Chicano Batman spreads wings with retro sound
In their ruffled tuxedo shirts, the Los Angeles musicians Chicano Batman sport a retro look that evokes decades past of performers in the working-class Latino neighborhoods of their hometown.
But with influences that range from psychedelia to tropicalia to funk, Chicano Batman offers a glimpse at a future direction of Latin music as the band builds off the diversity of traditions in the multicultural metropolis.
After performing for years in the city’s Latin indie scene, Chicano Batman has recently won a broader following. The band opened this year on a tour of rocker Jack White and played at Coachella, the influential music festival in the California desert that closed on Sunday.
The band members welcome the growing audience but bristle at being pigeon-holed as a Latin band.
“We’re doing this on our own merits. It’s not like this weird affirmative action type thing,” frontman Bardo Martinez said of playing Coachella.
“I feel that we play very tight and we provide a solid and very defined aesthetic, which not a lot of artists do,” he told AFP at the festival.
Chicano Batman’s sound, for all of the di- versity of influences, is consistent and identifiable. Working off an energetic but even-paced rhythm section, keyboards conjure up psychedelic rock while the extended guitar stretches bring to mind jam bands.
The lyricism, both in Spanish and English, is similarly evocative with a focus on sensory imagery. The song “Itotiani” is a reference to an Aztec dancer and the music, and words, cast a smooth, calm atmosphere.
“Her heart is beating fast / Feeling the soul reborn,” Martinez sings in Spanish.
“She has an air of Teotihuacan,” he sings of the ancient Mexican city, and, in reference to the peanut-based sweet: “Her skin has the color of mazapan.”
Latin rock is hardly a new genre in the United States. Guitarist Carlos Santana in the 1960s and 1970s pioneered the fusion of Latin influences in rock, while east Los Angeles-bred Chicano rockers Los Lobos won mainstream appeal a decade later.
But coming from a more recent generation in Los Angeles, Chicano Batman represents a greater array of musical influences. Bassist and singer Eduardo Arenas recalled growing up with a love of gangsta rap and blaring Ice Cube from his car.
“That’s how you would represent yourself, that’s the vibe you give out. But then you go home and you’re listening to the things that your parents are listening to,” Arenas said, citing as examples the Mexican pop stars Los Bukis and Spanish romantic crooner Julio Iglesias.
The band also brings together backgrounds from within Latin America. Drummer Gabriel Villa grew up in Colombia with a love of salsa, meringue and vallenato. The different musical education is witnessed in Villa’s style — notably his love of cowbells.
Martinez — who sings and plays keyboards and guitar, and also came up with the band’s attention-grabbing name — is half Mexican and half Colombian. He said that he grew up on his father’s music collection that included everything from 1980s pop superstar Cyndi Lauper to Eric Clapton’s classic blues rock outfit Cream.
One key difference that sets apart U.S.raised musicians, Martinez said, is the instruments that they pursue.
“In LA, you’re not going to grow up playing a conga,” he said, referring to the Cuban drum.
“In Cuba there will be a million percussionists and a few guitarists, but here it’s the opposite,” he said.