New Jersey Music Spotlight: Junkanoo

by Jack Oliver

Junkanoo is one of the most unique bands I’ve ever looked into in the New Jersey DIY scene. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve covered a New Jersey musician, and that’s been a bit of a bummer for me. Many of the local artists I cover are people I consider pals of mine, but no artists came through my pipeline recently. That is, until I stumbled across one of the most unique bands I believe this state has to offer. Junkanoo’s funk fusion sound, as well as the diversity of their members, makes them one of the most compelling local bands that New Jersey has to offer.

Like many DIY bands in the state, Junkanoo had humble beginnings. Vocalist Ailed Hernandez told me how after meeting the band members in college, they learned that they were all studying for the same degree, funnily enough. Originally, Hernandez was “trying to create an all female group,” but couldn’t find a guitarist. For many musicians, this would signal the end of a short-lived idea.

One of the biggest things that draws me to a band is unique instrumentation. Modern musicians are forced from the get-go to be creative with their arrangement. For Junkanoo, the key was putting a modern twist on an old trick. Junkanoo, with their guitar troubles in hand, decided to move forward with two lead singers: Ailed Hernandez and Nicole Santana. After that, instead of giving up on the idea of making music, the band decided to start writing music for two bassists, since that’s all they could recruit. Bassists Naomi Smith and Sam Fallas-LoManto, as well as drummer Becks Alleman rounded out the odd bunch. This abnormal arrangement didn’t seem to worry Junkanoo, however. “We all were able to jam together to create something funky, punky, and danceable,” Hernandez told me.

Junkanoo’s sound is anything but a constant, and that’s what fans enjoy most about them. “Our sound is always changing because we’re all inspired by different things,” vocalist Nicole Santana told me. She says the band draws much influence from other local bands, like “Tula Vera, Jelani Sei, and Switchmob.”

Since the 2019 release of their EP, “Morir Soñando”, Junkanoo has won over local NJ audiences across the state. With heavy emphasis on their double bass instrumentation, their music is borderline impossible not to groove to in a live setting. But, of course, it may be awhile before we get to see them live. So how have they kept busy?

Junkanoo is not only working on new music, but they are also doing their part to help out communities in need of help during this troublesome year. Vocalist Ailed Hernandez told me how the band has been making charitable donations with their earnings:

“When Bandcamp waives their revenue shares we like to take what we make, match it, and donate it to organizations that need help. We’re also all donating individually on behalf of ourselves and the band as well. Some organizations we have donated to have been the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, Minnesota Freedom Fund, Black Table Arts, and the Leadership Conference Education Fund! If you haven’t donated, signed a petition, called your representatives, or registered to vote yet, now is a great time to do so!”

Music is a key to bringing people together, and that key is something we desperately need right now. One of the band’s bassists, Naomi Smith, left me with an uplifting thought on this notion.

“With so much craziness happening in the world, we need to embrace community. We should celebrate differences and strengths we find in others. Live music has always been a way to send a message and bring people together to have their voice heard. Live events are limited in capacity. But we need to still have small events where listeners can be reminded of the power of music. Music should uplift people and take them out of their problems and into the current moment.”

The band also gave shoutouts to their other local contemporaries, including Skylar Pocket and Tula Vera. You can check out my interviews with those bands here.

About the Author/s

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Jack Oliver is an aspiring writer, and is so thrilled to be part of The Digest's team. He also works as an editor at GenZ Publishing. Previous accolades include a published play by Lazy Bee Scripts ("Coming of Age").

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