By John Ochoa, 18, Lynwood HS
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So, there we were, a bunch of young musicians ready to rock the Roxy Theatre on Sunset Boulevard. I was warming up, playing some scales on my trumpet. I was pumped, baby, and ready to go!

The club was crowded. I peeked through the curtain and I could see people bunched up in the pit area where they would soon be dancing, people hanging out near the bar, people by the tables and people walking in and out. I heard someone say "I hope they play ‘Cagapalo’ first."

We played our intro, which has a distorted voice and a combination of creepy tunes and classical music. Immediately, the crowd began to cheer; some were chanting and screaming our name. Slowly, the curtains elevated and BOOM, we started. Our guitarist started playing and my head began to bop up and down. I came in during my part and my energy just kept coming from somewhere unknown.

Glancing at the crowd, I saw the pit moving. People went up and down, side to side with no sense of synchronization and fists and kicks going everywhere. It was wild.

When we played "Flan," I saw several girls on the side singing along. When we played "La Revolución Moderna," the crowd’s sing-along session grew louder and I could hear them over our singer.

Suddenly, a sense of pride took over me. At the time, I couldn’t put it into words. I just felt good that, after all the work we had done, we had built the band into something.

Yeah, it was a most excellent show.

My band, Mata Moska, Spanish for fly swatter, has been playing together for about three years. It has had countless lineup changes, but three of the original members remain: Hector Rivera on bass, Jose Padilla on guitar and vocals, and Richard Sanchez on drums (I joined about two years ago). Imagine a group of eight musicians: a bass player, a guitarist, a drummer, a timbales player, and four horn players. Our hardcore ska mixes heavy guitar riffs, fast-paced bass rhythms, punk rock drums and some wild horn lines for that Latin feel. We blend musical styles and themes, including songs in English and Spanish. We have our love songs, our kickback songs, our violent songs and our heart-pumping, punch-throwing pit songs.

My favorite part of being in the band is performing. I love being on stage and having all the attention on me and the band. Forgive me if I sound boastful. I don’t think that I am better than the fans. My utmost gratitude and appreciation goes to them because they are the reason we continue to play. I never get tired of seeing people dance and pit to our music.

"We’ve been in the [music] scene for over three years and we’ve seen a lot of bands progress and a lot of bands die out," says Padilla (we all call him by his last name.) "The good thing about our band is that it seems to withstand the test of time and we seem to adjust to each other. We can actually cope with our differences."

I heard about Mata Moska over two years ago when I was a sophomore. I saw them at a small club called Our House in Lynwood. That same night, I bought the band’s demo CD and I was hooked! I listened to it every hour of the day. It had this dirty, unpolished sound. The guitar, drums, timbales and bass sounded tight; I could tell that they were the essence of the band.

I wanted to be part of the scene

Playing at the Roxy, the members of Mata Moska are (left to right) Adolfo Aguirre, Hector Rivera, Richard Sanchez (drummer behind Hector), Jose Padilla, Jose Rocha, John Ochoa, Joey De Reza and Willie Pozuelos.
Photo by Valentina Cardenas, 16, Ramona Convent

Ska was my favorite music back then and I was willing to try anything to be a part of the scene. I had recently started playing the trumpet, and I noticed that Mata Moska didn’t have a trumpet player, only a trombonist. I told my friends it would be cool if I could join the band and they simply chuckled. Eventually, I decided to contact the band.

After I e-mailed them that I was willing and able to play for them, Hector called and invited me to rehearsal! I was in shock.

I walked into the studio, filled with elation. I didn’t know what to expect since I didn’t know any of the guys. During rehearsal, I played along with the songs I knew from the band’s demo, and they were impressed.

The band invited me to play with them at their show that very night. Since March 2002, I’ve played close to 100 shows with Mata Moska. My first year in the band is a blur. We did so much that it seems nearly impossible to fit it all in 12 measly months. Since I was just barely learning the trumpet, which turned out to be harder than I thought, I played until my lips felt fuzzy at weekly practices and shows. Back then, we would take any gig offered to us: tiny bars and clubs, pizza places and backyards all over South Central, East Los Angeles, Lynwood, South Gate, Huntington Park and downtown Los Angeles. Later in the year we played at the Whiskey A Go-Go on the Sunset Strip.

Early on, I developed a deep admiration for Padilla. Alone, he managed most of the business of the band. He kept track of our finances, made fliers, organized a street team of teens to hand them out, and produced T-shirts, buttons, posters and stickers. He coordinated our rehearsals and gigs, and arranged for us to make recordings.

We recorded a song for an underground band compilation album called Keeping the Spirit Alive. After this recording, I began to notice more people wearing our shirts and buttons. I began to see people at our shows who I had never seen before.

My family was ecstatic for me, and they often came to our gigs, especially my father because he was once a guitarist in a band. My brother Joe bought me a new trumpet. My other brother Rudy sang our songs in the shower or anywhere. It was funny because he tended to make up words that weren’t even in the songs.

After practice, we’d joke that our first CD would make us rock stars. We hoped to reach an audience beyond the local places we were playing.

To prepare for our debut album, Mata Moska rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed like never before. We had an idea of what songs we wanted on the album, but we wanted a tighter sound. I wanted to make sure the horns didn’t sound out of tune.

It was at these rehearsals that I noticed Hector’s musical genius. He had an exact feeling of how the CD should sound. He helped us all play better, by telling us when to play louder or faster and how to blend our sounds together.

Could I do it all?

A flier that announced one of Mata Moska's shows.

We went into the studio to record our first album, De Verdad, in October 2002; it was a short six-song EP. I ran into serious trouble when recording the album. It was my junior year, the busiest year in high school. I was taking two AP classes, three honors courses, and was participating in several clubs and organizations, including serving as editor of my school newspaper. Once, I got home a little past midnight on a school night because I was putting out the newspaper (my parents were pretty understanding).

Into this hectic schedule, I had to squeeze in some four-hour recording sessions. I remember balancing equations for chemistry while the guitarist laid down tracks for one of the songs.

We recorded track by track; the drums were first, then came the bass, the guitar and the horns. I had to play all by myself while accompanying the music coming out of the headphones. It was weird being alone in that room, because I’m used to playing with the whole band around me. I even had to invent a solo on the spot. It wasn’t easy.

With the album done, Mata Moska continued to rehearse weekly and play gigs, and I kept busy in school, juggling many responsibilities. I sometimes skipped rehearsal to write a paper or study for a test. Sometimes I just wanted to catch some extra sleep. When I was actually in the rehearsal room, I longed to go home, and I watched the clock, waiting for practice to end. The band was taking up a lot of time and I wasn’t even getting paid.

One night after rehearsal, Hector confronted me. What was going on? Why was I missing rehearsal so often? Was I going to continue with the band? I apologized, explaining how busy I was with school. But I was never sure if Hector and the rest of the band completely understood because they had already graduated.

Yet when I missed practice, I would be thinking about the band, wondering if they were practicing songs for the upcoming shows or writing new material. I had this blind faith that the band was going somewhere, and that kept me going.

I would have to say that 2003 was the biggest year for us. We released our EP album, De Verdad. We later recorded a split album with a punk band named Defied. Then Mata Moska was given what I saw as a chance of a lifetime—competing in the Budweiser "Battle of the Bands," for which the grand prize was a chance to record professionally.

Mata Moska and Left Alone were the headliners at the Roxy. Some fans have accused Mata Moska of selling out because they don't play as many backyard shows as they used to.

We never thought our demo would be selected out of the countless demos submitted. To prepare, we rehearsed hard, especially since music industry representatives would be there.

The show was held last September at The Avalon, formerly known as The Palace. Aside from competing, we were opening up for one of the most influential bands in Latin music, La Maldita Vecindad.

For the first time in over a year, I actually had stage fright. The sound system there heightened every single sound that was played into the microphone. I was afraid of letting my notes crack or hitting the wrong notes. My heart was pumping too fast to even feel it.

Once we got on stage, everything went great. We even had a pit going, unlike the two bands that came before us. After our set, we went to our backstage room, something we had never had to ourselves, full of excitement to have played such a good show. Months later, we received the news that we lost, but we weren’t disappointed because we knew it was an honor to play there.

Maybe fame lies ahead

Since then, we have had many more milestones, including playing in Mexico at the Fiestas del Sol, an annual music festival celebrating Latino musicians. We have played with Salon Victoria and Voodoo Glow Skulls, two bands that are well-known in the local scene. Using a small video camera, Padilla shot some footage of the band and edited it into a music video that’s now available on DVD. We were even highlighted in a short segment on "Off The Roof," on Mun2, a Latino TV channel. The best feeling came when record stores would call to ask for more of our CDs and tell us that lots of people were buying them.

With the success we have experienced, Mata Moska has moved out of the backyards and into the music scene. We worked hard for what we have now, but some people have actually labeled us as "sellouts," especially since we don’t play a lot of backyard shows anymore. It’s hard to hear that when the band has played more than 60 backyard gigs in the last two years.

I never take those comments seriously. I mean, we can’t be sellouts; we’re not played on the radio and we’re definitely not making big bucks. The beauty of being in a band is the mystery of the future, the long path that lies ahead before reaching major success. The whole point of music is to get it out and share it. Why would anyone want to hoard good music? If someone calls a band a sellout, that’s like saying, "Make music for me and only me."

So, what lies ahead for Mata Moska: A greatest hits album? A VH1 Behind the Music special? A headlining show at Madison Square Garden? Who knows?