[heard3]“Go dudes!” shouted 50-year-old Julie Jones while throwing her fist in the air with the rest of the crowd. The atmosphere was energetic at the East Town Street Fair on Sept. 24 in Grand Rapids, which ended with a bang as local band La Famiglia took the stage. Pedestrians stopped their shopping and followed the hypnotizing guitar beats gracing their ears to get closer to where the band, who has played with everyone from Talib Kweli, G-Unit (featuring 50 Cent and Young Buck) and Toots and the Maytals, reggae legends, was playing. [band]
Children were hoisted upon shoulders to get a better look as excited fans worked their way to the front of the crowd, closer to the stage. The energy seemed to be contagious, first infecting the band members and then spreading through the crowd. Looking around, one couldn’t help but notice the array of different people in the audience – all colors, ages, shapes and sizes – all yelling out “616” (G. Rap’s area code) while pumping their fists. The band members are a small sample of this diversity, just as different as their audience, which is the reason they decided on the name la famiglia (Italian for “the family”). “Because we are such a diverse crew we kind of came up with the joke that we were the family,” said Gagliardo. “Before the band even had a name we had the opportunity to open for Talib Kweli. The name was suggested and everybody thought it would work.”
[beats]The band consists of Corey Harris on vocals; Michael Gagliardo on vocals and guitar; Karisa Wilson on vocals, guitar and violin; Steve Thielman on keyboard; Joey Weinstein on bass; Rodney Rhodes on drums and percussionist Leonel Garcia, all talented and devoted musicians just trying to find their way, as expressed in their song, “I’ll be OK.” Weinstein said the group met through Gagliardo, who was in the process of hiring individual musicians to play over tracks in his studio. [drums]
“The ones in the band now were pretty much the best or my favorites from getting session players into the studio,” said Gagliardo. The music this family produces really cannot be labeled as one certain type. Each member adds his or her own unique sound to the band, creating a musical melting pot; the result is a sound like no other. “Sometimes we work separately, collaborating our ideas when we come together, and other times we just get together, press record and improvise,” Harris said. The band is jazz gone rock gone funk gone wild, with some world percussion and hip hop as the main course. Gagliardo describes the music as having a lot of energy and different styles fused in it, but says that it’s “real” live music that appeals to various types of people. “Due to all the different elements incorporated in our music we seem to get a real eclectic group of people; some interested in the musicianship, some in the rhymes and some for the energy,” Gagliardo said.[guitar]
Harris and Gagliardo are definitely a breath of fresh air to the rap scene today. Each has something to say that’s actually worth hearing, with an original way of getting it out. Instead of sex, drugs and being “icy,” these vocalists choose to focus on topics such as politics, life, change and poverty. The group pays homage to Grand Rapids and touches on issues affecting their hometown in the song, “City Nights.” “Music” is all about the group’s determination and efforts to become successful in the one thing they all love, explaining, “music, that’s why we do it.”
[mike] The band members bring in a variety of their own musical interets. In Harris’ CD player, it was A Tribe Called Quest. For Gagliardo, Camp Lo’s second disc. Weinstein was rocking to Mingus, Live in Paris (1964), and the Roots’ Things Fall Apart.
So what’s in store for La Famiglia in the future? Gagliardo said, “[W]e would all love to play anywhere in Japan. If you can make it to Japan with your band it’s a sign of success. The plan for now is to keep taking it to another level. We hope to have more exposure and better quality and eventually a bigger market and broader spectrum of audience on which we can make an impact.” La Famiglia plays mostly in the Midwest and can usually be found in clubs and festivals or opening for national acts. They have shows in both Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo in November, so if you’re in the area, check them out. The first La Famiglia mixtape with live performances and classic hip hop references was released in November 2004, and is available at Vertigo Records on 129 S. Division St., and Schulers Books & Music on 2600 28th St. S.E., both in Grand Rapids. La Famiglia Volume One, released on March 25, is available to buy for your listening pleasure online, and is also for sale at the above stores. For sample songs and more information on their November shows, go to www.mikegproductions.com. [sweat]
Shows for November are as follows: Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. at the Blackrose Unplugged Sequel at 100 Ionia S.W. in Grand Rapids with Action Jackson; Saturday, Nov. 26 at Club Soda in Kalamazoo with Omega Supreme, beginning at 9 p.m.; Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. at Billy’s Lounge on 1437 Wealthy S.E. in Grand Rapids.

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