It's been a long time coming, but Miami mainstays the Baboons have finally released a new album. It's called Spanglish, and the LP is an epic 15-track work inspired by all things Miami culture. "This is almost from a lifetime of experience of this place," says Baboons founder/drummer/singer Mano Pila.
Fifteen years ago, the Baboons were on a roll with back-to-back album releases (2000's Global Gumbo 1999's Evolution). But then, life happened. There were marriages and children, including for the band's founder with singer Majica. They had begun dating soon after she joined the band 23 years ago, and they married nine years later. They now have two children, a daughter, age 4, and a son, age 7.
So, you can excuse Majica for comparing this album's release to giving birth. "It's great to leave something behind," she says. "You know, you go through life — we have two spirited children — and the challenges of everyday life, making it a priority to put something out, with the support of the community and all the love of the band members and all the love put into the album — it just feels good to leave a legacy behind with all these songs that are very special."
The record features veteran band members like Miguel Rega on percussion, Ike Blues on guitar and vocals, and Dominick Cama on saxophones and flutes, alongside new members: bassist Michael Mut and saxophonist Paul Messina.
The Baboons spent about a year and half making Spanglish, and the craftsmanship shows. The group mostly recorded at Miami's Red Door Studios and added "finishing touches" at several studios in South Florida. With a live foundation, the songs have a free-flowing spirit that captures the flavor of the band's live performances.
Appropriate to the album's title, the songs are sung in both English and Spanish and even include some "Spanglish" phrases all too familiar to Miami natives, like, "Souwesera" and "de pingation." Just as they blend language, the Baboons blend musical influences. When they arrived on the Miami scene in 1993, they were labeled a "world beat" band, a popular music category of the era. But over the years, the Baboons have formed a sound their own.
"Que Tiene Que Ver," a standout track on Spanglish, is an assault of everything that makes samba great, opening with a barrage of horns, piano, and percussion. Then there's "Dashiki Blue," which has a Latin swing but also features high-pitched guitar in a barrage of polyrhythm drumming that recalls the South African rock that influenced artists like Paul Simon and Vampire Weekend.
Majica and Pila are also hosts of Global Gumbo With Majica and Mano P., a radio show on Miami jazz station WDNA (88.9 FM), which airs Sundays from 4 to 6 p.m. Majica says the show has been a big influence on her and Pila, who are the primary songwriters in the band. "That show actually inspires us because we are playing world music for the community," she says. "It inspires our songwriting, and we hear things that you would never hear otherwise."
If a lot of work went into the intricate songs on the album, the same went into the packaging. This isn't a digital-only release. The physical Spanglish CD features artwork by local painter Eva Ruiz and comes packaged in an eight-panel digipak, which was necessary to fit all the lyrics for the tracks.
For Majica, it was important to include lyrics, which illustrate the stories that buoy the album. "It's sort of a tapestry of Miami," says Pila. "Throughout it, you have woven different characters, different cultures, different neighborhoods. Sometimes there’s a narrator telling you a story of someone else. There’s young; there’s old. The music, hopefully, gives you clues about who these people are. It's all kind of a story of Miami, at the street level, at the neighborhood level."
A Day at the Beach with the Baboons, Third World, and more. 2 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at the North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-672-5202; northbeachbandshell.com. Tickets cost $20 via brownpapertickets.com