Making Movies' Music Powerfully Explores The Modern Day Immigrant Experience

By: Julia Talen

Latin-indie-rock band Making Movies serendipitously forged when singer/guitarist Enrique Chi played music at a “Day of the Dead” street festival in Kansas City. Upon hearing him play, Maria Charaund, the leader of a folkloric Mexican dance group for children, encouraged Chi to play at her restaurant up the street and to meet her sons. Turns out Maria just so happened to be the mother of Juan Carlos and Andres Chaurand (now Making Movies’ percussionists).

Chi connected with Juan Carlos, who’d grown up playing Latin and salsa music and dancing to Mexican folklorico. Chi shared all along that his musical vision was “always to grab those Caribbean rhythms, those Latino rhythms, and re-link them to rock’n’roll. At the time I didn’t know how linked they already were to rock’n’roll. I just had like this gut instinct that they were. And once we started playing with Juan it was just like it instantly it all made sense.”

 Making Movies.

Making Movies.

The bilingual band evolved into a group of four; two sets of brothers: Enrique and Diego Chi alongside Juan Carlo and Andres Charand. Their Latin cultural backgrounds pulse through their music, charging their songs with important messages and themes critically relevant to the country’s current political climate. We spoke more with Enrique Chi about the band’s cultural background, ideology, and their upcoming show May 14th at e-Town Hall in Boulder.

You spoke a bit about the band members familial roots in the music. I’m also wondering, were there any sort of influences from Kansas and growing up in the Midwest that have shaped your music?

I have a lot of thoughts on this. I feel lucky as an artist to be so introspective all the time, because I’m always forced to answer those sort of questions you know, ‘How did you get here?’ and it’s good for humans in general. On one hand, you have Juan Carlos and Andres who have Mexican-American roots, and you have the disconnect from Mexico, which inspires you to get more folkloric. It was something that happened with me too. Like their mother started that dance group in order to keep their roots.

One thing about being in the Midwest, when you feel so disconnected from people that are like you, you can find small pockets, but you’re always the small minority. So you cherish the things about your cultural identity at a heightened level. I think a lot of people try to like shed their parents’ culture, like, “Ah my parents, they were like this or that. I’m different.” But when you’re an immigrant from an immigrant family those things about the old versions of your culture, they become super, like you romanticize them. And so everybody in the band loves old, old Latino music. We don’t really listen to contemporary Latino artists very much. We listen to the classic stuff that we remember hearing at our grandparents’ house or grandmother’s house or with our mothers or whatever because of that longing. Because it brings us back home. So that’s one weird influence.

The other thing is that by being in the Midwest, in Kansas City specifically, Kansas City has a vibrant jazz scene. And it has come back up in the last few years. There’s a ton of history there. Like Charlie Parker is from there. And I think the first time I saw Juan Carlos perform I didn’t even know him but he was playing at the jazz museum in a Latin jazz band of sorts. Because the Latino bands, like salsa bands, almost have to play in the jazz environments. Juan Carlos has that… so the improvisational components and those things have kind of stuck with us.

And then Kansas City doesn’t have a really successful music scene. When I was growing up there was like one band that had broken through, that I knew of. It was the Get Up Kids. But outside of that there was hardly anything. And their path was the same path. The scene was all about you rent a van and you play basements or punk-rock venues or you play art spaces. There’s no other tools to a musical career. Which is not totally true, but it is kind of true because in Kansas City, their network runs out pretty quickly if you’re trying to build a real national or international career. So you kind of have to leave one way or another. And if you’re a broke artist you have to buy a crappy van and do whatever you have to do to be playing in New York or Chicago or L.A. and be building connections and experiences. So that thing really stuck with us.

Growing up, I looked up to this band called Shiner. And Shiner’s like this really angular rock’n’roll band. But they became fairly successful through that kind of path. Sometimes the guitarist can be kind of dissonant and angular and that actually comes from the Kansas City indie rock scene or punk rock scene.

Whatever the underground scene may be [that angularity is] almost a necessity. Because you’re playing oftentimes when you’re touring like that with no resources for people that didn’t want to see you. They’re just randomly at the bar, or they’re there because the other band is a local band and they’re not that good but they have friends and the friends came. You’re friends are there because it’s a night out. And you’re the opener and you’ve just drove like seven hours for your one shot in Indianapolis. And you’re gonna make it you know? And you’re opening up to these people and they’re not really there to see you so you almost have to be noisy. You almost have to like yell at them. Like, ‘Hey hey hey! Pay attention over here!’ And it’s almost a gimmick to attract attention and be like, ‘Okay so now that I have your attention, here’s the music we make.’ And so there’s some of that in the Kansas City scene and I think that we have a little bit of that… a little angular.

I’ve seen the photograph of you guys with “DACA” written in permanent marker on your skin, and I’m curious, has the band’s message or political stance shifted since the election?

It’s shifted. It’s kind of both you know. We made the first record about an immigrant neighborhood and the kids who grew up disenfranchised. And even before we made that record we’d put out a video about undocumented kids. ‘Cause I remember, to bring it all full circle, that day I met Juan Carlos and his mother, I also asked this guy who looked like he was in charge, I was like, “Hey this is really cool. A lot of young people they’ve made stuff and they’re selling it. And he was like, “Yeah we have an after-school program for kids in the neighborhood,” and so I was like, “Oh I’d love to volunteer and we can give some guitar lessons.”

And I resonated with, like, I can tell when a kid just moved here from another country. Like I remember that feeling of feeling a little disconnected… And so I’ve been writing about those experiences- about how these kids when they become aware of the fact that they’re not suppose to be here. They’re “illegal” or whatever the words are and how much that shifts their psychology, and so I would write about it because it was on the top of my head. And I remember we used to say, “Oh you know we’re not a political band, we just write about social topics. We write about what we’ve seen and what we’ve lived.”

We already had for four years put up the “We are all immigrants” flag at shows because to me that’s like the story of all music… how do you make any kind of music? It is a mix of all these people’s culture… without human migration nothing is anything. Everything comes from this beautiful mix of what people do. And so you can take pride in your own heritage, but you should do that with this education that human beings have been moving and mixing cultures and language since the dawn of time. We’re just some small part of that huge conversation.

And then we had this opportunity at the Folk Alliance Conference [in February 2017]. We did a musical piece right before the keynote speech by Billy Bragg. A lot of things he said in the speech that day really resonated with me and he told me, ”You know it’s your turn now. Pete Seeger once told me it was my turn now, [that he couldn’t] write songs for your people, your generation… [And] just like that it’s your turn now,” and he looked at me and pointed at me.

After hearing Billy Bragg, I was like, you know, we can be political because the reality is that when you pull out an ideology like that, like a crazy idea like, “All humans should have the same rights as you and I have” and you pull that out of an ideological discussion and you try to implement it into the world in any capacity,  it becomes political. I can’t just say, “Hey these kids who are undocumented, we need to do something” and pretend that that’s not a political decision that needs to be had. For me it’s my life. I know this kid. He is undocumented, and I wish he could go to college and he doesn’t have any other options. He grew up here. But to solve that very human personal problem, it’s a policy, and we don’t claim to know the political answers, you know, but we can raise awareness and ask people to engage. I think if people really look inside themselves they know the answers. Even people who are judgemental, you know, if they meet someone from a different culture and then build a bond that opens their minds, they’re like, “Oh shit maybe I was looking at this all wrong.”

 Making Movies at their NPR "tiny desk" performance. photo courtesy npr. 

Making Movies at their NPR "tiny desk" performance. photo courtesy npr. 

And what about the name of the band, Making Movies? How did that come to be?

My dad loved rock’n’roll. He was almost like an outcast in small town Panama, small town Central America, and he would dig for rock’n’roll records. So during my childhood musical experience, I was always going through his vinyls and he really loved Dire Straits. And I loved them as a kid too. I would sing their music. Even before I spoke English, I would sing this song called “The Walk of Life.” And one of their albums is called Making Movies.That’s where I lifted it from. I always thought that’s a cool meaning you know. I loved that music before I knew the language. And so I loved it for the other languages that music carries. And here I’m in a bilingual band. It kind of represents that fearlessness of you know- our music can communicate the story to them through some other mechanism. ‘Cause I still remember the feeling of being elated by that song and I didn’t know words. It just moved me.

Anything our readers should expect at your upcoming e-Town show on Monday, May 14th?

I would just say that the opening act, Alex Cuba, he’s from Canada and he’s like a legend. He has multiple Juno Awards and is really respected, but he hasn’t toured the U.S. very much. So it’ll be a real treat to have him with us, and he’s also won Latin Grammy Awards and stuff like that too, so definitely come out early and don’t miss Alex Cuba.

And be prepared to move a little bit! It’s kind of hard to be at a Making Movies show and not move your hips a little.

Get tickets for Making Movies e-Town show here.

-Julia

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.