If there’s one thing to be said of Lancaster’s Latin-fusion band Los Monstros, it’s that it brings all kinds of people together.
“Music can transcend every boundary or barrier that people try to put between one another,” frontman Kyle Kettering says. “People are always trying to point out what’s different between them. I hate all those boundaries.”
Kettering, who has been playing in Latin bands for more than 15 years, sings and plays saxophone for Los Monstros, as well as writing original songs. The group plays bachata, salsa and merengue music (one of the only bands in the area to play all three), as well as Latin adaptations of a wide variety of well-known pop songs.
“At least for that moment when we’re playing, people are together,” Kettering says. “They’re smiling and dancing together in the same rhythm. That’s what it’s all about to me.”
Kettering’s musical philosophy and disdain for boundaries are apparent when looking at the diverse 11-piece band that is Los Monstros. Kettering, of German descent, leads the band, along with his wife and co-founder Betsy Guzman, whose family hails from Puerto Rico. With Puerto Rican percussionists, Dominican instrumentalists and a Caucasian horn section – which they refer to as El Fuego Blanco or “The White Fire” – Los Monstros offers an interesting hybrid of cultures and styles.
“That’s why we’re called Los Monstros,” says Guzman, referring to the unlikely hodgepodge of band members.
“With the different cultures that are in our band, we’re kind of pushing borders,” Kettering says. He points out the fact that many Latin bands try to maintain cultural purity and authenticity by only representing one culture and musical style.
But his band’s cultural stew can lead to interesting musical flavors and fusions that let the group avoid being pigeonholed.
Forming in 2009, Los Monstros began as a five-piece bachata band. Even at its inception, this was an unconventional band – bachata typically features guitar as the lead instrument, but Kettering played lead on saxophone.
In 2011 they group added more members, forming the current lineup, and started adding merengue tunes to get people dancing. Most recently, Los Monstros entered the salsa scene.
And Kettering seems to take pleasure in breaking rules. His band uses instruments that aren’t typically seen in traditional Latin bands, like drum kits and electronic keyboards. Los Monstros also gives the Latin treatment to some unlikely pop songs, such as a bachata version of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” and a salsa version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.”
It’s not always easy getting all 11 members on stage at once, but Los Monstros adapts to small venues or conflicting schedules by performing with only a few of the core members from time to time. Their versatility and musical eclecticism lets them appeal to a wide audience, Kettering says, and so far it’s been a recipe for success.
“We have a pretty big following,” Kettering says. And their following is just as much of a mishmash as the band. In Lancaster, they draw a big salsa crowd; in Delaware and Maryland, people want to hear bachata. “We have some party crowds, and we have some more classical-dance crowds, so we range a lot,” Kettering says.
Los Monstros plays about 50 shows a year, with a show nearly every weekend.
“Music can transcend every boundary or barrier that people try to put between one another. People are always trying to point out what’s different between them. I hate all those boundaries.” – Kyle Kettering
Guzman and Kettering say they haven’t worn out on all of the travel yet – they’re both addicted to the rush of performing live.
“I just love the joy of being on stage,” Guzman says. “Seeing people dancing and smiling and asking for more. It’s just an amazing feeling.”
“We feed off the crowd’s energy,” Kettering adds. “When we record in the studio, the music just doesn’t sound the same. Everybody in the band is the same way. We all like the hype.”
The band has also released several original singles for radio. Their most popular song – a bachata track called “Por Amarte” – has played on several Latin music stations across the state. Their music even got some radio airplay in Puerto Rico and Argentina, according to Kettering.
They haven’t recorded any albums yet, but Kettering says the material is there – he’s just waiting for the right time to do it.
“We’re just putting the singles out there to get the fans, and if somebody says, ‘Hey, you need to do an album,’ I’ll be ready for it,” Kettering says.
For now, Guzman and Kettering say they just want to get their music heard and continue improving their sound.
“We just always want to get better,” Kettering says, “to find a way to connect more and more people with music, and to keep getting better at playing shows.”
Los Monstros play Level 2 (215 N. Second St., Harrisburg) tonight. Salsa lessons start at 8:30pm. Music at 10pm. DJ Latin Leprechaun spins between sets. Click here for info.