By Alexandra Lucia-Miller
From humble roots as a second-generation Dominican-American, Connecticut native Daniel DelaCruz has transformed into one of the leading saxophone players of his generation in a internationally recognized band.
His group Slightly Stoopid is an Ocean Beach, San Diego based reggae/funk/blues/hip-hop band, with an ever-growing base of “Stoopidhead” followers. They’ve been together since 1995 and the new “Top of the World” album was released this Aug. 14, 2012 and features songs with reggae legends Barrington Levy and Don Carlos.
DelaCruz, who grew up in Colchester, traces his earliest recollections of family visits to the Dominican Republic and New York, learning Spanish, and musical influence. His Latin heritage is front and center.
“Spanish was my father’s first language. We were close to our Dominican side of the family in New York … and my uncles lived in Washington Heights, in Dyckman. They loved us and were great to their families, but being broke, not from this country, and migrating to New York City when they were young … they did what they had to do to survive.” His grandparents raised his father, uncles, and aunts during the tumultuous and bloody reign of General Trujillo, who DelaCruz refers to as pretty “gnarly.”
One of DelaCruz’s fondest memories is picking up groceries for a favorite uncle. “I used to go to a place on 173rd and St. Nicks St.,” he recollects.
“I’m here to pick up a box for my uncle?…”
“Oh, are you Chavo’s nephew?” DelaCruz quipped, imitating the man asking the question.
“He changed his tune really quick and started pulling everything off of the shelf. That’s pride.” He excitedly laughs so hard he has to clear his throat, reliving the adoration he felt for his struggling family who were just trying to live the American Dream.
Looking back on his early musical influences, Latin music was crucial to his development. “Latino music is island music, so I’d say they’re all very closely related and a derivative of African Slave music. There’s a lot of natural rhythm, so I think it’s impossible for it to not affect how I play; my dad had us listening to Tito Puente, and Gato Baribieri, who is an Argentinian saxophone player. Latin music is so rich, there’s so much … great rhythmic ideas, melodic ideas and great songs. I definitely think it has influenced me.”
Growing up with such a strong musical influence, DelaCruz was steered directly into reggae music, playing with a merengue band, Doble Bombazo, with Chico Mendoza, John Brown’s Body, and straight into the spotlight with Slightly Stoopid. As he continues to develop new sounds and arrangements, he never ventures far from his roots.
“Even now, we’re covering Suavemente and working on this Elvis Crespo joint for an electronic project for a club gig that we mash up live with some instrumentation, you know it’s me … RyMo, and a DJ and it’s blended with a drum track, so I definitely try to incorporate that where it’s appropriate, but again, I AM Latino so it’s a part of me.”
While fond musical and familial memories remain, DelaCruz still longs to revisit the Dominican Republic.
“I would love to go back now. I’ve got tons of tios. My abuelita is 104. I hope we can all go (referring to his new family); that would be great. My great grandmother, she used to live in a cane field. She had to sleep in a bed in a mosquito net. She would go out back and pick a piece (of cane) and snack on it whenever she wanted.”
He also cherishes his memories of picking up yucca, sipping presidente, dancing all night to merengue music, and craving the tastes of his great grandmother’s tostones with maduros y platanos, pastelitos de carne. “I can make some mean rice and beans with chicken and get the crunchy Con Con going at the bottom of the pan, but I’d never make it in front of my great grandmother. Daaaannnyyyy … bandiiiddddoooo,” he smiles uncontrollably and slowly howls, “That was her nickname for me. She’d yell at me and tell me I was doing it all wrong.”
With the same skill and care that his great grandmother used to create delectable recipes from the Dominican Republic, DelaCruz crafts his own style and unique vibes that have amplified the evolution, success and beachy sounds of Slightly Stoopid.
“Music is life … in particular, it’s your life. So whoever is playing it, it’s reflected: that’s who you are. So, of course, it’s going to come out in what you play and lead to your decisions as a musician.”
You can check out Slightly Stoopid’s website for tour information and videos and news of their 2012 album: Top of the World
They kick off their Winter 2013 tour on Jan. 9, 2013 at the Sunshine Theater in Albuquerque, N.M.
View a video of Devil’s Door below.
By Alexandra Lucia-Miller