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A Tour of San Diego with Sure Fire Soul Ensemble

The local funk band’s made soundtracks to many of our city’s neighborhoods


Sure Fire Soul Ensemble | Photo: Isaac Larios

Every city needs a proper song. Philadelphia has Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom.” Cleveland has Huey Lewis and the News’s “The Heart of Rock ’n’ Roll.” Even Lodi, California, was immortalized in song thanks to Creedence Clearwater Revival. San Diego, meanwhile, has a handful of songs bearing its name, including Blink 182’s “San Diego” and Tom Waits’s “San Diego Serenade.” But it takes a special band to actually dedicate numerous songs to individual neighborhoods throughout the city.

Enter Sure Fire Soul Ensemble. The local band has been cooking up some extra-funky instrumental soul over the past five years or so, with songs that nod to the vintage rhythms of James Brown and The Meters, with a uniquely Southern California twist. Sometimes that includes elements of Latin jazz or mariachi, sometimes it’s an occasional foray into Afrobeat, but most often it means feel-good old-school R&B grooves.

The band has released two albums so far, their 2015 self-titled record and 2016’s Out on the Coast, and each one features a number of tracks named for local neighborhoods. Here’s a brief tour through San Diego as the Sure Fire Soul Ensemble soundtracks it.


“Sweltering Heights”

Supposedly inspired by a particularly hot day in Normal Heights, this high-energy highlight is all attitude and agitation, with the kind of hyperactive rhythm suited for James Brown at his Hardest Working Man in Showbiz peak.

“City Heights”

One of San Diego’s most populous neighborhoods as well as a cultural melting pot, City Heights surely has earned its namesake funk jam, a mid-tempo groover with lots of soul and lots of greasy Hammond organ.

“IB Struttin’”

Can I imagine strutting along Imperial Beach when I listen to this ’70s-style instrumental funk jam? Yes. Yes I can.

“Baja Norte”

A song named for our cross-border neighbor should no doubt have some influence from the region, and the brassy mariachi horns that open the song make that clear. Yet the song itself has a lot going on, from some scruffier guitar riffs to a moody, cinematic soul sound.

“Balboa Park”

This is a dreamy one, a laid-back kind of atmospheric funk that suggests the band’s Balboa Park inspiration came later in the evening, when the public begins to shuffle out over the Cabrillo Bridge and the lights start to go out. 

Sure Fire Soul Ensemble
April 26
The Casbah



Other Recommended Shows This Week:

Los Amigos Invisibles, Aterciopelados (April 25, The Observatory North Park): Catch two bands who have been longtime Latin alternative favorites. Los Amigos Invisibles in particular are super fun, mixing funk, disco, and various other danceable treats.

Earl Sweatshirt (April 27, Soma): Earl Sweatshirt’s been putting out music since he was a teenager as a member of the Odd Future collective. Since then he’s grown a lot as an artist. He’s also gotten a lot weirder. That’s a good thing—his latest album, Some Rap Songs, features mostly under-two-minute tracks with unconventional structures, psychedelic samples and an embrace of an avant-garde sensibility.

White Denim (April 28, Belly Up): White Denim is an easy band to like on record. But seeing them live is something else entirely. A lot of dudes who play guitar all kind of blur together, but this Austin band always puts on a sweaty, fiery rock ’n’ roll show that’ll make a convert out of you.

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