Brothers Diego and Enrique Chi and their friend Brendan Culp, who attended high school in Lee’s Summit, will have a busy weekend. Their band, Making Movies, is getting wide-spread notice and gig after gig.
They’ll play in Des Moines Friday, June 7, pack up, and drive back to perform at Downtown Days Saturday in their hometown.
They’ll slip in a weeklong music camp for kids, perform at Knuckleheads in Kansas City next weekend, and be ready to move on to other shows, in Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, New York and even to Panama and Costa Rica. It’s becoming their routine as the band tours the Midwest and beyond, its acclaim spreading coast-to-coast and to Central America, in part thanks to opening shows for three-time Grammy winning band Los Lobos.
It’s a vagabond life, crashing at friend’s pads to save money, then back to Kansas City and Lee’s Summit where they give music lessons and work in after school programs to make ends meet.
“If it weren’t for the friends we’ve made, we couldn’t do this,” Diego Chi said.
“We drive through the night all of the time,” said Brendan Culp.
Culp and Chi spoke with the Journal about the band’s story.
Panamanian-born brothers Diego, 24, Enrique Chi, 29 and Culp, 25 were friends and played together in high school, in school bands and their own groups. The fourth member, Juan-Carlos Chaurand, 27, is from Guadalajara, Mexico and attended high school in Kansas City.
Diego Chi and Culp credit their music experience at LSN with pushing their development as musicians.
Diego Chi said his father loved the Beatles and rock n’ roll while his mother loved salsa. Growing up bilingual and bicultural in middle-class Lee’s Summit led them to the notion of creating their own blend of Rock and Latin style.
Enrique Chi and Culp had been working in 2009 to infuse their indie-rock music with Latin flavor, when Chaurand jammed with the band. They clicked and he has been a member ever since. Diego Chi, who had started the band with his brother, rejoined in 2011 after a two-year break.
The sound they searched for was beginning to emerge.
“The music went from being an idea we talked about to being an idea we could completely visualize and hear,” Diego said.
Culp plays the drum set, Diego Chi plays bass, Chaurand plays percussion and keyboard, and Enrique Chi plays guitar; they all sing. Enrique Chi writes many of their songs, bringing a melody and lyric to the rest of the group in a “camp fire” version and they collaborate to finish the song. They rarely cover other artists.
Their said their music blends Afro-Cuban, Afro-Peruvian, Reggae, Columbian Cumbia and indie-rock, with lyrics in English and Spanish, reflecting the bands bicultural heritage.
Culp said the band has been influenced by a number of salsa artists such as Hector Lavoe, Ruben Blades, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Afro-Peruvian artist Susana Bacca, Reggaeton artist Calle 13, and Los Lobos of course.
The group’s strongest fan base is immigrant kids with similar experience, they said, growing up speaking English in America but surrounded by the Latin music, while also listening to groups like Radiohead, they said.
Their biggest break to date was working with Steve Berlin, who plays saxophone and other instruments for Los Lobos, to produce their latest album.
They met Berlin while opening for Los Lobos in August 2011 when that band played Knuckleheads, a club in Kansas City. He invited them to make a trip to Portland for a weeklong recording session, where he produced their latest album that was released in March, titled A La Deriva, which means adrift. It is a concept album about the challenges faced by an immigrant family.
During the sessions, Berlin made suggestions which gave new depth to their music and challenged them. “He really wanted to draw out a performance that would connect with people,” Diego said. “He’d say ‘I can hear you thinking, less thinking, be more in the moment.’”
They maintain day jobs, Culp and Enrique Chi give music lessons at Legacy Music in Lee’s Summit, Diego and Chaurand help with after school programs at the Mattie Rhodes Center in Kansas City.
At Mattie Rhodes they’ll soon be holding a week-long music camp, and those youth will play an opening song for them when they return to Knuckleheads June 15. Chi said they had a great opportunity to grow up in a suburb with an excellent school and middle-class parents, for which they’re thankful, so they want to give back to some who aren’t as fortunate.
The pairing with Los Lobos at Knuckleheads worked so well the band invited them to open at other shows, including the Greek Theater in Los Angeles for the Los Lobos’s 2013 Cinco de Mayo Festival.
Making Movies has released three albums, In Deo Speramus, Aguardiente, and A La Deriva. The band was featured on the main stage at Kansas City’s Middle of the Map Festival, and tracks have been played on National Public Radio’s Alt.Latino, a weekly show dedicated to alternative Latin music and issues. They played at Wakarusa.
They regularly have sleepless nights driving to the next city, and do their own publicity, booking and travel arrangements. Hard work to get the fun of performing.
It’s not as glamorous as it might seem, they said, it is the friends, fans and the music they’re making along the way that is exciting.
“Sushi in California tastes the same as sushi in Kansas City,” Chi said.