That’s the question Kansas City band Making Movies poses on its latest album, Ameri’kana, a sonic journey through the musical lineage of the Latinx community.
The band, which is comprised of two pairs of brothers — Enrique and Diego Chi from Panama and Andres and Juan Carlos Chaurand from Mexico — met by chance in Kansas City and bonded over their love for rock n' roll and the Latinx music that they listened to in their formative years.
"We wanted our music to have the attitude and rebellion of rock along with the flavor of Latin rhythms, which are truly Afro-Latin," says frontman Enrique Chi.
Ameri'kana is the latest chapter in what Chi calls the band's "journey to reacquaint both styles of music," which he says are closer than they seem.
"Throughout our ten years as a band, we realized that the reason why those two sounds went so well together is that they have the same African roots — it’s just that rock and blues ended up in North America and cumbia and tambor in the South. We thought we were blending opposing styles, but we are really just bringing them back together after years of estrangement."
One of this year's hidden gems, the album, produced by multi-instrumentalist Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, is playful and engaging. Chi says it is meant to play like a radio set from the future, its songs doubling as tales of our current political turmoil.
"It is set around like 2050 as if you're hearing these old songs from when we dealt with all these injustices and now listening from a more placid point in time, thinking Oh wow, we don’t have these problems anymore. Now we can just enjoy the music without experiencing the suffering the lyrics are talking about.”
"The album is a dream and proposes that there is a way for us to have a world where there is justice for everyone," he adds.
Ameri'kana houses many guests, like salsa singer Frankie Negrón, Chicano band Las Cafeteras, and Panamanian powerhouse Rubén Blades. Some of the group's biggest influences for the record were Genesis, Silvio Rodriguez, Residente from Calle 13, and Blades himself.
Blades sings on three of its tracks, including lead single "No Te Calles" and the punchy "Delilah," which was written during a week-long session between Blades and the late Lou Reed. It tells the tale of a man who sacrifices his freedom to be with his true love as an immigrant in a new country. “I was branded and deported for the love of Delilah,” goes the chorus.
The band linked up with Blades after he professed his love for their music during a Latin Grammy red carpet interview.
“We were shocked that he had heard our music," says Chi. “Collaborating with him was very emotional for us. It's hard to believe his voice is on our record and it was a real dream come true. He has taught us so much and he’s a true master of his craft.”
Both the U.S.' migrant family separation policies and Venezuela's socioeconomic crisis inspired many of the songs on the album.
The opening song, “Cómo Perdonar” ("How to Forgive") was inspired by the passing of Jakelin Caal, a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl who died while detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. "Seeing these families being punished for risking their lives for a better tomorrow has been unfathomable," says Chi.
The song's lyrics indicate there is no melody or religion that can give one the strength to forgive such atrocities.
“You can’t change history, nor the damage that has been done to indigenous and African communities," says Chi. "But all of it has happened, so how can people find a way to move on and grow in such a situation? How can these communities find a way to heal?”
Chi hopes the record can serve as a celebration of the many cultures that have come together to make up not just Latin America but America as a whole -– trauma and all -– and battle the erasure of these cultures' influence on popular music.
“Jazz, blues, and rock n’ roll are seen as All-American, but that’s not the full story. Jelly Roll Morton said you can’t play jazz without that ‘Spanish tinge’ or seasoning, and anyone who plays rock n' roll knows that, too," says Chi.
“What’s beautiful about music is that it’s a tool to find the truth. Books can lie or sugarcoat things and edit as they want to. But listening to music, you can hear and trace its true roots on your own."
Miami audiences will be able to witness Making Movies' synthesis of styles and strong cultural messages when the band plays a free show at Las Rosas Sunday, October 20.
Chi calls this a sort of homecoming for the band, as in many ways, Miami is the place closest to representing the Latinx prosperity that Ameri’kana longs for.
“We are so excited to play there and have a lot of friends and family in Miami," says Chi. “We invite everyone to take part in this experience. I know the energy will be just right.”
Making Movies. With Dama Vicke and Frankie Negron. 8 p.m. Sunday, October 20, at Las Rosas, 2898 NW Seventh Ave., Miami; lasrosasbar.com. Admission is free with RSVP via eventbrite.com.