As part of our on going commitment to feature independent musicians and music, I interviewed Ken Hiatt who plays accordion and keyboards, and who along with Wendy Kinal, lead vocalist, composes and performs with Gumbo Diablo.
Gumbo Diablo is a Boston-based quartet specializing in a sound they call pan-Americana – roots rock that crosses borders and boundaries. Mixing traditions such as zydeco and r&b from Louisiana, cumbia from Colombia, forro from Brazil, and modern roots-influenced rock, they have been amazing audiences since 2009 with their unique live performances. With a sound driven by soulful vocals, accordions, keyboards, bass, drums, and percussion, Gumbo Diablo has the versatility to pack the dance floor, captivate a rock club, or hold court in a small restaurant.
The group has just released its debut album, The Gods We Were Before. Featuring 10 original songs and a cover of Luiz Gonzaga’s “O Fole Roncou,” it is a showcase of the band’s pan-Americana sound. If New Orleans is the northern port of the Caribbean, then Gumbo Diablo will take you on a musical journey from there to points south, creating music that is distinct, international, and joyful. The group is touring throughout the Northeast in support of this release.
Wendy’s earliest musical memories are of her Polish father playing accordion in the living room and the Latin and Caribbean beats surrounding her during her childhood in South Florida. Her first job (and gig!) was as a “Christmas” Karaoke Hostess on a Seminole Indian Reservation in snow-less Fort Lauderdale. Since then, she’s expanded her musical repertoire, and has been heavily influenced by Brazilian culture and music. As a practitioner of capoeira and a former member of the Northeastern Brazilian band, Batuque do Norte, she learned the power of percussion and of call-and-response music to connect people. She loves exploring the musical traditions of the US and other countries, bringing vocals, percussion, and accordion to the mix. She’s had a wild and educational ride with Gumbo Diablo, and looks forward to more sonic journeys.
Ken grew up playing Western classical music on the accordion. After many years of lessons, contests, and pieces that were far beyond his ability to understand them, he took a 10-year “break.” During this time he picked up the drums and played throughout the Boston area in several jazz and rock groups. Gradually his musical tastes turned toward “world” genres, and he kept hearing the accordion in new and unexpected contexts. In 2003 he took up the squeezebox again, inspired by a Klezmer band he heard at a friend’s wedding. He has played Klezmer and Greek folk music, but now he spends all his time trying to make Gumbo Diablo happen.