“One of my favorite Manu Chao songs is ‘Bienvenidos a Tijuana,’” says Santiago Orozco of reggae/Latin/acoustic group Todo Mundo.
“I love this song. It has a line that says, ‘I want to go to San Diego, but I can’t.’ And always this sentence was magic, like, ‘You should go there and check it out.’ Everybody thinks I’m crazy for that. But it’s the heart feelings. Signs.”
The Bogotá, Colombia native followed the signs to visit San Diego in 2008, playing on the streets of Ocean Beach with a Russian friend accompanying on hand drums.
“We played for three hours and made one dollar,” Orozco laughs as we drink sangria on the patio of El Camino in South Park.
Unfazed, the duo continued busking in the Gaslamp and at farmers’ markets in Ocean Beach, Little Italy, and Hillcrest.
“I saw people appreciating the music, giving tips. I said, man, I’m doing what I love. That was like a sign for me in my life. Playing in the streets was so magical for me. I start to meet people, a beautiful girl, everything was so happy. So I was tempted to stay.”
Returning home, Orozco founded Todo Mundo in Argentina in 2009. After several months, he ditched his cinematography career and decided to move the group to the U.S. However, no one could travel with him for lack of visas.
He arrived alone in San Diego in January 2010 and began working with Jake Sibley on the cajón (a Peruvian percussive box) and, later, fellow Colombian Fabio Alejo on keys.
Says Orozco , “The thing about live music is that it’s in the moment. I’m singing and I connect with you in the moment. The most sacred for me, more than anything, is the live music.”
The band is often seen busking around town. “For Todo Mundo, the street is the best school. In life, in music, the street is the best. You are naked there. People can think you are crazy. But it is there where you show what you are, just what you have. The street taught me a lot, and the most, most important thing: the connection with people. Todo Mundo means everybody together. It’s a movement to bring a lot of people together and see that we are just one in this life. If you talk to the people in the band, all they want is to make people dance. If we can make you forget your worries, we are doing a good job.”
The band also includes Latin jazz trumpeter (and former police officer) Melissa Mejia. “Some people are, like, ‘Can you write off my ticket?’ I’m not a cop anymore. I’m a civilian now. But some people think that even though I resigned [from the San Diego Police Department], they still think that I have these abilities.”
Mejia says that after six months of intensive training and a month on patrol, she came to a simple conclusion. “The job wasn’t for me.” The Oberlin College music grad quit without a backup plan, so she filled her days practicing trumpet. She practiced in her car so as not to disturb the neighbors in the Rancho Peñasquitos apartment complex where she lives with her husband.
“I began to pray. And I wrote out my goals on three-by-five cards. And I went on a two-day mini fast to be better able to hear where I was supposed to go. It was a big decision,” she says. “I didn’t have a job anymore.”
A week later, Mejia, who says she had dreamed of performing in a Latin band for years, got an inspiration. It came in the form of a whim to cruise craigslist. “I typed in one word: trumpet.” An ad came up from a Latin band that was looking for a female trumpet player. “It was crazy,” she says. “The ad had posted just two hours earlier.”
“The first day we all played [together] was in a bar.” Orozco says of jamming with Mejia at Bar Dynamite. “It was just amazing,” he says, his accent heavy as he searches for the proper words. “The thing she was doing, was...like I told her — where you have been for my life?”
“When I answered the ad,” Mejia says, “they didn’t know I’d been a cop and hadn’t played for seven months.”
How did that work out in the beginning? “For me it was a surprise,” says Orozco. “I was always looking at the police like aliens. Not in my world. It was different,” he says. “Now I’m playing with an ex-police. But in the end, it was cool.” Later he will say, “Now the police are my friends.”
Mejia says the musician’s life is a fit. But once a cop, always a cop? Mejia considers the question for a moment. “We played downtown and I told a guy I used to be a police officer, and he was, like, whoa! Some people do have that kind of reaction.”
Their Organic Fire album won Best World Music Album at the 2011 San Diego Music Awards. By 2012, recording commercial jingles has become another good way for the band to help pay their bills. In 2012, they were one of five local artists asked to record a 60-second spot for “Movin’ and Groovin,’” a TV and radio ad campaign created and paid for by the Metro Transit System (MTS) to get San Diegans to appreciate public transportation.
Vokab Kompany, Buck-O-Nine, the Kneehighs, Ron Fountenberry, and Todo Mundo were each paid a flat fee of $1500 for their jingle, and MTS has the rights to each jingle for three years.
In October 2014, Todo Mundo won Best World Music at the San Diego Music Awards. A few years later, Santiago Orozco relocated to Los Angeles and essentially recast the band as Within.