Radio Free Honduras: New group brings classic sound to Midwest Latino FestWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
A mix of rock and Latin folk music, the sounds of the group named Radio Free Honduras — which will perform at Midwest Latino Fest on Aug. 30 — are the kind that both soothe and excite the soul. It’s a contrast that guitarist, co-founder and area native Dan Abu-Absi understands very well.
“One of my favorite things about this music is that it can be both incredibly beautiful and fun at the same time,” Abu-Absi said.
One of the rising names in the Latin music scene centered in Chicago, Radio Free Honduras has an amazing musical pedigree. In addition to Abu-Absi, whose work with groups like JT & the Clouds and Birds of Chicago put him on the map, the core of the group is Charlie Baran, a Honduran musical icon and guitar virtuoso who has carved out a remarkable reputation in over a quarter-century on the music scene, both here and in his native Honduras.
Baran rose to prominence in the early 1990s as a member of the group Banda Blanca, whose song “Sopa de Caracol” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Latin Tracks charts. Baran would eventually relocate to the Windy City, which is where he first connected with Abu-Absi.
“I knew of Charlie from having seen him play in a previous group called Casolando,” Abu-Absi said. “When I moved to Chicago he was already my favorite guitar player there, and eventually I was fortunate enough to join that band, and when it fell apart I stayed in touch with Charlie.”
The emotional pull toward music started at a young age for Abu-Absi. “From a very early age I can remember being moved by music, so it always seemed like a natural thing for me to want to play music. But early on it was mostly just listening to great music — classic rock radio in particular,” he said.
After working together in a group called Grupo Gringo in 2011, Baran and Abu-Absi formed Radio Free Honduras with an eye on gathering some of the most talented and battle-tested Chicago musicians to bring Baran’s traditional Latin sounds myriad outside influences. (Two of the group’s members have also worked with Abu-Absi in previous bands.) Though Baran is the driving force behind the music and writes all the band’s original songs, Abu-Absi said that his own role is akin to a musical director’s.
“It’s different in a number of ways,” Abu-Absi said, contrasting his role in Radio Free Honduras to his work in previous bands. “But one thing in particular is the amount and level of discussion. In [JT &] the Clouds we have always operated as a sort of democracy, and everyone weighs in with their opinion on just about everything. Working with Charlie, things tend to come together on a more visceral level. We don’t argue. Ever.”
The group will bring its unity of sound and feeling to Midwest Latino Fest running 2-10 p.m. Aug. 30 at Promenade Park in Downtown Toledo. The members of Radio Free Honduras have plenty of experience entertaining fans in a festival setting: Beyond its members’ individual histories in music, the group also played Fiesta Del Sol — the largest Latino festival in the Midwest — in Chicago earlier this month.
“It’s great. Festival crowds are always fun, so we try to keep them happy and dancing,” Abu-Absi said. “We want to entertain. Hopefully people will have fun and experience the beauty of the performance.”