Chi­cano Bat­man spreads wings with retro sound

The China Post - - ARTS - BY SHAUN TAN­DON

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.”

Di­verse Up­bring­ings

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.

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