With ‘XOPA’, Making Movies made a real American album

“Our concern was ‘what if this was the last record we ever made?’ says Making Movies vocalist and guitarist Enrique Chi about their new album XOPA, which was written and recorded in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was sending most of the world into lockdown. “It was the most important thing at the time, to keep the idea that music can take you on a journey. It’s the dark and traumatic stories and the incredible resilience and beauty that make us who we are. The band from Kansas City, Missouri – formed by Chi, his brother Diego on bass, Juan Carlos Chaurand on percussion and Duncan Burnett on drums – have gradually established themselves by touring and releasing incredible music that fuses rhythms Afro-Latins with the power of the rock.For their last effort, they felt they had to deliver a masterpiece.

The XOPA saga began in Mexico City when Ruben Blades invited Making Movies to share the stage of the Auditorio Nacional with him. They felt like the door was opening for them to communicate with a larger audience. Shortly after securing some studio time in Memphis, the band decided to take the opportunity to capture the chemistry of their live performances and their blend of old and new sounds. “I pursued this idea that you can be a very modern band and implement the sounds of a retro, vintage number. That’s [about] the sound of human beings who have lived together, bonded as friends and artists to become a small tribe. And when they play, you hear that too. There’s not that much in the world [anymore].”

This opportunity came right at the start of the pandemic in early 2020, which forced the band to make some quick decisions. As it was at the start of the lockdown, not much was known about safety measures, so the band traveled together in the same vehicle, stayed in one room and recorded in the studio together whenever possible. However, their mission was clear. “We felt like we were risking a lot – maybe even our health and our lives – to be together to make music. So none of this could be bullshit. The opportunity to be together and be in the studio all of a sudden [became a] higher sacredness.

XOPA then took on a life of its own and became a larger statement than the band originally intended. “We were in Memphis, which has this American music history,” Chi explains. “It’s kind of a rock and roll album. It’s from the birthplace of rock and roll, and it’s all in Spanish by an immigrant band with a black drummer from America. Yes, it’s America. It’s American music in the broad sense of the continent, but it’s also of the nation, the United States of America.

“[The album comes] from the birthplace of rock & roll, and it’s all in Spanish by an immigrant band with a black drummer from America. Yes, it’s America. It’s American music.

Another big factor that came into play is what Chi describes as their mentors, the people who have contributed to their careers up to this point and helped them find their way. Some of them feature on the album, including Blades, experimental guitarist Marc Ribot, David Hidalgo from Los Lobos, Dolores Huerta and Alaina Moore from Tennis. For make movies, getting close to those numbers was a pivotal experience. “It was a way of reminding us that no matter how small your art, you always have [the same rate of] successes and failures,” says Chi. “And you have to learn to take them in stride; that way we can harness that wisdom in our game together.

“I think that’s key,” he continues, referring to finding community in their chosen field. “It’s a weird way of life. You’re kind of married to a bunch of other human beings. Life is very strange compared to a corporate life or any other traditional modern business. But it has to work like a tribal and ancestral life where a group of individuals go out together to hunt for their families and bring back what they get.

The resulting album is a mix of traditions bent into psychedelic shapes fueled by the anger of punk and the joy of cumbia. In a way, they tap into the primordial aspect of Nuyorican rock music and salsa without copying any particular style. “It’s the same ingredient stew,” Chi says. “This time it passes some new ingredients that we can add and we distill it through our lens. The same way they made those Fania records, like, ‘oh, man, let’s do a son, a cumbia and a cubano son, and it’ll be this new sound with a New York jazz influence and a Latin folk thing -American .’ It is the same process that we follow to make something that is ours.

XOPA is not a personal statement for the members of Making Movies, but one that reflects a greater introspection. While the music is riotous, the message behind it yearns for calm. “I think the theme is self-acceptance. I think in this time and the pandemic has given a lot of us a moment to reflect on ourselves, our journey, our identity, our successes, our failures, and I think that’s what the record represents for me. Many of us don’t like to think that they really don’t like fully owning all parts of our identity and forgiving ourselves for the ways we failed to accomplish what we set out to accomplish. The bravest thing human beings can do is be honest with each other and admit their failures and vulnerabilities.

To listen XOPA below.

About Joan J. Hernandez

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