Interview - Chico Mann

Photos courtesy of When Giants Meet

Not that the Spanish language doesn’t have complex enough verb tenses, but we might have to make up a new one to describe what the guys of Chico Mann are doing with their music. They are giving a nod to the Afro-Cuban beats of the past – or what they could have, should have been – grounding that could have, should have in the present musical landscape, and reworking that landscape to fit into the futuristic world of Chico Mann. If you’re having trouble imagining what this sounds like (I don’t blame you), you need to experience the band live.

Chico Mann was the last band to perform at the indie showcase at the Mercury Lounge during LAMC and, as sparse as the post-1 a.m. crowd was, and as tired as I was from a full day of running around and standing around, the band's unique sound and energy inspired me to dance. That’s why I had to catch up the guys the next day for a quick chat.

Blanca: I was at your show last night at Mercury Lounge and wasn’t familiar with your music beforehand. But I really liked what I heard and I found your sound really intriguing because it’s very distinct and not like anything else I’ve heard before. What approach do you take when you’re making music?

Marcos: The underlying premise of what I do in any given song is to evoke some sort of ecstatic release at some point in the song. And if I can sculpt a piece of music to do that, and if it has that effect on me, I’m pretty confident it will have that effect on other people.

David: It has that effect on me.

Blanca: Do you feel you had that effect on the crowd last night?

Marcos: It’s tough when you play such a short set. I feel like it takes me at least 10 minutes to feel warmed up, and it probably takes the audience that much time, too. At first, people don’t know what to make of it, and eventually the beat wears them down and they get sucked into it.

David: That’s part of the approach for the live show. We’re creating multiple worlds and drawing people into it. It takes a while to establish what the world is and for people to get comfortable in it. But once they’re comfortable, we take it up and take them with us.

Blanca: What kind of world are you creating?

Marcos: It’s a futuristic soundscape with highly syncopated rhythms that originate in Africa and Cuba and are re-contextualized in New York through the experience of living here and being bicultural and having Latin cultural references and American ones. All that informs the music and the Chico sound.

Blanca: And what does it take to create this world?

Marcos: This operation, the music the production, the live shows, everything is DIY. I think it’s important for artists to know that you have to do it yourself if you want it to be done right. As hard as that can be, it’s also really rewarding. I could put together a tour anywhere in the world myself because we have the technology to be able to communicate with people all over the world. It’s really cool, really exciting times.

David: Yeah, there are so many different ways of entering into peoples’ consciousness.

Blanca: Well, you definitely entered into my consciousness. How did your sound come about, and how has it evolved?

Marcos: Imagine an archival recording of a style of music that never was. In my mind, when I started recording the first album, I was imagining a studio in New York, uptown somewhere, when drum machines were starting to be used. Imagine if Afrobeat had made more of an impact and what that would have done in the context of electronic drum machines and the early days of hip hop. That was the mental space that I was in when I was recording.

David: The thing about Marcos is that he’s kind of in his own world, which is why the music comes out, if I may say so, super fresh and genuine. It doesn’t sound like anything else. What’s cool is that people are getting more ready for the sound because there’s this whole tropical bass scene that’s coming up. It’s massaging people’s ears to be ready for it. People won’t be ready, but they’ll be ready, you know? They won’t know that they’re ready. Then afterwards they’ll be, like, "Wow, I was definitely ready for that."

Blanca: What are you working on right now?

Marcos: I’m working on the next album, which might be more than can even fit on an album. But it’s taking on the same concepts of the first album and expanding on them. From there, there are a couple of points of departure into the worlds of merengue and a little bit of digital cumbia, giving it an Afro Cuban sensibility.

David: People need to know that they can’t sleep on Chico Mann because then they’re going to feel so stupid. So, don’t sleep.*

*I second this statement.