Things To Do: Ratas En Zelo, Satellite Bar, February 24, 2022
Imagine that, punk rockers – a punk band without a guitarist. Joey, Tommy and Dee Dee but no Johnny. Also, visualize them as an all-female band and almost all of their songs are in Spanish.
If that sounds great – and why wouldn’t it? – you don’t have to dream it because it exists. The band is called Ratas En Zelo and if you’re around Satellite Bar this week you can catch their Texas debut with fellow Latin punks Piñata Protest and Fuska from Houston.
Ratas En Zelo, translates to “Rats In Heat,” and the New York-based quartet includes drummer María Toro, bassist Natalie DeSabato, and sisters Yadee and Hiromy Araniva. Yadee sings and Hiromy plays the accordion, the instrument that takes the place of punk’s most important musical device.
“From the beginning, in the summer of 2014, Hiromy and I started talking at a party. We have a lot of friends who play in punk bands, like a little Latin punk scene, so that’s how we we’re known,” Toro explained. “She said, ‘Oh, we should get together and play because I play the accordion,’ and I said, ‘I play the drums.’ We weren’t pros with our instruments, we just wanted to see what we could find I guess.
“So it was accordion, drums, and then Yadee joined because she’s sister with Hiromy. She would just improvise on the few melodies we had. We were like, you don’t really need to a guitar. We knew we needed something else but not a guitar. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, we don’t have a guitar on purpose’, but more like we had an accordion, the accordion could be the main instrument We don’t really need a guitar, we actually need a bass.
“Nothing against guitars,” Toro clarified for you punk purists, “but that was our logic. If we already have an accordion, having a guitar would make the accordion secondary to the guitar.
The band released just one album, 2018’s dazzling eight-track collection, Despertar. Toro said anyone who might not have heard the album or seen Ratas live might be surprised by the sound.
“I guess people who don’t know us see an accordion and think it’s folk punk or folk music or cumbia or something, right? They don’t immediately associate the accordion with punk. But I don’t know, I think we’re kinda becoming known for that, for being the accordion band without a guitar.
Of course, there’s a punk accordion band that preceded them, the legendary Piñata Protest from San Antonio. They accompany Ratas En Zelo on his entire string of dates in the Lone Star State this week.
“I think it was Hiromy who knew them first, maybe because of the accordion, I’m not sure. But she knew them first,” Toro said of Piñata Protest. “Obviously we listened to them and we played with them in 2016 in Brooklyn when they were touring with Brujeria. They did a little local gig with us and other bands in our scene, so yeah, we were connected d somehow since then.
“And people on social media are always like, ‘Oh, you look like this band, Piñata Protest’ or ‘You remind us of this band, Piñata Protest’, and we’re like, yeah, we know, they’re our friends They’re like our sister band, I would say.
Toro said they might be related in some ways, but Ratas En Zelo’s music is a big departure from Piñata Protest’s tex-mex punk. His sound is influenced by other Latin American places. Hiromy and Yadee are Salvadoran and María is Peruvian. Toro said they were all born in their respective countries and came to the United States as teenagers. Natalie was born in the United States, in New Jersey.
“I think the reason Hiromy wants to play the accordion is because of cumbia, like Colombian cumbia, and Piñata would obviously be the Mexican accordion,” Toro said. “Hiromy, she loves cumbia, well, we all love her, but I’ve heard her say many times that she never wanted to learn the accordion to play cumbia. She likes cumbia to dance, but not to play.
“Even though she’s influenced to play the accordion because of cumbia, cumbia doesn’t really influence the band,” Toro continued. “A lot of people think, oh, they’re playing cumbia punk and we’re like no, not at all.”
The music charges hard, created for pit rather than dancehall. It’s “Oi! Oh! Oi!” stylized as “Eek! Eek! uh!” As with many punk bands, the instruments chosen are the means of delivering messages and this is an outdated notion with Ratas En Zelo. from an all-female perspective. And, not only are they doing it from an all-female perspective, but they’re doing it from an all-Latino perspective. And, not only are they doing it from an all-Latin perspective, but they do it from a heavily immigrant background. There are a lot of things for the band to explore in terms of songs. Toro said that Yadee Araniva writes all the lyrics for the band.
“Like other punk bands, we have a song against the police, the cops. One on immigration, one on being women and respecting ourselves as women. Yadee always says we don’t want to look like victims, like oh, we have all these problems and our lives are miserable because of it. We want to see the positive side of it,” Toro explained. “Okay, we have a problem – how can we improve it? How can we empower ourselves to improve the situation even if we have to live with it? We are struggling, but we will grow from all these things we live with.
One thing the radically different punk band has in common with other bands is that they had to wait for pandemic lockdowns to perform for their fans.
“We’ve never played in Texas. We’ve been planning this since before the pandemic. We were supposed to do this mini-tour with Piñata in 2020, like in the summer. Because everything stopped obviously we didn’t. Now we’re really excited,” Toro said. “We know we have a bit of a following in Texas as well. You know how specific everything is now, you can go to social media and check how many people are following you in this city or that other city. In Texas, we have a lot of listeners and followers, so we’re really excited.
The band are also excited to be working on a new album. They are halfway through writing the new record, Toro reported. She said everyone in the band had other obligations that kept them mostly in New York. They only toured California, Illinois and Minnesota before Texas. And their day jobs and other artistic interests squeeze into songwriting time. Yadee is a comic artist whose work is featured on numerous Ratas products and Hiromy runs a successful and acclaimed dance teaching business on TikTok and Instagram.
“It takes us a while to write songs, I think because we’re all busy,” Toro admitted. “For our next song that we’re working on, (Yadee) wanted to write about something completely different and I said, ‘You know what? It’s going to be a woman’s story, we could focus on that other side of her as a woman. So she went from there. I think the lyrics, depending on how you see them, could be political, but we’re not intentionally saying it’s going to be a political song, just more like everyday life because of our immigrant experience and because of our experience as women, this is what we experience, know and see.
They talk about disturbing subjects, shouting the migration, los puercos, injustice and pinch the buds of any kind. Still, Toro insists the group doesn’t take themselves too seriously. They wear “rat ears” from the 99-cent store on stage. They want the people in the pit to have fun. There’s this whole thing of not having a guitar. Even their name started out as a goof.
“Okay, so it started as a joke because Yadee, she’s a clown, she jokes all the time. We didn’t really have a name and she was just saying we’re gata, gata en zelo, for And then a friend at a gig or something heard it and she was like, ‘Gatas? Or Ratas En Zelo? and we just kept it.
“It was kind of mocking the names of punk bands, you know, like they were so aggressive and raw,” Toro added. “We’re like, ‘Yeah! Ratas En Zelo! We’re like, ‘Eek, eek!’ We don’t take ourselves seriously. It’s just punk and we want to have fun.
Ratas En Zelo kicks off their first-ever Texas tour on Thursday, February 24 at Satellite Bar, 6922 Harrisburg. With Piñata Protest and Fuska. Doors at 7 p.m. for this event for all ages. $15.