During yet another time in history when borders, colors and religions are being used to both separate and profile people politically, the same mentality is expanding into other areas of our culture. While there is a practicality in putting music into easy to define boxes with discrete boundaries, the result — paradoxically — is a lack of nuance differentiating between unique characteristics in different styles of music, as well as a blind view to the interconnected similarities. Whether it is because of lack of time or desire, faithfully dissecting a band’s sonic intricacies is becoming exceedingly rare, to the detriment of artists whose work demands such inspection. One such band whose music neither fits cleanly into a box nor is considered wholly in a larger context is Making Movies. While terms such as afro-latin or psychedelia may appear as apt descriptors of their sound, they fall spectacularly short in explaining the scope and space in which the band operates. Making Movies sounds like a band that not only wants to do more, but to be more. Or as singer Enrique Chi explains, “I don’t really think we play Latin music, I think we just play human music.”
The story of Making Movies begins with the Chi brothers, guitarist/vocalist Enrique and bassist Diego, and their migration story. While still in their youth, the brothers moved from their birthplace of Santiago, Panama to Kansas City, Missouri. Enrique reminisces about those early years, recalling how he and Diego began playing music together when they were children. This partnership continued until their early twenties when they met percussionist/keyboardist Juan-Carlos Chaurand. “He was already an accomplished percussionist, having gigged in Salsa bands since he was a teenager,” Enrique notes, recalling how he got Juan-Carlos to join. “When I explained the vision for Making Movies, he signed on immediately. In hindsight, I am kind of amazed that he did. The songs were so raw and the vision was still foggy at that time. But we felt an instant connection.“ Juan-Carlos remarks that the respect was mutual, “I had first heard the band through a MySpace profile. At the time, it caught my attention because I couldn’t believe I was hearing music in both English and Spanish from a suburb of Kansas City, but the music was more indie rock and not so heavy on the Latin percussion even though I could hear that it was trying to be used.”
Both pairs of brothers grew up in music rich households. For the Chi brothers, while their mother always had traditional Panamanian music playing in the house, it was their father and his love of rock music that stuck with them. Enrique thinks back, “For Diego and I, our Dad’s rock and roll vinyl collection was my introduction to music. He has really particular taste and generally enjoyed rock and roll artists that push boundaries or have something to say.” For the Chaurand brothers, Juan-Carlos notes that he and drummer Andres also had parents with different musical tastes. “I think for my brother Andres and I, it started at an early age with dancing folklore in our mom’s dance group. We were always listening to either mariachi music or different musical styles from Mexico,” Juan-Carlos recalls. “As we got older, I got more heavy into Salsa, Cumbia, Merengue and other Latin music because that’s what I started playing when I had joined a band in Kansas City.”
As for the role his father played, Juan-Carlos cites his dad was one of his greatest influences, “He was the drummer in a psychedelic rock band back in the late 60s and early 70s from Guadalajara, Mexico called ‘The Spiders.’” The band was signed to RCA records and broke barriers by being the first psych rock band to sing in English, Juan-Carlos proudly notes.
When considering a band whose sound is as diverse as Making Movies, one can count on a wide array of influences including Pink Floyd, Cafe Tacvba, Jimi Hendrix, The Fania All Stars, Radiohead, and Peter Gabriel. However, their greatest influence may be Panamanian musician Ruben Blades, whose album “Mundo” directly inspired their approach. The idea was “that if you lay afro-cuban rhythms as the foundation of a piece, you can add any type of world music over it and it not only works, but they flourish together,” Enrique explains. “We built this band on the idea that if you go deep into those ancient rhythms, you can find some universal qualities in music, even if the arrangements carry elements from disparate styles of music.”
Kansas City Music Scene
The birthplace and home of Making Movies is Kansas City, a city famous for its unique take on the blues, and the artists who defined that sound in the 20th century. Even with this pedigree, the city has failed to consistently produce high profile acts in other genres of music compared to other midwest cities such as Omaha and St. Louis. Enrique considers it a “relatively small and isolated scene,” as in, not a lot of artists make it out of that town. If scenes for contemporary genres are small in Kansas City, the one for Latin music is even smaller and less prominent. This forced the band to take any gigs they could get as they began their journey — even if the rest of bill was punk, americana, country, salsa or hip hop. However, each of the members believes that without these challenges and barriers to shape Making Movies, they would not have formulated the sound they have today. With not many other latin bands in the scene, Enrique says it helped them create a “unique identity because there was no one to emulate or no scene to try and fit into,” which has helped them to become fearless with their music.
While the band may have, “stuck out like a sore thumb playing shows of different genres” this didn’t mean they were without support. Enrique named RL Brooks and Paul Malinowski as friends and collaborators from the Kansa City music scene who are now a part of the Making Movies team. Additionally, local radio station The Bridge, was critical to spreading their sound. It is this regional support system that has been critical Making Movies’ success and it is why members of the band continue to give back to Kansas City in attempts to nurture its growth. For example, the band has launched their own music festival, Making Movies Carnival, which is now in its fourth year. Members of the band look optimistically to the futre, “things are looking up, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
One of the most fascinating aspect about group may be their philosophy and approach to writing music. Enrique notes that the universal ideas their music centers around are the immigrant experience and the idea “that the intrinsic qualities of the human experience are more similar than they different.” In order to write songs that connect to us as humans, Chi looks beyond the superficiality of the day to day, but tries to delve into underlying human elements. He explains, “I believe that songs exist in some kind of alternate collective conscious universe and when you are truly writing, you are just a vessel pulling down these ideas.” For instance, “we definitely noticed that the deeper I go when I write, and the deeper we dive into the ancestral rhythms, the more our music has universal appeal. It’s like some melodies and rhythms are written into our DNA code from long before modern life, from our tribal ancestors, and as an artist, you are just trying to tap into those ancient languages. When you do, other humans seem to respond like, wait, that is in my code too. The saying that ‘music is a universal language’ is far more deep than we give it credit for.”
Making Movies point out that the other critical component of their music is the storytelling aspect, particularly by way of utilizing intricate methods and arcs. Their most recent album, “I Am Another Your,” which was released on May 26, features their most ambitious narrative yet. The record intertwines the immigrant experience from three separate and distinct perspectives. The band say they challenged themselves and their songwriting abilities to make this concept a reality, but couldn’t be more proud of the result. Enrique explains that because of the complexity of the stories, when writing the songs, they tried to create interludes that led the listener from scene to scene.
WE ARE ALL IMMIGRANTS
Over the last couple of years, a large banner with the text “WE ARE ALL IMMIGRANTS” hand painted on a background of faded red and white stripes has accompanied the band on stage. This mantra encompasses the central message that Making Movies espouse both in their songs and as people. Its origins, as Enrique recalls, began three years ago when it dawned on him that his entire family was made of immigrants and the people he met also had an immigrant story. It wasn’t meant as a political statement but more so as a human fact. Even the native people of this continent migrated here at some point in history. The banner has since become a sort of emblem for the band and is prominently featured in both press photos and live performances.
Each of the members appear hyper self-aware of the connotations, both positive and negative, the banner has in today’s socio-political climate. They do not shy away from this responsibility at all, instead feeling it is their duty as artists to use their platform and art to address dangerous rhetoric. In their minds, the most destructive thing they could do is be quiet. Enrique says, “Alynda Segarra (Hurray for the Riff Raff) wrote a poignant lyric that really stuck with me. She said, ‘the politicians just squawk their mouths, saw we’ll build a wall to keep them out and the poets were dying of a silence disease so it happened quickly and with much ease.’
“It’s no time to be silent,” Enrique reminds us.
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Stereo Latinx is a music discovery series by Stereotheque and Latinx Spaces. The goal of the series is to collaborate with emerging artists and help them tell their stories.
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