They sing in Spanish.

Their Saukville and Port fans don’t get the words but they love the sound.
Ozaukee Press staff

Growing up in El Savador, Oscar Juárez Buendia remembers it was common for families to sing and play instruments in church.

Oscar, who lives in Saukville with wife Michelle and two children, is a self-taught guitar player and wanted his family to follow the musical traditions of his homeland. His son and daughter are making that happen.

Oliver Juárez Wunderlin, a 2022 Port High School graduate, plays accordion and is the family band’s lead singer, and his sister Allison, a 2020 Port High grad, plays guitar and sings harmony.

The family formed the band Los Balsameros and has regularly performed at the Mexican Firehouse Restaurant in Saukville and will play a concert at the bandshell in Port Washington’s Veterans Park on at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31.

“I really admired how Oliver got good at singing and playing the accordion, and Allison has a beautiful voice to do the harmony,” Oscar said.

“I really love it, and I’m blessed.”

The band came together last year. Oscar grew up listening to norteña music, a type of folk or polka music from northern Mexico. He asked his son to listen to it, and they ended up playing together. Allison soon joined in, as well as one of Oliver’s friends, Joseph D’Acquisto, a 2021 Port High grad who collects eclectic instruments and plays tenor saxophone in the band.

Los Balsameros spent time practicing during long weekends last summer, fitting in time around Oscar’s busy schedule as a truck driver. The three family members can play by ear but don’t read sheet music. D’Acquisto prefers to read sheet music.

“When we’re in good practice we have all our stuff memorized,” D’Acquisto said.

Music has been an interest of Oliver’s for years. He taught himself how to play the piano, then a piano accordion he received in 2012, then he switched to a diatonic button accordion he learned via an app. He also played sousaphone and tuba in the Port High band.

“His voice is so perfect for the music,” Oscar said of his son. 

Allison already knew how to sing. She is majoring in vocal performance and biology at Lawrence University. She quickly added an instrument to her repertoire.

“They needed a bass player and I’m not a bass player. I took a guitar class,” she said.

Lyrics for all the band’s songs are in Spanish, which creates a unique scenario.

“These two don’t speak Spanish regularly, but people can’t tell the difference,” D’Acquisto said of Oliver and Allison.

Oscar plays a 10-string guitar, louder than the five-string versions. Adding D’Acquisto’s saxophone makes the group rare for U.S. versions of norteña bands.

D’Acquisto, too, comes from a musical background. His father owned a karaoke business in the 1990s and played drums. While D’Acquisto played saxophone solos during rock songs, his father was “singing at the top of his lungs, and I do mean at the top of his lungs,” his son said.

D’Acquisto said he doesn’t sing, but his talent on saxophone stood out in high school.

“The band director was always critiquing everyone but me for not practicing at home,” he said. “I don’t practice, either.”

He started playing saxophone because “I wanted to sit next to my friend,” he said.

“I guess the moral of the story is to take those leaps.”

Los Balsameros’ took its leap by asking restaurants if they wanted a band to play. The owner of the Mexican Firehouse agreed, but he wanted to hear them first. He invited them to play at his sister’s Fourth of July party.

Los Balsameros was an instant hit.

“After we were playing for a couple of hours, they didn’t want us to leave,” Allison said. “It was a crazy experience.”

They landed two more gigs from that performance, and they soon were playing at the Mexican Firehouse twice per month. It was a little different than practicing.

“I really liked it but I felt kind of nervous,” Oscar said of the first session, but added he felt great when people cheered.

The restaurant owner offered to pay the band members, but they declined. A tip jar did the trick.

D’Acquisto loved the camaraderie so much he worked as a waiter at the restaurant for awhile. The owner asked him to teach him to play saxophone.

They are the only band in the area playing norteña music. People can dance and drink to the tunes.

“It’s fun music,” Oliver said.

Their enjoyment in performing runs the gamut.

“I like seeing how we make people feel,” Oscar said.

The makeup of the audience matters. Hispanic audiences, such as the one at the Fourth of July party, know the music but American crowds aren’t familiar with it.“No matter their background, they enjoy what we play,” Oscar said.

The band adds songs to its growing binder by listening to new music. Oliver can quickly play pieces by ear on his accordion, then the others figure out their parts.

“That’s how it goes. We listen to a song and we copy it,” Oscar said.

Their first song was “El Chubasco,” which means shower or squall. It’s about a man whose love Lupita is leaving on a ship and he hopes a storm stops the trip, Allison said.

The band’s name came about on a whim. Internet searches showed many names were already taken, and Oliver had to provide a name for a performance at a church. A balsamero is a tree with a thick trunk only found in El Salvador. Its sap is used for medicinal purposes, and Oliver’s grandfather worked to harvest it.

Michelle’s role as wife and mother expands to equipment manager when it comes to the band. She has quickly gone back home to get more picks after Oscar broke his last one or another guitar after a string issue, and she once put away all the equipment after the band played at a church, allowing Oscar time to eat.

Oliver plays acoustic bass for St. John XXIII Catholic Church in Port, and he and Oscar played together during a trip to El Salvador. Oscar often sends videos of the band practicing back home.

For its July 31 performance in the bandshell, Los Balsameros may add two of Oliver and Joseph’s high school classmates, Macy Diercks on drum set and Emma Bollech, likely on clarinet.

It’s the band’s first time playing in the park, but Oliver and Oscar are familiar with the venue. They play with the Port City Band, which performs every other week during summer.

Oliver plays sousaphone for that band, something he can’t yet do in Los Balsameros. No one else plays the accordion.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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