Artist Spotlight: Duende & the Ecstasy of Performance

Photo by Audrey Rodriguez

Audrey Rodriguez

Contributing Writer

Santa Barbara-based rock group Duende consists of three members: guitarist and lead vocalist Arman Sanchez-Mohit, bassist Joel Jaffe, and drummer Matthew Swanson. They all hail from San Diego, and while Swanson dates the inception of their band to around June 2020, the trio’s chemistry is as if they had been playing together since they were in diapers. Walking into their Del Playa garage-turned-studio, their labor of love put into Duende is immediately apparent. They attribute their success to support from their families, fans, and those involved in the local music scene like sound engineer Jake Morenc. Whether they are on-stage or off, the passion they have for music and the love they feel for those who help them play. 

Before Duende, Sanchez-Mohit and Jaffe were also in a band together previously in San Diego, but the serendipity of all of their coming together to create art is reflected by the process through which they found their band name. All three mentioned Miles Davis as an early musical influence and, one day while watching a documentary about Davis, Sanchez-Mohit discovered duende. His uncle was passing by the TV when Carlos Santana described Miles Davis in an interview for the documentary as having “duende.” His uncle said Sanchez-Mohit’s paternal grandfather, a flamenco guitarist by trade and who he had never personally known, always used the word to describe other guitarists who “captured the attention and imagination of the crowd.” 

“When you look it up,” Sanchez-Mohit explained with pride in his voice, “it says it’s like a quality of passion and inspiration…duende is an elusive quality.”

When watching Duende play in Isla Vista and Santa Barbara, there really is the feeling of something more, something hard to describe. The members of Duende attribute this palpable care for the music they create to their hard work and the support of their loved ones. Swanson was thankful to their family and loved ones for having “always been so incredibly supportive” and “integral to Duende.” 

Sanchez-Morit’s mother even still has him “play some blues” whenever her friends drop by. They all cite their fathers as integral to the introduction to and fostering of their love of music, and jazz is the first genre of music that each of them became especially invested in. Duende has also led to the members connecting with new loved ones, with the band being the channel through which Swanson and Sanchez-Mohit met their current partners. 

The trio hope and intend to maintain their love of music and performing indefinitely, with the band proving to be as enduring as it is formative. All three artists see themselves continuing in music, hopefully professionally, but they are not opposed to “doing some odd jobs on the side,” as Swanson put it. They are so dedicated to their music that Sanchez-Mohit would travel to Santa Barbara from San Diego for every show they played as Duende when he had time off from school there. To this day, they spend an impressive amount of time practicing and playing, despite working and Jaffe being currently enrolled at UCSB. 

Jaffe believes the easiest way for those who are struggling to continue, begin, or restart playing music is “to start by playing to your friends, with your friends.” 

He clarifies that getting on stage should not necessarily be your first priority, but also encourages prospective musicians to not be intimidated. Joking, Jaffe remarked that prospective musicians should learn “50 minutes of cover songs with your friends, each on different instruments, and just pick your instrument by rolling dice or whatever; we’ll have you open for us.” 

Their view on music and its creation is distinctly communal, and they sometimes have unofficial jam sessions in their rehearsal space to this day.

Some UCSB students have expressed wishing for more punk, rock, and generally counter-culture acts to be promoted in Isla Vista to offer an alternative to the beachy-surfer-chill-pop that is more common locally. Jaffe and Sanchez-Mohit do not really see a “‘60s-level’” call for rock music, but Sanchez-Mohit has noticed “a huge amount of people that really appreciate that kind of music, but…[mostly] people wanting to have something to do.” However, if that is you, Duende encourages students to not let it stop them from attending one of their shows! 

Sanchez-Mohit sees their shows as an opportunity to be exposed to music you might not have heard before, to “hear some young people their age playing Rush, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix…[and to] have this new perspective on this music because there’s young people playing it.” 

Jaffe thinks part of establishing a “scene” akin to that of punk would be trying to facilitate a culture. It is, instead, important to Duende that their performances are not about a culture or a scene, but that it be entirely about music. Jaffe hopes that people would not feel discouraged from attending Duende’s shows from fear of cultivating or maintaining “some sense of identity other than the fact that they are a lover of music.” They hope to draw on influences from all musical genres to create the best musical performance they can and bring music lovers to music. Find Duende on Instagram at @duendelive and their Spotify, DUENDE. Their next show is Wednesday, March 1 at Sandbar in Santa Barbara. Come out and experience the ecstasy of music!