"Boomroots took flight in 2010," Mark J Ortiz says. The band's lead singer sits in the SFR conference room in a Star Wars hoodie and glasses. It's a rare day off for Ortiz, who works for the New Mexico Black Car Service, the closest thing we have to a traditional taxi company.
"Or maybe it was 2009?" he continues. "That was the beginning stages—I'd had a band called Rubixzu, a solo project, just my material. I'd released three solo albums by that time, and I had never intended to take the material to the stage note for note."
And yet he did—but that's only a small part of the story. Boomroots Collective, of course, became more of a collaborative effort with musicians and vocalists John Simmons, Rama Kim, Alberto Zalma and Bob Witsenhausen. It's easiest to describe the sound as a coming-together of reggae, rock and hip-hop, with Ortiz both rapping and singing at center stage, but it's hardly fair to categorize it so simply. Each member contributes to the music, each fleshes out the others' songs, and members like Mr. Kali or Sol Bentley pop in from time to time to add further flavor.
The band really lives up to that "collective" in the moniker. Ortiz is proud of that part, as well he should be; many bands who welcome peripheral members into the fray fall victim to chaos. Boomroots does not, however, and it has grown into one of Santa Fe's most consistent bands with some of the most consistently attended events.
It's a far cry from Ortiz' first forays into music in the early 1990s. He says overhearing a classmate recite lyrics from a 2 Live Crew song in middle school was his first exposure to hip-hop, and that it began a love affair he continues to this day.
"At that time, too, there was this guy Sean Trujillo who had this group Swift Hype, and that was the first hip-hop crew in Santa Fe that had shows," Ortiz recalls. "And I was getting into the DJ scene—back then it was hard to find hip-hop records, but you could sometimes if you went to Albuquerque."
Ortiz describes a time wherein a cobbled-together turntable rig and a rented PA system from The Candyman made him the hit of house parties.
"I started with my turntables. And these were not nice, like, Technics," Ortiz says, "and I'd write rhymes and songs and have my friend David Tafoya rap over that. I started getting a name for myself as a DJ, and that went on through high school."
Eventually Ortiz would attend a show with a new local hip-hop group called Coco Boom. According to Ortiz, the group's DJ was a bit of a fraud who didn't actually mix and scratch live. Ortiz told frontman Manuel Sanchez as much, and was thus enlisted as a new member. The pair would continue playing shows and parties together until a fateful performance on the Plaza found Sanchez crippled by stage fright and Ortiz rocking the mic with his freestyle skills.
"That was the moment," Ortiz explains, a gleam in his eye. "That was the moment when I first grabbed the mic and got in front of people. … When you get that feedback, when the song ends and everyone is cheering—that moment filled me."
With his newfound affinity for performance, Ortiz would join local groups like La Connecta as an MC and DJ, but it wasn't until 1995 that he'd co-found the legendary Santa Fe hip-hop act Unknown alongside Bentley, brothers Dahvin and Daniel Bugas, and Sebastian Gordon, who died in 2011. It remains one of the most artistically significant experiences of Ortiz' life.
"When I realized what they were writing about—spiritual, conscious lyrics and real-world stuff—that changed me as a writer," he says. "I was this hard-edged guy, but I became a conscious MC at that point; Unknown transformed me into positive energy."
Unknown would self-release a couple albums and dabble in touring, but its members ultimately scattered to other projects. Ortiz kept the lessons, though, and uses them with Boomroots Collective to this day.
"What we do is positive impact and bringing the community together," he says. "At this point, it's not about reggae, it's not about hip-hop or funk or rock. My journey was really jump-started by hip-hop, but we're a fusion and the sound's so much bigger now. We give all the energy we have; we work hard at what we do."
Find Boomroots Collective in Santa Fe twice this week and indulge some in Ortiz' fabled history. He's about as puro Santa Fe as it gets, folks.
9 pm Wednesday Nov. 21. Free.
The Draft Station,
Santa Fe Arcade,
60 E San Francisco St.,
10 pm Saturday Nov. 24. Free.
530 S Guadalupe St.,