Seattle-based Diano Garcia gives a Afro-Beat makeover to Emerald City funk, hip hop

Interview by Howie Mitchell

When it comes to Seattle hip-hop, there is Sir Mix-A-Lot and honestly nothing else if you’re talking about national recognition. For a city that dominated mainstream music in the ’90s with its grunge icons, Seattle hasn’t broken its rappers in the same way it did with its alternative-rock acts. Ironically, Sir Mix-A-Lot was on the verge of a commercial breakthrough years before Nirvana, and you’d think a hip-hop revolution would’ve followed. Maybe it’s because the Seattle rap scene hasn’t found its voice yet, still trying to find its own identity from the overpowering shadows of East and West Coast hip-hop. Local talent Diano Garcia has the potential of turning that around. Built from parts of funk, rap, soul, psychedelic rock, and world music, Garcia has an adventurous style that could only emanate from the creative open-mindedness of Seattle.

Howie Mitchell: The Afro-Beat genre hasn’t been absorbed by mainstream hip-hop, which seems to me suffering from creative stagnation. Why do you think that is?

Diano Garcia: I’m not really sure. They both spring from the same ancestral well. Of course in West African music you hear more and more hip-hop influences being absorbed into Afro-Beat music. I think Afro Beat needs more time to find its way into mainstream American music; maybe then we’ll hear it seeping into hip hop.

Mitchell: Your music offers a variety of flavors, from psychedelia to world to funk. How did you become so eclectic in your tastes and creative expression?

Garcia: When I was a kid I listened to a lot of late ’60s early ’70s rock. At the same time I was really into War, the Ohio Players, Marvin Gaye, Steve Wonder. Eventually I got into Herbie Hancock. Miles’ progression 
through the ’70s still inspires me. I’d always been a vocalist, then in the mid-’90s I started studying traditional West African percussion. That opened the door to the amazing world of African music which obviously influences everything I do.

Mitchell: What artists moved you the most while growing up and in what ways did they affect you?

Garcia: I mentioned the artists and music I listened to growing up. Even though the styles were different, they all seemed to have to have a similar psychedelic effect on me. I grew up in a conservative suburban 
family. There wasn’t a frame work for me to relate that kind of experience to, but that’s how the music affected me. 10-years-old on the living room floor with the head phones on tripping balls. Definitely got me hooked.

Mitchell: You’re based in Seattle, which is best known for grunge. How does your music fit into the musical menu of the Emerald City?

Garcia: Seattle has a lot of world music fans. There’s also a vital hip-hop scene. It’s obviously a rock town. Hopefully, what I do will relate to a cross section Seattle music fans.

Mitchell: What can people expect from seeing Diano Garcia in live performance? Do you have a band? What is the set-up like?

Garcia: People can expect a high energy, deeply grooving show with beautiful harmonies and rhythms that move you you from the inside out. I’m really excited about the band I’ve put together. They do an amazing job of interpreting the music into a live format. You can expect to hear all the music from Turn It On plus songs from an album I’m just now in the process of finishing. We like to stretch things out in the live performance. Play the songs as written while using the grooves as templates to improv off of.

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