By JC Poppe Special to Published May 08, 2011 at 5:41 AM

Any military veteran that has had to fight in a war will tell you that war is miserable. Soldiers can witness, and be a part of, some terrible things, and those images or actions are difficult to re-distribute from their active memory banks into the places within the brain that hold our lost thoughts.

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

It is this issue that The Mambo Surfers tackle with their new album, "The PTSD Songbook," which walks the listener through both the terrors of war and re-assimilation into society post-war, while also hoping to give a voice to those afflicted by PTSD.

The band made up by Saji Villoth, Lon Couillard, Ron Jones and Darrell Williams recorded "The PTSD Songbook" live, and it has a very earthy feeling to it that creates the appropriate backdrop for the emotional delivery of the music and the lyrics. The main architect of the album, Saji Villoth, explains the reasoning behind capturing the music in its rawest form.

"There is nothing romantic about blood and smashed guts, the smell of the slaughter fields, the crumpling thud of fear when mortar fire explodes nearby. The music is raw, because the experience of war is raw and visceral. A pure studio version would certainly have a place for soaring harmonies, ethereal violins, injected to simulate a morphine haze, but we prefer the live band performances to be as gut-knotting as possible."

That "gut knotting" is noticeable in the players' performances on the CD and DVD and gives the listener a never-ending sense of authenticity. Another thing that adds to the authenticity of the music is the tendency of the musicians to indulge their emotions by improvising with their instruments during the songs.

"Improvising is part of the organic atmosphere of a live performance. It is not an ego thing, sometimes the energy of the room, the 'realness' of the moment makes things happen that we are reluctant to smother," Villoth explains.

There is a certain amount of nobility in their effort to raise awareness on behalf of our veterans, both living and dead, of which we are again reminded of constantly only days after the news of Osama Bin Laden's death was announced.

With "The PTSD Songbook," The Mambo Surfers have donated 100 copies to Guitars For Vets to use for fundraising and they have also donated hundreds of albums to active troops.

Where PTSD is now fully accepted as a mental disorder and treated for those who seek treatment, this wasn't always the case and there is still a large portion of vets that remain afflicted by PTSD.

So, with that knowledge in hand, The Mambo Surfers are continuing their drive for PTSD awareness with a show at Locust Street Days on June 12 this year, on the Homeless Veteran Initiative Stage at 6 p.m.


JC Poppe Special to

Born in Milwaukee and raised in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer, Concordia University Wisconsin alumnus Poppe has spent the majority of his life in or around the city and county of Milwaukee.

As an advocate of Milwaukee's hip-hop community Poppe began popular local music blog Milwaukee UP in March 2010. Check out the archived entries here.

Though heavy on the hip-hop, Poppe writes about other genres of music and occasionally about food, culture or sports, and is always ready to show his pride in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.