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Music Interview

Los Superhéroes de LA

Rolling with Chicano Batman

By August March

Chicano Batman
Chicano Batman
Josue Rivas
Growing up in el Norte, we got to hear the latest and the greatest in rocanrol music—thanks to a town and a culture that happened to love the sound two guitars, a bass and a drumkit made when possessed by the spirits of awesome musicos from Jerry’s Kidz and Cracks in the Sidewalk, to Al Hurricane and Tiny Morrie. Because interest in these various forms of rocking tuneage was traditional, a lot of us also got exposed to oldies tambien—thanks to our parents and their ubiquitous, banging car stereos.

But our thing ain’t local, it turns out. Way out West, a group of youthfully groovy Latinos is charting a stellar course that’s been near and dear to Burqueño’s hearts for all these years. They’re una banda se llama Chicano Batman; they create and perform an informed mix of rousing rocanrol finely intertwined with traditional Latino musical conceits, the soulful R&B of past ages and a progressive political platform that is, at once disarming and infectiously interesting; deep yet danceable doings from a quartet that came of age in the aughts while hip-hop flared and rock retreated.

Weekly Alibi had the honor of platicando con la guitarrista of this esteemed ensemble. His name is Carlos Arévalo and we talked about the rocanrol music. Here’s a part of that conversation.

Weekly Alibi: Chicano Batman made the rocanrol scene with a daring combination of old school soul sentimentality, fluid Latino Funk and straight up rocanrol. Could you tell our readers about that?

Carlos Arévalo: We take our influences—which vary from ’60s tropicalia music with a psychedelic rock twist that was basically created by artists like Caetano Veloso, Os Mutantes and Gilbert Gil—very seriously. Soul music is also a heavy influence for us, both American and Latin American bands like Los Pasteles Verdes or Los Ángeles Negros have a place in our hearts. But like any other rock band, we’re inspired by rock music! I dig Jimi Hendrix. Anyway, we take those sounds and make it our music, re-contextualizing those influences for our reality. It comes out sounding like Chicano Batman.

Let’s talk a little more about the Chicano and Latino music thing. How did all of those influences come to fruition as Chicano Batman?

For me, I really didn’t grow up listening to Latino music. I grew up in the Inland Empire and mostly grew up with hip-hop, but also oldies on the radio; I listened to Art Laboe’s oldies broadcast all the time. Those were the sounds that were always around me. I liked rock music too. I liked Radiohead and Björk, and when I was in high school, the band Television. I got into bands like Los Pasteles Verdes through Chicano Batman. I know for a lot of the guys [in the band] that [Latino] music was all around them. They bought those records, but didn’t really start appreciating them until they were in their college years. A big influence for [band vocalist] Bardo [Martinez] is Andrés Landero, which is Columbian cumbia. Gabriel [Villa] is Columbian, so he grew up in Cali listening to a lot of salsa. Eduardo [Arenas] is Chicano, from LA, he grew up listening to music from that scene.

In a musical culture that is still dominated by Euro-American aesthetics, you’re introducing a new generation to the grooviest in Latino sounds, via rocanrol; how do audiences react to this fresh infusion of new sounds and rhythms?

It’s been a really positive experience. After shows, people will come up to us and say they found out about Latino music because of us. Some people already understand the references to other artists that we make in our work. One guy told me, “I really like what you did on this song, ‘Friendship,’ it reminds me of a Los Ángeles Negros tune my grandfather played for me, when I used to visit him as a child.” They bring their parents to our shows. People get what we’re doing and it bridges gaps.

Chicano Batman has indeed created a multigenerational following, especially for Latinos hungry for new developments in funky rocanrol, how does that accomplishment feel to you?

Well, our stuff is still pretty weird. With any musical form that is new, you want to push the boundaries a little bit. We’re doing something that is fresh and different. For some, we’re a little too out there, but there’re people who are determined to find a way into our music. Sometimes that musical connection comes through our ballads, songs like “She Lives on My Block” pay homage to a type of oldies music you hear still hear a lot out here on the West coast, and in the Southwest too.

Will listening to Chicano Batman expand the minds of American rocanrol audiences?

I really hope so. I hope that our listeners dig our sounds and then go back to find out about where those sounds and records came from. That’s always important. It shines a light on great artists that people might have forgotten about. We’re paying attention to the past, the rocanrol and R&B scene of the ‘60s, but doing it to make the future better; como superhéroes like batman, Chicano Batman.

Chicano Batman: “Freedom is Free”

Chicano Batman in concert with Khruangbin
at The Historic El Rey Theater • 622 Central Ave SW
Tuesday, Oct. 31 • 7pm • $17
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