Reggae, L.A. & Latinx Style: The Delirians & Others Put Their Own Spin on 1960s Jamaica

The Delirians
Veronica Leon

The Delirians

Los Angeles’ The Delirians want you to know that reggae music has healing powers. Armed with three studio albums and a new single, “Sweet Leaf,” out March 1, the nine-piece band mixes infectious early reggae and roots with Spanish lyrics and a solidly Californian sensibility.

“We want to be able to spread our message of love, unity, the power of music,” frontman Angel Salgado says. “[Reggae] makes people feel good, no matter what color of skin or language they speak.”

Originating from the East Los Angeles neighborhoods that brought you Lalo Guerrero, Los Lobos and Quinto Sol, The Delirians are among the forerunners of a new generation of bands paying tribute to (and putting a modern spin on) the sounds of 1960s Jamaica. Alongside Southern California grown The Steady 45s, Jackie Mendez, Scarlet and the Fever, and OG revivalists Hepcat and The Aggrolites, The Delirians perform ska, rocksteady and early reggae -- all precursors to the Bob Marley-influenced stylings most commonly associated with the genre. But there's also a tinge of Mexican banda in the sound, compounded by lyrics that are sometimes in Spanish.

El Remedio (The Remedy), The Delirians’ third album, released in September on Los Angeles indie label Angel City Records, is a mix of sweet love songs, party anthems with a political message and instrumental dancefloor cookers, but always with gorgeous vocal harmonies (the band now has four singers) over solid horn arrangements.  Made up of majority Latino members with diverse musical backgrounds, The Delirians showcase the unique mix of sonic influence coming out of Southern California.

“I don’t really see us as any different from the other bands [in Los Angeles reggae],” Salgado says. “There are a lot of great musicians, some of them are in one band and some of them are in three of the bands. There are a lot of people who are doing the same as we are, struggling and fighting, sharing and doing what they love. Everybody’s passionate about it out here.”

In a scene where bands often hone in on a specific era of ska or reggae music, tenor sax player Warren Huang says The Delirians are distinguished by their salsa, jazz and roots influences. The group is also moved by the political nature of reggae.

“With [songs such as] ‘Rolling Thunder’ and ‘El Remedio,’ we’re trying to bring a revolutionary style and message. You can’t separate reggae from having some kind of strong political leaning or having some kind of activist within you because the music was made by revolutionaries,” Huang says.

From their roots at rival East Los Angeles high schools, The Delirians have gained significant popularity. In the past year and a half, they performed at Fania’s Boyle Heights sessions, putting a Latin ska spin on the Fania All-Stars’ “Quítate Tú;” opened for Mexican electro-rock band Kinky and two-tone heavyweights The Selecter; and supported local favorites Ozomatli. The band also played Coachella’s Sonora stage in 2018, bringing their unique mix of L.A.-does-1960s Jamaica to a new audience.

“That was a trip! A lot of people were just, like, ‘What the hell is this?’ There were a few other people who were reggae lovers and were tripping out that there was a reggae band playing,” Salgado says. Adds Huang, “When we go to the Cali One Love Reggae Festival or to Coachella, we want to show everybody that there’s a side of the music that is not necessarily too popular anymore but is still very relevant.”

Despite recent successes, Salgado says The Delirians have struggled to tap into the Latin market and share reggae with members of their own community. As a first generation Mexican-American, Salgado says he’s struggled with assumptions about his musical style.

“As a brown person, when I tell folks I have a band, they always think I have a mariachi band,” he says. “There’s rock en Espanol, or you have a banda or a tamborazo band. Reggae is not something that a lot of people in our culture are familiar with, even though there are a lot of reggae bands out there from every corner of the world.”

Salgado draws parallels between the consciousness of more traditional Latin music and reggae, and is keen to put out more songs in Spanish. The band has also discussed creating a tribute album to traditional Latin American artists such as Los Panchos and Venezuela’s Los Terricolas.

“Just old classic stuff that we grew up listening to through our parents. We’d call it Para Mis Padres,” Salgado says.

The Delirians’ forthcoming string of singles will be further reaching in influence. “Sweet Leaf” is a Sugar Minot-inspired lovers’ rock tune with a distinct California roots vibe.

“It’s important to touch all the musical eras [of reggae] that we love,” Salgado adds. “We’re trying to make it a little more funky and adding more Latin and soul to it.”

“For our next album, we want to establish more of a ‘The Delirians’ style, not just us as a reggae or rocksteady band,” Huang says. “I almost want it to be like, ‘Whoa, I don’t know what to call these guys.’”