This article appears in FLOOD 12: The Los Angeles Issue. You can purchase this special 232-page print edition celebrating the people, places, music and art of LA here.
Deep within the psychedelic cumbia sounds of Cuco (a.k.a. singer-songwriter Omar Banos), you can hear something of his life in LA’s South Bay. It’s a feeling he describes as being “like the sweet void of being under the sun, feeling groggy.”
Despite a career that’s already earned critical acclaim, and sent him touring everywhere from the Coachella Valley to Europe and South America, Cuco spends most of his time somewhere close to Hawthorne Boulevard, where he’s lived most of his life. “I’m pretty lazy, honestly,” he says. “My favorite spot is my house. You’ve also got Inglewood, you’ve got Lennox, you’ve got Torrance—I grew up out here and it’s just a cool area. It's like LA outside of LA. You have the beaches and everything. It's a unique vibe and it's not so flooded [with people].”
He grew up in Hawthorne, regularly hit Eucalyptus Park and other local skate spots, and discovered his love for music early, playing a wide range of sounds: jazz, metal, rock, and psychedelic indie. His own music is deeply felt and spacey, with Spanglish lyrics and gentle hooks. “Under the Sun,” which he performed on an October appearance of Late Night with Seth Meyers, offers a dazzling, hypnotic preview of his upcoming sophomore album Fantasy Gateway, the next chapter in a career self-created through bedroom recordings and a series of EPs, singles (including the head-turning “Lo Que Siento”), and his seductive and broken-hearted debut album, 2019’s Para Mi. It’s all part of a local tradition for this self-described hardcore music fan.
“I grew up out here and it’s just a cool area. It's like LA outside of LA. You have the beaches and everything. It's a unique vibe and it's not so flooded with people.”
“A lot of really crazy things came out of South Bay music-wise—Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, Black Flag, and Tyler, the Creator,” says Cuco. He was shocked to discover that one of his more obscure faves, the tragic pop maestro Emitt Rhodes, who was once nicknamed “the one-man Beatles,” spent most of his life here, too, until his death in 2020. “It was really random finding out that Emitt Rhodes is from out here because he was somebody who I listened to. It’s cool.”
Not surprisingly, then, a perfect day in LA for Cuco starts right here in Lawndale, where he’s come once again to a Hawthorne Boulevard mini-mall for a favorite meal of lomo saltado at the Peruvian restaurant El Pollo Inka. “I definitely get it at least once or twice a month,” he admits of the savory dish of beef with sautéed onions, tomatoes, and cilantro along with fries, garlic rice, and a bottle of Peruvian beer. “This is actually my second time this week getting it.”
He’ll often make the drive into Hollywood or Downtown LA to work in a studio or do his regular workout with a trainer, but then it’s back home to chill out with video games, drink with friends, or have a night out for a favorite pastime: bowling. He’ll usually spend hours at Gable House Bowl in Torrance. “I have my own bowling ball,” he says. “I like the lanes and the way they’re oiled.”
“A lot of really crazy things came out of South Bay music-wise—Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, Black Flag, and Tyler, the Creator.”
When the game is less important than the hang, Cuco might end up at Palos Verdes Bowl, also in Torrance, where music and food is a prominent feature. At home, he’s got a pool table; and wherever he is, a soccer ball is kept nearby to kick around during breaks from recording. “That’s how my days go. It’s pretty random, but those are, like, the three activities: soccer, bowling, pool,” he explains.
Since graduating from Hawthorne High, and stepping up from a skateboard to a car, Cuco has had the whole city at his disposal. “It’s really wherever the day takes me. But I think at the end of the day, I like being home.” FL