In most parts of Argentina, "aca" is a nonsense word, but in northern Argentina, such as the northwestern province of Tucumán, where guitarist, singer, and composer Juan Quintero comes from, it has a very specific meaning: dried shit. That's the Quechua (a South American language system spoken by native people of the Andes Mountains) translation. Fifteen years ago as students at the National University of La Plata, Quintero, Andrés Beeuwsaert (piano and vocals) and Mariano Cantero (percussion and vocals) were preparing for their first concert, but had no band name, Quintero jokingly threw the name Aca Seca into the mix. And, like the subject in question, it, well, stuck.
"We didn't know what aca meant! But we liked the sonority of the name," says Beeuwsaert, relaying the story via Skype from his home in Buenos Aires. With Argentina as one of the world's major agricultural producers, aca seca is vital to farming. "You put it in the ground, and it makes things grow," Beeuwsaert points out. "It's an important thing."
While Aca Seca Trio's name originally ruffled feathers on their tours through northern Argentina, the band's reputation as leaders in the local folk movement spread quickly — by word of mouth and a homemade demo — and quickly outweighed the band's name in topics of discussion.
Aca Seca's unique sound was born out of chacarera and zamba, the Argentinian musical tradition called folklore. But the members of the trio consider their music be a fusion of a fusion — a contemporary take on the historic fusion of folklore music, which is a blend of the Spanish rhythms brought to South America by colonizers and the musical traditions of the region's native people.
The group's first album, a self-titled 2003 release, was predominantly composed by Quintano and stuck closely to traditional rhythms, with guitar and piano adding fresh, modern textures to ancient beats. Compositions such as "Canto en la Rama" are haunting in the stark rhythms played by Cantero and the layered harmonies of all three performers. With each of the two albums that followed, Avenido (2006) and Ventana (2009), the trio's sound evolved, continuing to draw from Quintano's interest in folklore traditions and from Beeuwsaert and drummer Cantero's backgrounds in jazz and rock music, but also in the music of other composers from Argentina as well as Uruguay and Brazil.
The band has no preference on playing their original music over that of other composers. "We only play the music that touches us very deeply. When we play the songs of other composers, in some way, we think of the songs as our songs, too, because we do other arrangements and turn it into our own composition," Beeuwsaert shares.
Aca Seca's musical following has long since outgrown South America, allowing them to perform worldwide. When asked how the group feels about playing music so rooted in South American musical traditions to people who may not be familiar with the culture or speak the language, Beeuwsaert says, "People connect with us beyond the language. I think the music has a special power to communicate. When you play music you like, it's easy to communicate those feelings to other people. That's why we play only the music we really love." Indeed, it takes listening to just a few measures of the mature sound of "Chiquita" from 2009's Ventanas to mentally transport the listener to an Argentinian patio, a glass of Malbec in hand.
Needless to say, the group, soon to be embarking on their first North American tour, has come a long way from being university students enjoying the joke of a scatological band name. In 1999, they were pulled together by a shared passion for the unique sound they were creating, and then bonded in the ways of most people their age, spending time together outside of rehearsal spaces, cooking and eating, watching movies.
Now they are spread out in different parts of Argentina, with only Cantero remaining in the university town of La Plata. Though each of the musicians participates in a number of other projects — solo and with other groups — they set Aca Seca Trio apart. Beeuwsaert credits this to the trio being almost like brothers.
Each time they meet up for a performance, they still aim for the experimental quality with which they approached the formation of the group in 1999. "When we play together, for me, it's like the early years when we started to play. It's always something new, something amazing," Beeuwsaert says. "We have the spirit of discovery. We still learn — a new song, a new arrangement — we feel like musical students, in a good sense. We try to not miss the spirit of learning."
That youthful, exploratory sound is evident in both Aca Seca's recordings and live performances. Improvisation abounds, and each set is like a journey through the southern region of South America, giving hints at the past, present, and future of its musical traditions, but also taking the listener on an adventure of their own making.