Alberta’s soul cowboys return for BSD

By David Kenney

Curtis Santiago is an eclectic kind of guy.

As vocalist for Edmonton hip-hop group Hi-Phonics, Santiago soaks his ears in whatever sounds come his way. Today, it’s Robert Plant’s wails and Jimmy Page’s wolf-howl guitars that inspire him.

"Unfortunately, I just got into Led Zepplin; I wish I discovered them a whole lot earlier," he says. "We’ve just been messing around just trying to see what works, what doesn’t, hitting the reggae vibe, the rock vibe, the hip-hop soul kind of melded. It’s a soul stew, it’s just everything."

The Hi-Phonics are a varied mix. Ethnically and musically diverse, the group is like a deluxe pizza. Playing the MacEwan Hall Ballroom for Bermuda Shorts Day, the year-old band hopes to release a record this summer.

"We’ve been just bustin’ it, cause everyone’s just perfectionists in the band so we will not play a song until everyone feels it is ready or tight as it could be," says Santiago. "We pick things apart and make sure it sounds good musically. ‘Cause I know with a live performance a lot of the time it’s the energy that carries a band but we definitely pay attention to the quality of the music."

A musical anomaly, the Hi-Phonics are also rare for Alberta. Toronto or Vancouver maybe, but you can bet The Rascalz’ Kardinal Offishall won’t be setting up tent here. The land of beef isn’t exactly known for its beats or soul.

"We’ve been branded the soul cowboys," laughs Santiago. "It is this rarity, I don’t know of many bands doing the R & B, hip-hop soul thing live [in Alberta]."

"That’s cool because it’s helped us in a way, but at the same I’d love to see more cats doing it too."