was little to no knowledge of Hispanic musical traditions and rhythms.

"My brother was skeptical at first, but then his other band broke up." That other band, the Surahoolies, was in its own way a world music trendsetter, playing original rock but with a distinct African and Celtic influence.

Michael Hasbrouck and his brothers were influenced by their time growing up in Marshall, Minn., where their mother, Barb worked at the Campus Religious Center of the then brand new Southwest Minnesota State College. The only African-American people in the community at the time were attending the university and many of them began to regularly spend time in the Hasbrouck household. Those young men became important musical and cultural influences for the younger Hasbroucks by giving them 45s from R&B and Soul artists like Sly and the Family Stone and Curtis Mayfield and playing informal jam sessions in the family's living room.

By the way, the Hasbrouck brothers' father, Tom '57, also graduated from St. Cloud State.

Initially, Michael Hasbrouck wanted to name of his band to be the Charanga Society, which in Spanish loosely translates to a group of friends who get together and play music at local fiestas for fun rather than money. But when he said the word to a Costa Rican friend while Hasbrouck was directing a St. Cloud State study-abroad program, that person thought Hasbrouck said Pachanga, which translates to "big rowdy party."

The first gigs the group performed were experimental because it had no idea whether or not the central Minnesota music scene would support the group's Latin and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Only five band members existed and they barely had enough material to cover the first three-hour performance. With the help of some key articles in the St. Cloud Times, the crowds grew quickly and by the third week they were packing the house and the dance floor at the Tavern on Germain/Rox in downtown St. Cloud. With that early success the band quickly grew to nine members.

Because the group started small with the desire to make audience participation a key part of its performance the band members would hand out maracas, tambourines, guiros and other hand-percussion instruments to audience members to join in on the festivities.

But because many of their early gigs were in bars, patrons would often imbibe a bit too heavily and have a tendency to break the instruments. "We probably went through $300 in wrecked instruments in the first three months" Hasbrouck said. "I thought people would like to participate in the music, and they did, but it got out of hand."

Eventually, group members became better able to tell which patrons might be rowdy and those who were likely to take better care of the instruments. And, eventually their shows left the barrooms and started entering other venues, such as music and art festivals throughout the state, and theaters like St. Cloud's Pioneer Place on Fifth.

{ Web extra } For more information on Pachanga Society and events and schedules

- Story By Mike Nistler '79 | Photograph by Neil Andersen '96

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