Former Santa Fe musician Raul Ugalde passed away due to undisclosed causes Oct. 22 in Portland, Ore. Ugalde was best- known as co-founder of music venue Halfrack and as front man for Caguama, a rock/punk band steeped in traditional Mexican music. Ugalde’s death has left Santa Feans, near and far, reeling.
According to fellow musician, longtime Ugalde friend and D Numbers percussionist Paul Feathericci, “Raul was the complete package…so dedicated to local music and music as a whole. I remember, when he came to [College of Santa Fe] and I saw him play music for the first time, I thought, ‘Wow, this is some excellent new blood to have around.’ He will be dearly missed.”
In the early 2000s, Ugalde, along with close friend and future bandmate Antoine Erhardt, began Halfrack, what would become one of the most important, independently run all-ages music venues in Santa Fe history. Halfrack hosted countless local and national acts, packed dance parties and DJ nights, and catered to a slightly older crowd than Warehouse 21. Eventually, it didn’t even matter what was billed—if there was a show at Halfrack, you went.
“Halfrack was our baby,” Erhardt says. “We’d go broke trying to get bands to come and to get all the proper gear. The whole purpose was having great music and having a great time. It’s amazing to know people still think about it, and to learn what an impression it made.”
Years later, people like my friends and me still reminisce about the incredible shows at Halfrack. More than any other Santa Fe venue, the space spawned friendships and bandships that continue to this day. Nationally touring Indie/Balkan band Beirut, for instance, played some of its earliest shows at Halfrack.
“Raul was always so encouraging and enthusiastic about musicians like myself or other local and touring bands,” Paul Collins, Beirut bassist and Soft Landing singer, says. “He was just such a cool guy and always willing to help facilitate local bands’ growth. And Halfrack was such a great melting pot for musicians. Every band I played in, be it 1-800-CAVEMAN or Beirut or Ping-Pong, our first shows were always at Halfrack, and that was always thanks to Raul.”
It was at Halfrack that Ugalde and Erhardt’s band, Caguama, formed. A last-minute decision to round out a sparse bill, the musicians played in luchador masks and revealed their true identities only when the show ended. Mixing punk and rock with traditional Mexican folk and norteño, Caguama was truly special and unlike anything Santa Fe had at the time. To this day, no band has come close to Caguama’s wholly original style.
In 2007, Halfrack closed when Ugalde and Erhardt moved to Portland to take Caguama to the next level. Rounding out with Freddy Trujillo on bass and Esteban Mendez on accordion and keyboard, Caguama fine-tuned its sound and grew into a full-fledged phenomenon. With its popularity in the Northwest rising, the band was picked up in 2009 by Portland imprint The Union Records. In 2010, it released a self-titled debut, a brilliant love letter to the band’s broad influences.
Lo-fi, raw and beautifully layered, Caguama is a rare treasure that somehow mixes several genres without becoming muddy. Ugalde sings both in Spanish and English, in fluid homage to his roots. His bilingualism also conveys the band’s ability to encompass the music of its heritage while living in the present and looking to the future.
From the influential work he did within the local scene to the many lasting friendships he forged along the way, Raul Ugalde will be remembered by the Santa Fe rock scene as a quietly brilliant man. He influenced a generation of musicians, perhaps even more than he himself knew.
“It’s been hitting me really hard because Raul was so joyous,” Erhardt adds. “There will be a noticeable silence and absence, but a person with that much vitality is immortal.”
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