On a sunny summer day in Morro Bay (yes, it does exist) two members of the Zongo All-Stars are preparing to set sail.
With an interviewer along for the ride, trumpet player Paul Irving and saxophonist/ flautist/singer Drew Wise are talking about their second annual Zongo Yachting Cup and Beach Party, a boat race that begins in Morro Bay tomorrow and ends in Avila Beach just in time for a Zongo jam.
The percussion-and horn-heavy seven-piece band performs what it calls CaliCubano music, dance-friendly jams inspired by African and Latin styles.
Irving, who once taught sailing, and Wise, who was motivated to sail by Irving, first met in their band Mozaic in the ’90s. When some members of the band left for school, the band split for a decade. But when the students returned, the band reformed as Zongo All-Stars in 2007. They’ve been a popular local band ever since, recently performing at the Concerts in the Plaza series in San Luis Obispo.
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Their boat race could see so many boats participating, it could make it the largest boat race ever held in the county. Some participants are also offering free rides to the general public. (Those interested in racing or riding should e-mail Irving, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Gliding toward the Back Bay in Irving’s 21-foot boat, the two Los Osos sailors are excited about tomorrow’s event, which could see up to 25 boats anchoring in for the show.
Q: Do you ever actually bring the horns on the boat?
Paul Irving: The Zongo band was actually born on boats. Because when Drew and I started to put the project together, I was living on sailboats out here, and we used to come out here and process all the music and work out all the arrangements and the horns in the boat.
Q: What got you into sailing?
PI: When I was at Boy Scout camp up at Shaver Lake, they let us play with these little sunfishes, and I just got a kick out of it. It was nice to be able to unplug from the land. I mean —how peaceful is this right now?
Drew Wise: I think the prettiest views of our neighborhood are from out at sea. When you get out there on the outside and look at Morro Bay, it fits in the palm of your hand. It’s beautiful — all these trees, all these little mountains.
Q: How often do you go out?
PI: We’ve been a little bit busy, but in regular times, we’ll take this thing out three or four times a week.
Q: What’s a better sailing song — “Come Sail Away” (by Styx) or “Southern Cross” (by Crosby, Stills & Nash)?
DW: Both classics! We have an original called “Smooth Sailing.”
Q: What’s the farthest you guys have gone sailing?
PI: We crew on a 44-foot boat, both of us. I’ve been on that same boat 15 or 16 years, Drew’s been on maybe 10. For a long time,
our big annual trip on that boat has been to take it down to do the Newport-to-Ensenada race, which is the biggest race on the West Coast.
Q: Do you often come here over your lunch break and sail around?
PI: No, because I work in Osos. But what I do is after work, I’ll come out here and pop out a sail.
DW: Paul will give me a call any time: “See you over in Morro Bay in 15 minutes?”
PI: He’s very good at being on-hand crew at the drop of a hat.
Q: You guys ever wear a captain’s hat like Daryl from Captain & Tennille?
PI: We’ve got watch caps. Beanies.
Q: Drew, you write all the songs. How does that work?
DW: I come with horn lines, some flute. Give the flute a part, give the horns a part and some vocals, and the basic melodic structure and all of that. I just come and plant the seed, and the rest of the band makes it something astronomically greater than you would ever think. And even once you have the song and the whole band knows what it is, you go out and perform it and allow it to breathe and open up — it gets to levels and goes places you couldn’t have planned. We don’t mind just letting that wild horse run.
Q: You guys led a parade after the Concerts in the Plaza show. Did you feel like the pied piper doing that?
DW: Definitely. When you give the people the slightest chance to loosen up and have some fun, you can trust the people every time. You just have to offer the catalyst.
PI: We like to instigate people to try to do something different.
Q: What was the hardest thing about living on a boat?
PI: Getting the lady to spend the night. I got my girlfriend to come out like two nights a week. It was definitely not chock full of creature comforts. One thing I did like about it is when I did live on a sailboat, my entire monthly budget was less than $600.