After having spent the day driving to Rhode Island from Waltham, Massachusetts, setting up their instruments and mics, and prepping for the show,  the members of Olas de Surya sit in the greenroom of Fete Music Hall and scramble to complete their homework before their set begins at 7 p.m. Though this night’s performance is a huge step for the band, they can’t forget to study for their upcoming midterm exams. Despite their academic commitments, the members of the band make the time to play together.

Olas de Surya is a completely people of color band that is comprised of five Brandeis undergrad students and one alum from the class of 2023.

The College Band Showcase, organized by Grrrl at The Rock Show Productions opened with Olas de Surya on Oct. 8, followed by three bands from universities in Rhode Island. 

“Hey, we are Olas de Surya! Thanks for coming, everyone,” Marco Ferral Hernandez ’25, the lead singer and creator of the band, called out to the modest audience. 

Ferral thanked the audience for attending and explained that the band, since its inception in December 2022, has performed covers of alternative and rock bands’ songs from across Latin America, “but tonight we’ll debut our first two original singles. Hope you like it.”

As the last syllable of appreciation exits Ferral’s mouth, the band explodes and begins playing their first of three cover songs.

The intimate and dimly lit venue, adorned with shades of blue and pink lighting, was set ablaze as the band erupted. The first of three lead singers, Ferral screams the lyrics fervently into the microphone as he played guitar. As the performance continued, two other members of the band — Vaishnavi Bulusu ’24 and Ana Loza ’24 — stepped away from their respective instruments to sing a cover. While backing away from the microphone, Ferral expertly timed a seamless transition while he effortlessly continued playing guitar. 

The music resonated with the spirit of youthful grunge rock, yet it carried a surprisingly calming and feel-good quality. The band’s energetic chords and raw, raspy vocals were juxtaposed with a certain melodic serenity, creating a unique blend. Though the songs were sung entirely in Spanish, non-Spanish speakers could easily connect with the music through the band’s passionate performance. 

The raw emotion and intensity of the lead singers, combined with the band’s tight-knit synergy, transcended language barriers. The gritty guitar riffs by Ferral, Juan Jimenez ’24, and Nathalie Vieux-Gresham ’23, and intense drumming by Christopher Li ‘24, were anchored by soothing undertones from Bulusu’s performance on piano and Loza’s bass harmonies, leaving the audience with a sense of invigoration and nostalgia. 

A unified energy filled the intimate venue as cheers, applause, and swaying bodies celebrated the universal connection forged through the music. As they swayed, their faces were lit by the blue and pink stage lights. Cheers, claps, and a sea of smiles illuminated the intimate venue, creating an electric atmosphere of togetherness. 

After setting the stage and audience alight, Ferral re-announced that this showcase will debut the band’s first two original singles — “7 am” and “Entre Amigos y Enemigos.”

After stepping off stage Ferral noted the experience as surreal, “It’s hard to believe! Sometimes I’ll write a song and it’s on the computer. But now it’s finally like being in front of people with instruments.”

Ferral’s love for music was passed down through generations, starting with his grandfather, who found solace in music after a challenging upbringing in an orphanage. His grandfather’s passion inspired Ferral’s mother and in turn Ferral himself. He says, “When I’m making music and trying to come up with things, I always think about my grandpa because he was always doing his thing and it saved his life.” The profound influence of his family’s musical tradition became the driving force behind Ferral’s determination to create a band that celebrates their diverse backgrounds.

Like his grandfather, Ferral found his entire life centered around his love for music. “I hear it all around me and I feel it in my body. It’s hard to describe to non-artists how it feels to have an itch to create something.” This all informed Ferral’s desire to begin a band surrounded by like-minded artists. 

Though Olas de Surya officially formed less than a year ago, Ferral’s journey to create a band began much earlier, back when he was in middle school in Georgia. He carried that dream to Brandeis but initially focused on honing his musical skills through formal education. It wasn’t until he felt confident enough that he started assembling his bandmates.

“I was trying to catch up with everybody else in my music courses when I started here,” Ferral recalls. 

Fall 2022 marked the turning point. Ferral’s search for like-minded musicians led him to each band member. He saw Juan Jimenez playing guitar at a campus event and thought, “Oh, he plays it pretty well — and he’s performing the music that I wanted to do!” Other members were recruited similarly, either by watching them perform or through social media.

Drummer Christopher Li, known as Barleyanygood in his solo projects, joined when Ferral reached out via Instagram. Li initially had no plans to continue drumming, but Ferral’s passion and ambition drew him in. He appreciated Ferral’s leadership, describing him as “the nicest person” and “humble, even though he’s a great musician.”

“I think it was Fall 2022, during a campus event I first saw Juan playing his guitar by himself. Since I saw he was like a hispanic dude, I thought maybe he would be interested in joining a Spanish Rock band.”

“Olas de Surya just could not exist without Marco,” says Li. Li notes this, not only because Ferral assembled the band, but also because he is the main composer and songwriter for the group. 

Li mentioned that he had no plans of continuing drumming, much less joining a band after he began college. “But Marco found me and reached out on Instagram and pulled me in.” Initially Li was apprehensive to commit himself to the project, but after Ferral invited him to sit in on the group’s practice, he became the last member to join. 

As Ferral assembled his band, they unintentionally became made up entirely of POC. Ferral explains, “I was hoping that the group would be made up of people who would be open to not just music in English or conventional Western rhythms, so it just sort of happened that we were all POC.”

In using rhythms organized in eight counts rather than the traditional Western “4/4” time signature, Olas de Surya’s multicultural lineup fosters a creative atmosphere where members can break convention and incorporate their cultural roots into their performances. While this approach has been embraced by many, the band has faced challenges when performing at Brandeis due to its predominantly non-Hispanic student body, with 42% white and only 7.5% Latinx/Hispanic students.

“Sometimes the people we perform in front of are not that excited to see us,” Ferral says. “During our earlier performance, I noticed that some people would only show up because we were POC but would immediately tune out when we began speaking Spanish and not catering to them.” However, Ferral is determined to make their sound accessible on the East Coast and not conform to the perception that Spanish music belongs exclusively to the West Coast.

Even with the general Brandeis community struggling to connect with the band’s music at times, there are a handful that make the effort to see Olas de Surya and connect across the language barrier. “On our campus we’re the only BIPOC band that I know of, and there’s just this warmth and support that our audience brings to us that really carries us as a band,” Li noted after their performance in Fete Music Hall.

Almost half the audience followed Olas de Surya from Waltham to Rhode Island to see their performance and hear their debut singles. The audience, the band, and Ferral all share passion for the group’s future. 

The band’s dedication is evident. They’re willing to carve out time in their school and work schedules to spend weeks practicing in preparation for performances, doing homework in green rooms — and in the case of Vieux-Gresham, also altering a post collegiate career in order to make time to perform with her group. “I didn’t know what my relationship with a band would be like considering I was the only person that graduated. I even took a hybrid job that allows me to come up on some weekends,” she said.

The band is also incredibly grateful toward their dedicated supporters, which Li referred to as “the friends and family that come to see us.”

Though the band occasionally experiences instances of microaggressions from some audiences, there are people willing to try to understand their vision. 

One audience member, Sydney Schur ’25, stated, “Though I don’t speak Spanish, I think they’re unbelievably talented and their combination of talents and devotion to putting in time to this band is unbelievable. I’m such a strong supporter of them; I’ve been to every single performance.”

In less than a year, Olas de Surya has grown from small campus gigs to opening for established bands, performing out of state, debuting on the radio, and planning to release their debut studio album in late spring 2024. Their ultimate goal is to create music that reflects their cultural experiences, sharing their stories with a wider audience.

Ferral sums it up saying, “I hear it all around me, and I feel it in my body. It’s hard to describe to non-artists how it feels to have an itch to create something. I think overall, the mission of Olas de Surya would be ‘Sharing our stories with other people,’ because we come from different backgrounds and we’re all trying to connect to our respective roots and show people where we come from.”