By TIMOTHY FINNThe Kansas City Star
A bands identity is defined by more than just its music, but the music is where it begins.
Nearly four years ago, Enrique Javier Chi started his band, making Movies. in retrospect, he said, the first version was just another indie-rock band, one in need of a sharper focus.
we were playing just rock indie-rock or whatever, he said. the songs were interesting, but the concept was really loose. but even then, the bigger idea was always there to bring in some Spanish music.
The idea was to integrate his fondness for art rock and bands, such as Radiohead, with the music of his Latin heritage. More specifically, he said, he wanted to do with Latin music what the Police did with reggae and ska: give it a discrete twist. but after finding his bands identity, Chi wasnt sure how to go about creating it.
I knew what I wanted, but I didnt know how to explain it or how to get there, he said.
He needed a catalyst, a translator. about two years ago, he found one.
This version of making Movies isnt necessarily unique, but its identity is fresh and clear: Its a bilingual rock band with Latin grooves. Its a band that fans dance to because its hard not to. It has separated itself from bands like Café Tacuba and Ozomatli, but it would also entertain many of those fans.
It is also living proof that sometimes the traditions of the father are voluntarily revisited by the son.
The name of Chis band comes from the title of a Dire Straits album, one that goes back to his boyhood.
my dad had that album as long as I can remember, Chi said, and I always thought it was a great title.
The early version of making Movies was primarily his solo project, and its lineup was fluid. His younger brother, Diego, was a regular member; his father, Enrique, sat in on guitar every now and then. Through his brother, Chi met boyhood best friends Nic Kolar (bass) and Brendan Culp (drums), who have since become full-time members.
That lineup worked on insinuating Latin rhythms and the Spanish language into its music, but something still wasnt right.
About two years ago, at a local salsa dance, Chi met Juan-Carlos Chaurand. for 10 years, Chaurand, 23, has been a working musician in Kansas City, primarily as a percussionist in salsa orchestras such as Trio Aztlan and then Groupo Aztlan.
He also had been a dancer in El Grupo Atotonilco, a Mexican folkloric dance group founded by his mother, Maria, whose family opened La Fonda El Taquito, a West side restaurant, more than 30 years ago.
Chaurand had heard making Movies music and was intrigued. He was also growing restless in the salsa world and looking for something different.
I heard them on MySpace, and I liked it instantly, Chaurand said. I sent them an e-mail saying, I like your band. I want to jam with you guys.
And so he did. He subsequently joined the band, providing that missing link, the key to Chis vision.
I tell him what I want, and he knows how to create it, Chi said. we were lucky to get him. most of the musicians who know those Latin percussion instruments are 45 years old or older. not many kids in their 20s know them like he does.
Chaurand has helped Kolar and Culp get cozy with the rhythms and sounds. the quartets musical identity is right where Chi wants it, and its transformation recalls a word that is also the title of a Dire Straits album, the live one: Alchemy.
Surprised they went that way
The bands story is familial, in more ways than one.
Its Monday night at La Fonda El Taquito. the place is empty it is closed on Mondays except for four people who are standing at a four-top table, sipping beers and talking about music. on Mondays, La Fonda is the rehearsal space for its house band, Nova 4, which performs the first Friday of each month.
two members of Nova 4 are present this evening: Enrique Chaurand, father of Juan-Carlos and part owner of La Fonda, and Enrique Chi, father of Enrique Javier. Both sons are present, too. Enrique Chaurand is talking about his days as a musician in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he became the drummer in the psychedelic rock band the Spiders.
It reminds me of how Ringo joined the Beatles, he said. I was in another band, the Blue Jeans, but I always liked the Spiders. they were playing in Puerto Vallarta, and we went to see them. while we were there, something happened to their drummer. He went back to Guadalajara.
they knew I was there, and they said, Would you mind joining us for these shows? so I did. I played the rest of the week, and they went back to Guadalajara. One day they called up and said, Hes out; youre in, and I stayed with them until we moved to Kansas City.
About 1975, he settled in with his wife, Maria, whose family opened La Fonda in 1978. And music was put aside for a long time.
I never touched my drums for 25 years, Chaurand said. I left them completely. but the bug never got out of me.
Enrique Chi fell in love with rock music while growing up in Panama. He learned to play guitar with some instruction but mostly on his own. in the late 1970s, he attended college in Atlanta, where he met other musicians and joined a folk-rock band. He, too, married and started a family, and music became a hobby he shared with his children.
Theres a photograph of me standing in front of my dad, and hes playing guitar, the younger Chi said, and Im eye-level with the strings, hanging onto the guitar.
Enrique Javier picked up the guitar when he was 8, put it down for a few years, then took it up for good. He remembers hearing a variety of music in the house while growing up, including some Latin music, but mostly rock. Both fathers say they did not impose Latin music on their sons.
we didnt push it, the elder Chi said. Im kind of surprised they went that way.
I reached a point where I didnt want to hear it. Salsa is great for parties. Its great dance music, but its not great for sitting down and listening. When I moved from Panama, people said, Youll miss it. And I did learn to appreciate it. my children were exposed to it, but I gave them a filtered sampling of those rhythms. but they heard a lot of other music, too.
They heard so much of everything that by July 2009, making Movies had gone public with its new sound, and during a show at Czar Bar, both fathers were onstage with the band, playing Santana covers. That night not only fused two generations of musicians, it awakened something in the fathers.
The elder Chi and Chaurand became friends and soon started making plans to start their own band.
Its a cold Friday night in November, and RecordBar is sold out. making Movies is celebrating a few things: the end of a very successful tour; its recent choice as featured band on AOL Musicas Radar; the friendships the band made at the Latin Grammys; and the slow-but-steady success of its latest CD, in Deo Speramus.
The bands three-week tour took it to California, by way of Texas. Along the way the members reconnected with former fans and quickly made new ones.
we played two LA-area shows a week apart, and kids came back from the first show with the record memorized, Chi said. It was crazy to see kids with their eyes closed, singing along, 2,000 miles from home.
After doing a radio interview at a station in Salinas, Calif., he said, the band headed to the venue it would play that night.
It was our first time there, and out of nowhere 50 people showed up because theyd heard us. they nearly bought all our merch.
they may be small battles, but it feels like were winning.
They are starting to win battles on their home turf, too. in September, they entertained a large crowd at the Power and Light District where Diego Chi joined the band on piano for a cha-cha version of Coldplays Clocks.
At RecordBar, the crowd is large and manic, and the mood is festive not far from the vibe you get at a Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings show or at a show by local Afro-beat titans the Hearts of Darkness.
They are impressing fans and fellow musicians. on Facebook, drummer Pat Tomek, formerly of the Rainmakers, commented about making Movies: amazing band. After their show at the Brick a few months ago, every drummer in the bar was saying, you know, maybe I should just give up.
Current, but with older rhythms
Even a band that has forged its identity isnt guaranteed success in a music world that is as crowded and dog-eat-dog as ever. but making Movies has gathered promising evidence that its formula is working. for starters, it has been well received even by Latin music traditionalists, Chi said.
the hard-core salsa fans, they still love it, he said. they know were not going to be a full salsa band. There are only four of us. but we still create the same rhythms.
Chaurand, who also plays keyboards, said the arrangements help fortify the bands sound.
Enrique gets a lot of piano rhythms out of his guitar, he said, Nic gets more trombone-like sounds from his bass, and Brendan and I try to sound like three people.
Chi, who spent a few years learning the business side of music as a publicist, said hes hearing things about his band that he did not hear about some of the rock bands he promoted back then.
we do shows in LA, and afterward we hear people say, Weve been waiting for a band like you. Weve never heard that, he said. Its rare these days for people to express a thirst for another rock band.
And what they say they are hearing, he said, is precisely what he wanted to create: Something current and hip but with older rhythms.
In June, through a Kansas City connection, making Movies played a launch party for a radio station in San Jose, Calif., that was switching to Spanish programming.
we were the only band invited to perform, he said. about 600 people were there, and a lot of them already knew the new tunes.
They have received similar reactions in Miami, Chicago, San Antonio and Austin, Texas, he said. And given the turnout at the recent RecordBar show, he said, it feels like Kansas City is getting in line, too.
the game plan from here is to keep touring, returning to places where they are known and introducing themselves to places they have not yet been. Beyond that? Chi said he received some advice recently from the famous Nicaraguan songwriter/activist Perrozompopo that made sense to him. Its essence: Create what you have faith in, and the rest will take care of itself.
we did a show with him in California, he said. It was the highlight of the trip. the next day, a friend got us into the Latin Grammys in Las Vegas. After the show, we ran into Perro again.
He pulled me over with a huge smile and a hug. He walked us down the red carpet, press photographers and all, and took us to a VIP party in a penthouse at Mandalay Bay. the reggaeton artist Omega did a surprise set. It was crazy.
I spent time talking with Perro. He gave me some great counsel. He said, Always remember that your job is to create and play; and everyone else decides the rest.
To read more from Timothy Finn, check the Stars blog, Back to Rockville, on KansasCity.com.