Tarek Limas well-timed the opening of his Mods Bar and Venue three years ago in Tijuana. Limas, one of the three original members of the Tijuana based ska/punk band Los Kung Fu Monkeys, re-imagined the bar that previously had a prison motif and presented mostly metal bands. The redesigned Mods Bar was a salute to the mod/ska/soul explosion of the 60s and 70s.
The Mods Bar opened just as Tijuana’s music scene started thriving again. “We had bands come in from Europe, Canada, and Guatemala,” says Limas. “[San Diego’s] Buck-O-Nine sold it out. Greg Hetson of Bad Religion played there.”
But Limas says Mods folded when he and his business partner disagreed on whether the bar in the Zona Rio district should be a music venue or just a bar without bands. “My partner bought me out. Right now it’s closed.”
Happily, TJ’s music scene and Los Kung Fu Monkeys are anything but dormant.
“Whoever thought Megadeth and all those big bands would come to Tijuana after all these years?” asks Limas about the three-day Fronterizo Fest at Estadio Caliente (April 27-29). The Scorpions and Suicidal Tendencies are also on the bill, which could bring over 10,000 fans a day to the venue formerly known as Agua Caliente Racetrack. “It shows Tijuana is relevant again and really opening up.”
“We’d like to see Iguanas come back,” says singer Bernie Leos, who co-founded Los Kung Fu Monkeys in 1997 with Limas and Limas’ brother bassist Hassan. They all recall when the TJ-based Iguanas hosted such major headliners as the Ramones, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Bad Religion during its ’89-’94 existence. “You know, back when bands would play Tijuana and not San Diego,” adds Leos.
Los Kung Fu Monkeys thrived during what Limas calls Tijuana’s “huge ska outbreak” of 1999-2002. They were the first Mexican band without a major label to get booked on the Warped Tour, and have played a total of 17 different countries on three continents. “We toured Australia last year,” says Leos. “We never stopped playing. And you could say we’re on a roll right now.”
The Monkeys played April 7 at the sold out Sabroso festival at Doheny State Beach with the Offspring, Vandals, Pennywise, and Unwritten Law. “There were like 15,000 people there,” says Limas. Upcoming Sabrosa Fest tour dates include stops in Denver, Sacramento, Portland, Albuquerque, and Auburn, Washington. “We go on a big U.S. tour with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in June and July,” Leos tells the Reader.
“Ska is not getting a lot of radio airplay but there is still a big live fan base. Fishbone just got back together with all original members, and [U.K.’s] Madness just put out a new album.”
Adds Leos, “Some of the biggest bands in Latin America like Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Panteon Rococo are ska,”
But while the Monkeys’ gigs have never been better, Leos admits it’s not easy to make a lot of dough as a seven-member ska band. Their financial ace in the hole: their monkey logo.
“We don’t always make a lot money playing, but we’ve always been able to compensate with our merchandise sales,” Leos explains. “We were the smallest band at the Sabroso festival, but our T-shirts would sell out. I keep hearing comments like ‘I just saw someone in Hawaii wear one of your shirts.’”
Los Kung Fu Monkeys appear Friday, May 6 at the Soda Bar with Unsteady and Marujah.