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They're A Midwest Retro-Soul Band And Generations Of LA Latinos Are Here For It

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Durand Jones & The Indications (via Twitter/@durand_jones)
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A retro-soul band from Bloomington, Indiana has developed a devoted following among Mexican-Americans in Southern California.

Members of Durand Jones & The Indications, which played The Regent in DTLA last month, said L.A. was actually the first city the band played outside of Bloomington, back in 2016 -- the year its debut album was released.

"We feel so embraced by the community out here," says Jones, the band's lead singer. "Especially the Chicano community. It's always heartfelt to be here, feels a little bit like a second home for [us]."

Drummer and vocalist Aaron Frazer said, "When you put out a record, it's really like a message in a bottle... over our performances in L.A., we've become more conscious of the fact that our music was reaching a working-class Latinx fan base, and doing more to speak to that fan base directly."

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Waiting in line for the Regent gig, 21-year-old Rogelio Bautista started talking about the first time he heard the band. "The first song I heard," he said, "was, 'Can't Keep My Cool,'... I really just like the old school vibe that they have, even though it's, like, modern-day music."

His friend, 19-year old Adriana Villavazo, told us the music "reminds me of hanging out with my stepmom ... she always listened to Brenton Wood. And I grew up loving him from a young age."

Bautista and Villavazo are part of the latest generation of Latinos to carry on the tradition of listening to oldies -- a popular canon of soul ballads, mainly from the 1960s, including artists such as Billy Stewart, Mary Wells and Barbara Mason. Durand Jones' music speaks directly to this homegrown nostalgia.

For example: the band's cover of the Smokey Robinson and The Miracles classic, "The Agony and the Ecstasy."

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"When we talked about doing [the song] for the first time, the worry was that people might not know it," Frazer says. "[But] out here on the West Coast, people start screaming and they sing word-for-word."

But it isn't just this song the fans sing along to.

As the band launched into "Is It Any Wonder?," Frazer shouted: "This is for all the lowriders out there."

People swayed side-by-side for this one, trying their best to mimic Frazer's pitch-perfect falsetto. This is the track that started the whole love affair with the Latino community on YouTube.

"That's when I started to realize that our music was reaching people in a way beyond what we could have anticipated," Frazer says.

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But how could they have anticipated? Outsiders have no idea that Latino families -- specifically, Chicanos -- have loved this music for decades.

"I have two of my uncles, two of my aunts and my girlfriend here with me," said fan Andrew Torres. "And my mom and my stepdad's inside. A lot my family listened to oldies and I never really listened to them 'til this band came up."

Torres points to his aunt, Frances Fernandez, and says: "She listens to oldies too."

"It's love music," Fernandez says. "It's sad music, but whether you're feeling down, it just brings a message to you. That's how I see oldies."

This emotional range that soul music captures is something that resonates with the band's frontman as well.

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"That's the beauty about soul music," Jones says. "It cries with you, it rejoices with you, it makes you want to dance and it can make you also think socially and consciously. And I feel like the lowrider community really embraces and encapsulate all those feelings."

Rodolfo Gonzalez is a fan and a barber who gave haircuts to Frazer and Jones' before the gig.

"They're keeping something alive that I think we all can relate to as Chicanos here in L.A.," Gonzalez says. "I just think music really has no color barrier. We're all gente, we all grind, and we're all trying to make a living in this world."

Frazer, who grew up as a Jewish kid in Baltimore, knows what Gonzalez means: "Soul music provides the opportunity for people from a lot of different backgrounds -- different socio-economic rungs -- to express their feelings in a very beautiful and dignified way. And this is a moment in our country where there are a lot of people who are not being treated with the dignity that we all deserve."

After the show, Frazer autographed a pair of brand-new Nike Cortez sneakers for a fan -- a small act, but a telling one. Here, soul music is creating not just an opportunity for emotional expression, but also one for cultural exchange, for community.

A version of this story aired on KPCC's The Frame. Listen here.