On building a new album from many cultures
I’m sure there’s a name for the syndrome whereby people who are prone to conducting interviews just cannot stop themselves from whipping out various recording devices at opportune and inopportune moments in order to capture pearls of wisdom from artists and performers.
So it was in late August when Los Chavos had just sweated, samba’d, grooved and funked a heaving crowd to a stand-still at the Polish White Eagle Club in Canberra for the Canberra Musicians Club’s regular Friday night gig.
At sometime between midnight and 1am, as the band was loading out the side door, I did indeed whip out the trusty Samsung and away we went, starting with some sort of four-way first bump with various band members. Which always works goodly on audio.
Speaking of which, thank me now that this written text. We’d all punished the Polish beer a tad by this stage.
Bill Quinn: I feel I should know this, but what does ‘Los Chavos’ actually mean?
Rafael Florez: Pretty much, “The Guys”. Or “The Dudes”. It’s based on a Mexican TV show called “El Chavo del Ocho”.
BQ: So, to translate for an Australian audience, you’re “The Blokes”.
RF: The Blokes! With one chick on drums.
BQ: Let’s go back a step. Los Chavos: the history. Tell us about that.
RF: OK. I’d like to bring Corey in on this one. He’s been with the band since 2006. 2005? Ok.
Corey’s one of the founding members….
Corey Booth: Not quite! Not quite! I joined in 2006. I think Valdis and Andy are the only two founding members left.
RF: So we started out playing a few covers of alternative Latin music. Stuff like Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and others.
BQ: What was the catalyst? What actually brought the original members together?
CB: I think it was Andy (Beimar “Andy” Jauregui) because he sang back in Bolivia and wanted to form a band here.
BQ: So when you were looking at an hour set, say tonight at the Canberra Musicians Club, we’ve got two hours at Digress [Restaurant and Lounge], we’ve got 45 minutes or an hour on Stage 88 at Canberra Day: what is it that says, “We’re going to do this cover, this original, the real Latin standard?” What is it?
RF: Well, they’re all originals!
RF: All, especially tonight. So that’s important to mention.
CB: Mostly written by this gentleman right here [points to Simon Millman].
RF: On the album, there’s a bit of a brief to get as many rhythms on there as possible. So what you hear is stuff that’s traditionally played: timba, Cumbia.
BQ: So what happens when you’re playing at Digress, and someone comes up and says, ‘Ahhhh, can youse play Guantanamera?’ What do you say?
RF: We just say, “Thank you, but we’re not Cuban!”
CB: Actually, something like that did happen recently. Someone came up with a request, and we just said, we play originals. Maybe see if you can get the DJ to play it. And they did actually get the DJ to play it.
Raf was the DJ! And it was a song we used to play.
RF: Yeah, it was the song “Como Ves” by Ozomalti, which Los Chavos used to cover live. It went down [extremely] awesome when I played it (props to whoever suggested it!)
SM: That’s what you’ve got an iPod for!!
CB: I don’t have a problem with people wanting to hear songs that they like. I don’t have a problem with it so long as they don’t have a problem with me saying ‘no’!
BQ: It seems to be the world over; doesn’t matter if it’s country and western (‘scuse my French) or Latin, or indie folk, they’re going to ask you for American Pie or something like that.
RF: We could play that in Spanish! As a Cumbia song?
SM: Postre Americano?
RF: Yeah, Postre Americano!
BQ: So, what’s coming up?
RF: So we’ve just finished recording our debut album. It’s taken 16 months recording that. All originals, recorded here locally with a guy called Sam King, a local producer.
SM: Basically, the album is dedicated to the preservation of the motion of hips. And the way that we do that is we have a [check word] which is a meringue. That actually started out as a very slow bolero. And I said to Andy, ‘We should speed this up’, and he was like, ‘What you talkin’ ‘bout, man?’
And we brought it in to the band and everyone liked it.
BQ: You used a word at the start: menin… merin…
BQ: Right! Merengue. So that’s like a fluffy cake with icing on top?
RF: This guy!!
[Just for those playing at home, merengue has got nothing to do with fluffy sponge-like desserts: it’s a type of Latin rhythm that is fast and danceable: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merengue_music]
The album launch is on 2 and 3 November. It’s a weekend festival marking “The Day of the Dead”.
So it’s right here [Polish White Eagle Club] on 2 November, and the day after at the ANU Bar. “El Día de los Muertos”.
BQ: You’ve mentioned ‘Cumbia’ a few times. What’s its derivation?
RF: OK, Cumbia. It’s a traditional rhythm from Colombia, but it has spread out to neighbouring South American countries. Through Mexico, Argentina, Chile. Its roots come from the courtship ritual between the indigenous Indians and escaped slaves, and it’s permeated and mixed with many other types of music.
SM: It’s one of those rhythms, like bolero that’s come from Cuba, that’s become a “Latin rhythm” and is played throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
BQ: I’m no fan of clichés, but I’m going to go with one now. It sounds like Los Chavos is a bit of a melting pot of music from Latin/Spanish sources. What are they?
Jack Palmer: guitar. Australia. Not sure of cultural heritage.
BRB. I’m the guest rapper/MC dude. Watup? Colombiano from New Jersey. That’s how we roll.
Simon Millman, bass. My family’s from Argentina.
Corey Booth, trumpet and backing vocals. Anglo-Celtic, I guess.
Rafael Florez. I don’t play anything, I’m the band manager, and my family’s from Colombia.
The Los Chavos Pozible fund-raising campaign runs until 22 October, so there’s time enough to get on board at: http://www.pozible.com/index.php/archive/index/8596/description/0/0
And do stalk them on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/loschavosmusic
Upcoming gigs (one on very soon):
Saturday 13 October – The Phoenix, Canberra City
Sunday 21 October – The Front Café, Lyneham
Fund raising finale South American BBQ from 12 noon