iLe And Making Movies Discuss Music, Activism And Mixing The Two : Alt.Latino The former Calle 13 vocalist and the roqueros from Kansas City discuss their new albums and how they channel their passions about the world into music.

iLe And Making Movies Discuss Music, Activism And Mixing The Two

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From NPR Music, this is ALT.LATINO. And welcome to a special podcast extra edition of ALT.LATINO. You know, I have a ton of interviews already recorded, and I'm going to be sending out these podcast extras so I can keep up with all the amazing music being released this summer. And this week I'm going to be doing what I have been calling album chats, conversations with artists about their new albums.


ILE: (Singing) Jumba ujum ba umba jumba umbai.

CONTRERAS: Making Movies has a new album called "Ameri'kana," and we're going to dive into that one in the second part of this show, but first, iLe and her new album "Almadura."


ILE: (Singing) Umba jumba umba umba jumba umbaiaia. (Vocalizing). El corazón se acelera. Despierta la adrenalina. Todo se ve más brillante por dentro de mis pupilas.

CONTRERAS: "Almadura" is her second album, and it follows "iLevitable," which came out in 2016. It's such a dramatic turn stylistically that it captures in real time the growth of her talents and her vision. And we have iLe here in ALT.LATINO World Headquarters here in Washington, D.C., and she is joined by her producer, Ismael Cancel. Welcome to ALT.LATINO, los dos.

ILE: Thank you.

ISMAEL CANCEL: Thank you. Thank you.

CONTRERAS: Welcome back, Ileana. You've been here before.

ILE: Yes. Thank you.


ILE: (Singing) Umba jumba umba umba jumba umbaiaia, jumba ujum ba umba jumba umbai. (Vocalizing). Ataca la testoterona, y el estrógeno abre fuego. Disparos de oxitocina cambian las guerras del juego. Se alteran todas las formas. Nada me es imposible. Puede que de mí se escondan porque yo soy invencible. Jumba ujum ba umba jumba umbai umba jumba umba umba jumba umbaiaia, jumba ujum ba umba jumba umbai umba jumba umba umba jumba umbaiaia. (Vocalizing).

CONTRERAS: The first thing I want to say in the interview today is that the record is so very different from your last album in very impressive ways. And the thing that strikes me, mostly because I play conga - I play percussion - it's so percussion-heavy.

ILE: Yes.

CONTRERAS: Right? And that already wins for me...


CONTRERAS: ...As a conga player, right? Like, OK. No, but it's - I guess that's your role as a producer, Ismael. And how did this come about, this sonic approach to the record? And how did you make a decision to be different from the - your last album?

ILE: I started thinking about how I was feeling at the moment, and I had so many emotions at the same time. I was especially angry about many things that is happening now in our society, in our world, and how difficult is to us to manage them. And it makes me feel frustrated sometimes. So this album is channeling my frustration in a good way and taking my courage out. And because of that is why I wanted this album to be very percussive and to - so the album could have its own pulse, its own rhythm. And none of the rhythms that we explored in the album are pure. I like that we explored with different types of rhythm, especially Afro Caribbean, but from different countries. And it was something very fun to work with.

CONTRERAS: Being vocal about what's going on in the world isn't new to you, obviously, because of your history working with Calle 13. How does it feel to be able to take some of this on on your own, in your own voice, in your own direction?

ILE: I think that was the hardest part for me because I never like to force things. And I was feeling all these emotions, but I didn't know if I could let them out as songs or as music because it's difficult to understand what is actually going through your mind or through your soul. And expressing them into words and into songs is something difficult to do. So I didn't know how it was going to be. I was just letting myself speak out in my own way. And I'm glad that I could find a way to manage it and make these feelings into songs. And I think especially what I was thinking at first about the rhythm and the pulse helped me a lot to understand even more what I was thinking. Like, in most of the songs, the rhythm took me someplace. It helped me to figure out what I wanted to say.

But it's not easy. It was risky for me because all of these songs are written by me, except one that it was written by my sister Milena. So it was challenging, but I'm glad - I'm happy with the result (laughter).

CONTRERAS: As a producer, Ismael, how did you approach this? Again, what strikes me is the rhythms and the percussion sound traditional, but there's a different sonic element to it underneath, like a DJ vibe thing. How did - what was your approach on that?

ISMAEL CANCEL: Well, when we started working on the album, we began, like, talking about what Ileana wanted, you know, because since we already had one album under us, we needed to see what was the direction. So Ileana - I think she brought up the drum thing very early. Audio was based almost totally in drum - in drums. I remember we started working on that song on - after María on the drums. We didn't have any electricity, so that came also as a resource - the drum. And when she explained, she - when she start explaining me that she wanted the drum all over the album, it made total sense.

In the first album, we had drums, different kind of drums, but it wasn't so starring, like in this album. In this album, I think that we looked for certain rhythms, but then we looked for the way to merge them with other rhythms that not necessarily worked - went together in traditional music. But that was - I think that was the catch of the album. Then we - from the beginning, we knew we wanted to - in this album, we wanted to play a little with electronic beats and stuff.


CONTRERAS: What I want to do is walk me through, you know, almost note by note, but beat by beat, OK, on this song. This song is called "Contra Todo."

ILE: Mmm hmm.

CONTRERAS: What am I hearing right now?


ISMAEL CANCEL: This is just a loop I made using some sounds, some electric sounds. We started with that conga.


ILE: (Singing) Soy el terreno invadido, naturaleza robada.

CONTRERAS: And then this, like - the bass - what is that?

ILE: That is - that was Jeff, I think, Trooko. He's a master in beats and that - and those big bass.


ILE: (Singing) Soy el dolor que no siente.

CONTRERAS: And now what are we hearing? Like, there's a bigger sound now.

ISMAEL CANCEL: There's now some congas on the back that are the, like - the skeleton of the beat that - it's like (imitating rhythm). That's like the most important part of the song. That's the heart.


ILE: (Singing) Con el coraje de frente, voy a ganar la batalla. Hecha de viento y de playa, soy la ola que va a romper. Quieren verme caer, pero daré bien la talla. Atravesar la muralla, voy contra todo para defender.

Also, the brass section...

ISMAEL CANCEL: And the brass section.

ILE: ...That entered there, the three saxophones, one clarinet...

ISMAEL CANCEL: And two trumpets. They accompany...

ILE: ...And two trumpets.

ISMAEL CANCEL: ...Ileana all over the song, as we can see.


ILE: (Singing) Soy fuerza de cordillera, raíz de sueño sembrado.

ISMAEL CANCEL: And then the guitar that - I mean, it's super - Ileana came up with it.

ILE: Yeah, I made the line.

ISMAEL CANCEL: And it's, for me...

CONTRERAS: This is you playing the guitar?

ISMAEL CANCEL: No, the idea.

ILE: No, no, no. I wish.

ISMAEL CANCEL: Yeah, right?

ILE: It was Adalberto Rosario, my guitar player. He plays great. But I gave him the line.


ILE: (Singing) La paciencia se desquita. Con el coraje de frente, voy a ganar la batalla. Hecha de viento y de playa, soy la ola que va a romper.

ILE: And also, there's a bombo legüero...


ILE: ...In the chorus. So it has, like, a little Japanese influence mixed. Also, it has, like - well, the bombo legüero is Latin American. And also it has something - a little plena feel, as well, from Puerto Rico and the whole power.


ILE: We enjoyed a lot doing this song (laughter).

CONTRERAS: Lots of stuff in there to...

ISMAEL CANCEL: Yeah, yeah.

ILE: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: ...Listen for. Let's check it out.


ILE: (Vocalizing) (singing) Con el coraje de frente, voy a ganar la batalla. Hecha de viento y de playa, soy la ola que va a romper. Quieren verme caer, pero daré bien la talla. Atravesar la muralla, voy contra todo para defender. Con el coraje de frente, voy a ganar la batalla. Hecha de viento y de playa, soy la ola que va a romper. Quieren verme caer, pero daré bien la talla. Atravesar la muralla, voy contra todo para defender.

CONTRERAS: OK, I want to try something, and I haven't done this on this show yet, OK? So I brought a pair of bongos in here, OK, sitting over in the chair over there. Ismael, can you choose a song that has different rhythms? And can you - on the bongo, can you play and show us the layered rhythms, OK, and show us what you did and how you did it and how things change or how things stay the same, OK?


CONTRERAS: Let's try this, OK?


CONTRERAS: So you got a pair of bongos. First of all, let's choose a song. Which one do you want to do?

ISMAEL CANCEL: It can be "Tu Rumba." It can be that one.

CONTRERAS: OK, let's play a little bit of it.

ISMAEL CANCEL: Let's do it.


ILE: (Singing) Yo no sé si tu silencio me está hablando.

ISMAEL CANCEL: Like, there's one drum that's going (drumming).


ILE: (Singing) Yo no sé si nos habremos conocido o si es mi locura...

ISMAEL CANCEL: There's another one that's going (drumming).


ILE: (Singing) Que anda delirando, y que al final soy sólo yo que lo imagino.

ISMAEL CANCEL: (Drumming) Now it starts the other whole (drumming).


ILE: (Singing) Hermosura que sale de ti...

ISMAEL CANCEL: That's one drum doing this (drumming). And there's a auto-tune pandero - plena pandero going (drumming).


ILE: (Singing) No sé si tu rumba…

CONTRERAS: Auto-tune pandero (laughter).

ISMAEL CANCEL: It's very exploded, you know?

CONTRERAS: Sure, yeah.

ISMAEL CANCEL: And I used - on that song, I used a table - table, you know, more like...

ILE: Yeah, like this, like a table.


ILE: (Laughter).

ISMAEL CANCEL: Like that, was (drumming).


ILE: (Singing) No sé si tu rumba vaya…

ISMAEL CANCEL: And I put a mic, and I recorded that. And that's in there also. So - and the bongos - there's a pair of bongos that are like all the songs speaking, like, they're...


ILE: (Singing) Yo no quiero confundir las emociones. Esto puede que no vaya a funcionar.

ISMAEL CANCEL: (Inaudible).


ISMAEL CANCEL: There's the table again. That - that's the table (drumming).


ILE: (Singing) Y no sé si la clave...

CONTRERAS: Oh, yeah.

ISMAEL CANCEL: And this sound is also.


ISMAEL CANCEL: That's from the table. He took it, and he sampled it.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

ISMAEL CANCEL: That was Trooko that sampled that song.

ILE: Yeah.


ISMAEL CANCEL: That sound.

CONTRERAS: For the break.


ILE: (Singing) Tanta curiosidad.

ISMAEL CANCEL: (Drumming) So there's a bunch of rhythms there, but they're all aligned (drumming).


ILE: (Singing) Dímelo sin miedo que esto es entre nosotros, nada más.

ISMAEL CANCEL: There's one bongo going like (drumming)...


ILE: (Singing) Hermosura que sale de ti...

ISMAEL CANCEL: ...All the time in the chorus. And I did a little (drumming).


ILE: (Singing) No sé si tu rumba...

ISMAEL CANCEL: And that stay there also. So it was (drumming) - but the basic rhythm is like (drumming).


ILE: (Singing) Tú tienes lo que estoy necesitando.

CONTRERAS: Which is...

ISMAEL CANCEL: That was like the bass.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, which is sort of like - I don't know that it has a specific name.

ISMAEL CANCEL: No, it doesn't. It doesn't.

CONTRERAS: It's just sort of like a half a mambo or something.

ILE: Yeah.

ISMAEL CANCEL: You know, it has a little cumbia in that verse that doesn't have...


ISMAEL CANCEL: ...Anything else.


ISMAEL CANCEL: Yeah, it has a little cumbia also there. But it's on the mind, maybe not even played.

ILE: Suggested.


ISMAEL CANCEL: So suggested on the side, some hits that suggests the the whole rhythm, and it makes it blend the better with the whole thing that's happening around it. But it's fun because Jeff takes everything we do, and then suddenly he makes something else. It's like, how do you do that? It's like that, like he got the sound of the table and he did like a chop. And then suddenly it's like, how the song ends, with the...


ILE: That sound is the table.

CONTRERAS: We're in the studio with iLe and Ismael Cancel. You know, thank you so much for coming in and talking about the record.


CONTRERAS: It's one of those records where the beauty is in the details.


ILE: Yeah.


ILE: Exactly.

CONTRERAS: Yeah. Good job, man. Good job, guys.

ILE: Thank you so much.

CONTRERAS: Thank you for coming.


ILE: Thank you.

CONTRERAS: You know, you've heard me say this many times before, but it bears repeating - the width and breadth of the variety of Latin music expression these days is breathtaking. You just heard from iLe and her producer, Ismael Cancel, talking about her new album, "Almadura," and its fantastic mix of rhythms and different styles.


CONTRERAS: Now, we're going to hear from the band Making Movies.


MAKING MOVIES: (Singing) Entré a la oscuridad, buscando una verdad...

CONTRERAS: The guys are based in Kansas City and their members have cultural connections to both Mexico and Panama. In fact, it's that Panamanian connection that caught the ear of Rubén Blades, who is also famously from Panama. He's featured on their new album "ameri'kana" on this track, called "No Te Calles."


RUBÉN BLADES: (Singing) Sin justificación, se muere la nación. No hay héroes que aplaudir ni huellas que seguir.

CONTRERAS: And joining us in the studio today are the Chi brothers, Enrique and Diego, talking to us from radio station KCUR in their hometown of Kansas City. But they are in the midst of a tour. Guys, thanks for taking time to talk to ALT.LATINO, and welcome back.

DIEGO CHI: Thank you. It's good to be here, Felix.

CONTRERAS: OK, so we're starting with the first track that I wanted to play, is "No Te Calles." We're going to hear all about your connection with Rubén Blades and how this song came about. But just give us a thumbnail - very brief - about what this song is about.

D CHI: Well, the song is a combination of Making Movies' music and Rubén Blades' poetry, and it's about - it presents this idea that as a community, we all need to raise our voice and not allow ourselves to be silenced.


MAKING MOVIES: (Singing) Sal a la calle, y no te calles. Sal a la calle, y no te calles. Sal a la calle, y no te calles. Sal a la calle, y no te calles.

BLADES: (Singing) La corrupción ataca. Ahoga con su trampa. Político ladrón, ¿Qué hay de tuya la nación?

MAKING MOVIES: (Singing) Sal a la calle, y no te calles. Sal a la calle, y no te calles. Sal a la calle, y no te calles. Sal a la calle, y no te calles.

BLADES: (Singing) La corrupción ataca. Ahoga con su trampa. Político ladrón, ¿Qué hay de tuya la nación?

MAKING MOVIES: (Singing) Sal a la calle, y no te calles.

BLADES: (Singing) Respira.

ENRIQUE CHI: (Singing) El silencio oculta la verdad como el odio nuestra humanidad. El gran error queda atrás. Llena tus pulmones. Respira, y no te calles.

CONTRERAS: That was "No Te Calles" featuring Rubén Blades and the band Making Movies. So when you guys were here last time, we talked about your last record. And a lot of things have happened since then. Tell us about this connection with Rubén Blades 'cause it's a really great story.

D CHI: Well, I mean, it honestly came out of the blue. We had for years spent time talking about influences in our music, and Enrique, of course, mentions Rubén Blades is a hero to us, both for his being Panamanian - and we're Panamanian. He's grown up - we've grown up with his music and knowing the social critiques that he puts into songs and the stories he tells in the songs that had been very inspiring when we were starting out and how we wanted to also follow the same tradition of putting important messages or speaking out and using the platform of the music to project more than just good times.

And when he mentioned us out of the blue at the 2017 Latin Grammys, he was just on the red carpet talking about music and that he was - music he was paying attention to. He said he discovered a band through the internet called Making Movies, and we just - our jaws dropped. We all screamed. We couldn't believe...

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

D CHI: ...That he had found and discovered us. And right then and there, he straight up called out and said, I'd love to collaborate with them. And from there that - that's - we responded right away, of course, reached out on social media, I think, and connected. And that's, like, how the whole thing began.

Right after we did "No Te Calles," he sent along the notes and the demo for a song that he'd been working on that he wrote with Lou Reed, and we were all just once again flabbergasted to think, we're working with this legend. And not only is he going to give us amazing poetry on this one song, he's also going to say, by the way, fellas, take a look at this song called "Delilah," and let me know what you guys think. Maybe something - maybe there's something you guys could do with this.

It - to me, all of the whole story of what we've been through in the last year, especially working with Rubén, has felt like that, like things that I would have never dreamed of happening are happening before my eyes. It feels very surreal to experience it.

CONTRERAS: So explain to me what this story - we're going to play this song, "Delilah," but very briefly explain the story behind it.

E CHI: So this is Enrique here. And Rubén, I guess in - right before he put out "Nothing But The Truth," he went on a retreat with Lou Reed, and they wrote a bunch of tunes together and - to work for this album. And the album was produced by Lou Reed, had a bunch of other collaborations, like Elvis Costello and Sting and other folks on it. But this song "Delilah" was left over.

And "Delilah" represents in this tune - it's kind of allegorical - represents the United States. Like, so if you think of the Bible story of Delilah, Samson is seduced by her, and then she cuts off his hair, which takes away all of his powers. And he leaves enslaved.

And so the concept is that Latin America has kind of as a whole been seduced by the myth of the United States as this place of justice and equality for all, this American dream that is available to anyone who just shows up at these shores or crosses into this border. And many people awaken to this harsh reality that they were seduced by something that didn't really exist.

That's not to discount the amazing things that - I mean, I'm an immigrant. Diego and I moved here from Panama, and we - you know, a lot of our friends and family come from immigrant families. There are amazing opportunities in the U.S., and we're grateful for them. But we all know that there's also been a myth propelled around the world of things that aren't really true, especially not for low economic class communities or Black or brown people. The American dream is very different.

CONTRERAS: Let's hear this song "Delilah." It's written by Lou Reed. It's performed by Making Movies and Rubén Blades. And I didn't think I would ever say those words on ALT.LATINO, written by Lou Reed, but here we are.


MAKING MOVIES: (Singing) Made a run to her side for the promises of pleasure. Like a kid on a ride, I completely forgot home. A coyote led the way through the desert's burning sun. Still remember how it felt to be reborn. I was stranded for the love of Delilah. And I was beaten, finger printed for the love of Delilah. I was sworn in for the love of Delilah. I was branded and deported for the love of Delilah. Met Delilah long ago, she seduced me with her song, and I swore I'd never rest till I won her love. When the migra chopper came, my song turned to a scream. Wheel of fortune ran me down, I wasn't wishing for this thing. I was branded for the love of Delilah. I was beaten, then deported for the love of Delilah. I was sworn in for the love of Delilah. I was beaten, finger printed, deported for the love of Delilah. I'm looking now.

CONTRERAS: The rock side of Rubén Blades, by way of Making Movies in a song written by Rubén Blades and Lou Reed. And we're in the studio with Enrique and Diego Chi from Making Movies. OK, guys, let's talk about the trajectory of the band and where you are now, because you - one thing that has impressed me over the years is your steadfast dedication to being an independent artist. And you guys take the extra mile, the extra five miles, you go all the way to make sure that you have your independence - musical independence, financial independence. If it doesn't work or if it does work, you guys get the benefit. So talk to us a little bit about that. Like, what's behind that decision to be an independent artist?

E CHI: Well, at first it was that no one would call us so that we couldn't be a dependent artist. And now it's a little different. I think the nature of being, just trying to develop an artist career out of a small city like Kansas City, regardless of what kind of music you make, but being Latino artists and being alternative, not down the main channel of music as a whole, that coming from a small town, you have to kind of make your own way. We didn't have - people wouldn't call us to book us very often because there just wasn't enough shows or festivals around the area that had this type of music. And that spawned the idea of curating our own little festival, which the first year, you know, drew 300 people and was this tiny little thing. But little by little, we've developed that and we've kind of tied it into the community work we do.

And so those - it was kind of like the consequence of circumstance of the fact that we had no other option, and we would just call up anyone who would allow us to perform, and we'd figure it out ourselves. And little by little, we had enough of audience that our merch sales would add up, and we could put gas in the tank. And as long as we were sleeping on floors, we could actually get home with a little bit of money after our gigs. So that's, I guess, how we developed it. And now it just feels natural, and it gives us the ability to pick our partners. If we do partner up with someone, it has to really align.

CONTRERAS: And I think the other part of that is the success that you guys have had in growing audiences as an alternative to people who are not booking the bands or your bands or the bands that you play with. I like the stories that you guys send me from the road, either on Facebook or, you know, in messages, that the crowds get bigger and bigger as the tour goes along. And they're always - no matter what the size, they're always appreciative of the music that you guys do and your collaborators.

D CHI: It's been - yeah, it's been wild to see both how deeply what we do connects with people. I think that they see that our music and a Making Movies concert is not just an experience that you go for entertainment, but that people respond, walking away as though what they're seeing is the acceptance of their culture. They're seeing that who they are is accepted and acceptable and wanted in those spaces. And that's something we didn't set out - or I never dreamed that that's what we were doing, but that that's what we have become. And I'm very proud and humbled to be able to give that feeling and that space, provide that space for people.

E CHI: And it's not just, you know, proud to be Latino, but, like, accepting fully of your Latino identity and your identity once you immigrate into the United States. And that has been neat to see 'cause I think that that can be a confusing feeling for anyone who has to have a duality of a couple of cultures in their life. You don't feel - you don't fit in completely in one. Like, with my Latino cousins, I'm the gringo, and with my American friends, I'm the Latino guy, you know? So you kind of feel disconnected all the time. And I think part of what our band has done inadvertently is speak to those people.

CONTRERAS: Let's hear some music from the album. Why don't you guys choose a track that we can play that you want to talk about?

D CHI: That's a good, good question.

CONTRERAS: What about - OK. Let me help you choose.




CONTRERAS: What about "De Paisano A Paisano"?

D CHI: That's a great one.


D CHI: Let's talk about that.

CONTRERAS: All right. So whose song is it? And then talk about your guest on the record?

E CHI: Well, it's a Tigres del Norte song. And, you know, I didn't grow up listening to a lot of that music. But Juan-Carlos and Andrés, the drummer, percussionist who are Mexican American - they obviously grew up with Los Tigres. And we were thinking of artists that have been doing what we are striving to do for many years before us, artists like Ruben Blades and Los Tigres, that speak about social issues in their music. And that song kind of came up, bubbled up because though many Latino music listeners - they have danced to that tune, they may have not stopped to really absorb the lyrics.

So we tried to give it an arrangement that lifted up the lyrics of the tune. And we were - we felt affirmed because we've befriended Don Hernan's sons, who play in a band that we did some gigs with in California - Don Hernán from Los Tigres - and so they played the song for him, and he loved it. And he confirmed that when we hung out with him - we've hung out with them a couple of times this year...


E CHI: ...Where we played gigs with Tigres del Norte. They liked our version, and we sent the music to David Hidalgo and asked him if he would participate. And he added the accordion part to the song and sang the background vocal, which is - I think fits really well because of all the groups that have been saying this message for a long time - Tigres, Rubén Blades Los Lobos - it's a bit of a nod to the generations of musicians that came before us.

CONTRERAS: And by participating with you guys, it's - they're passing the torch, man, passing the torch. It's in good hands. This is "De Paisano A Paisano" featuring David Hidalgo from Making Movies.


MAKING MOVIES AND DAVID HIDALGO: One, two, ready. (Singing) Como el águila en vuelo, como la fiera en celo, desafiando fronteras, defendiendo el honor. He pasado la vida explorando otras tierras, para darle a mis hijos un mañana mejor. Si la muerte me alcanza en su loca carrera, envuelto en mi bandera que me lleven allá. Que me canten el himno de mi patria diez meses o me muero dos veces si me entierran acá. Y de paisano a paisano - del hermano al hermano por querer trabajar. Nos han hecho la guerra patrullando fronteras. No nos pueden domar. De paisano a paisano, del hermano al hermano es de hombres llorar. Cómo duele mi patria cuando llora mi raza llanto internacional. De paisano a paisano, del hermano al hermano por querer trabajar, nos han hecho la guerra patrullando fronteras. No nos pueden domar. De paisano a paisano, del hermano al hermano es de hombres llorar. Cómo duele mi patria cuando llora mi raza, llanto internacional. Déjame soñar. Déjame soñar.

CONTRERAS: That is "De Paisano A Paisano" from Making Movies, featuring David Hidalgo, a Los Tigres del Norte track.

D CHI: That song always makes me cry, Felix.

CONTRERAS: Oh, my God, yeah, man. Are you kidding?

D CHI: It always makes me cry.

E CHI: We recorded that song a while back, actually. This album kind of - we've pieced it together in between our touring. And we recorded it the day - it was in 2018 - that Jeff Sessions came on TV, and he shot down a bill that included a piece for DACA students. And we were just like - like, we had woken up to go to the studio that day and kind of all checked our phones. We're like, did you all see this? And we're just like, oh, my God, you've got to be kidding me. How can you not have a heart for children? Like, how can - I mean, and now we've seen that situation devolve even more with family separations at the border. But in that moment, we were just, like, heartbroken.

We have so many friends that have been through those circumstances. And that day is the day we recorded "De Paisano A Paisano." We had already slotted to record it that day. So it wasn't that we pivoted. It just kind of worked out that way. So I felt like we were all really feeling that pain in that moment.

CONTRERAS: Let's hear another track, and let's feature another one of your collaborators, the band Flor de Toloache. You guys recorded stuff with them, and then they were also on one of your tours. Talk to us about how that connection happened.

D CHI: I think the first time we met...

E CHI: Folk Alliance, right?

D CHI: Yeah, I believe the first time we met Mireya from Flor De Toloache was at a Folk Alliance conference in Kansas City. And through mutual friends, she had been invited to come. And we were already there, and so we had her perform. One of the things that we were doing kind of in the vein of what we were talking about before - the vein of creating spaces for featuring music and artists that are Latinos or Latinx or making something alternative or even just doing something that has a very - it has a lot of roots in immigrant pasts.

So we invited Mireya to come perform in our room in the Folk Alliance, and that struck up - after meeting her and seeing the amazing talent that she is, of course, we immediately struck up a friendship and hung out and spoke. Actually that night, that - Los Texmaniacs were also at the conference, and they showed up and did, like, a...

CONTRERAS: That's the roots band with Max Baca from Texas.

D CHI: That's right. That's right. They showed up, and they played and ended up doing an impromptu performance together with Mireya, inviting her up to sing a classic song. It was amazing.

E CHI: Everybody in the room wept. Like, Mireya has this ability to deliver a vocal. And...


E CHI: ...Folk Alliance is, like, you perform in little hotel rooms. They want to recreate that - the old kind of jamming folk aesthetic. And they'd asked us to help curate something with more culture to it than just the...

D CHI: Banjos and ukuleles and mandolins.

E CHI: Yeah, just the main line of what people assume folk to be to include folklore of all kinds of cultures, and so we were kind of there as representatives, in a way. But when she sang, I remember that everybody - my girlfriend was sitting next to me. Everybody's, like, teared up because she sang a ranchera and just brought the house down. That's where the friendship, I think, really blossomed.

D CHI: Yeah, it began there. And so after that, we've always tried to find ways to either work together, cross paths, play shows together, do workshop-type things together or whatever. And when - we found ourselves in New York City in January. We were going to be there together. And they were going into a studio. We were going into the exact same studio in New York City. And so they were in Room - I forget which room we were in. It was, like, Room B. And they were in Room A. And we just were like, well, maybe we do a little bit more collaborating on each other's tracks while we're all here. And that's kind of what spurred the idea.

We had actually laid down the bass - the whole band track for "Rebelión" in Kansas City. We recorded that all together with Steve. And right before we did it - because Enrique, he's a fantastic singer for Making Movies. But he really - we've always shied away from trying to do the more powerful, virtuosic, salsero-type vocals. And he specifically looked at us - he's like, I think this song fits what we're doing. But I cannot sing it. So we need to find another singer. Call Mireya right now. If she says she's down to do it, we'll go record it.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

E CHI: Also, it just seemed like an inappropriate lyric for me to sing, like, no le peguen a la negra. It just, you know - Joe Arroyo, like, did such a - that translates to, don't hit this Black woman. And the song is about slavery. And I have Afro-Latino roots. But I guess I just didn't feel like it was my song to sing, you know? Some songs are your song to sing, and some songs are not. And this one was not one of mine. But Mireya, her whole family - when you're talking to her mother or her dad late night, over drinks, they'll start talking about Afro-Latinidad and their journey in trying to, like, uncover truths that have been there about Afro-Latinos and try to, like, shed light upon those cultures. That's just - that's what Mireya, like, breathes. That's her thing. And so she was perfect for the song.

And what I love about the recording, because Diego said that they were - we were in the parallel studios. She was just - she had just finished her track. And it was, like, 1 a.m. when she walked in the room to be able to do "Rebelión." And so her voice is more tired and more raw than you would normally hear it, which led to, like - well, she gave a fiery performance with a tired vocal. And that's, like, the most amazing stuff, when you have just such a gifted singer in the room, when you hear them really, like, pushing through to get the performance. And Mireya delivered, you know, amazingly on this tune.

CONTRERAS: This is "Rebelión," written by the great Colombian composer Joe Arroyo, performed by Making Movies and Mireya Ramos from Flor De Toloche.


MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Vocalizing) (Singing) En los años 1600s, cuando el tirano mandó. Las calles de Cartagena, aquella historia vivió. Cuando aquí llegaban esos negreros, africanos en cadenas besaban mi tierra, esclavitud perpetua.

CORO: (Singing) Esclavitud perpetua, esclavitud perpetua.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) (Vocalizing) Un matrimonio africano, esclavos de un español. Él les daba muy mal trato, y a su negra le pegó. Y fue allí, se reveló el negro guapo. Tomó venganza por su amor y aún se escucha en la verja: "No le pegue a mi negra."

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a mi negra, no le pegue a mi negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) Óyeme, no le pegue ala negra.

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) Porque a mi gente se me respeta. Porque esos negros se te rebelan.

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) Esto es un canto pa' todas mis niñas.

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) Ni un dedo tú nos pones encima, ¿oíste?

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo traigo la fuerza de mil cañones, soy invencible.

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.


CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) Con la esperanza de mis pregones, llegaremos a ser libres.

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

CONTRERAS: Enrique and Diego Chi, again, guys, thank you so much for taking time to talk to us here on ALT.LATINO.

D CHI: Anytime, Felix.

E CHI: Yeah. Thank you, buddy. See you soon.

CONTRERAS: I'm Felix Contreras. This has been ALT.LATINO. And as always, thank you so much for listening.


CORO: (Singing) No le pegue. No le pegue. No le pegue. No le pegue. No le pegue. No le pegue. No le pegue. No le pegue. No le pegue.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) Abusador, conmigo no te metas.

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) Que el alma, que el alma, que el alma se me revienta.

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) El alma negra que canta y llora.

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) En cada rincón de este planeta.

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue ala negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no le pegue a la negra. ¿Cuándo se acabará gente prieta?

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) Hay que luchar con toda nuestra fuerza.

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) Tú no te comparas con nuestra belleza.

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Singing) Las caras lindas de mi gente negra.

CORO: (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

MAKING MOVIES AND FLOR DE TOLOCHE: (Vocalizing) (Singing) No le pegue a la negra.

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