|Interview with "Mono Loco"
by Mono Lo, SEPTEMBER 2002
Why did you choose Macaco as band name (meaning "to make faces" in English)?
Gamin: " I used to be very nervous. I had to move all the time and I was climbing on everything, so that I got the nickname Mico, which means monkey. It has also got to do with the form of my face. At that time we also played at Las Ramblas with an African friend who is called Chumo and who lives in Paris now. We dressed like monkeys, we tacked on hair and jumped up and down to call on the people that they would throw down some bucks for us. Afterwards we started playing our music. The people saw us with our drums and immediately approached.
How did the group manage to create a fusion between Spanish, Brazilian as well as other styles of music?
We try out different things. The melange and fusion has been existed for more than a thousand years. That 's nothing new we have invented. For me, every kind of music derives from a fusion. The best and most pleasing definition of Macaco for me is music of roots which puts out feelers. Because we use music strongly emphasized on its roots, i.e. Brazilian and Latin music, flamenco and Catalan rumba. Those are the roots, music that we known. I'm from Barcelona, Sandro from Amazon in Brazil, Welcher is of Cuban origin, so we really know how to play this music. We mix it with modern musical elements, the feelers, e.g. electro, hip-hop and other musical elements that are not ours but which concur perfectly with the music we make. For the song Piarata de Agua Salada from our latest album, for example, we mixed tanguillo and flamenco. Having this key tune we layed basic elements of hip-hop, rap and scratches on it. What comes out is a totally different thing. The first verse of the song, for example, is sung in Spanish rap, while the chorus is played in rumba style. We use other cultural pieces which we make ours, in a way. In our age-group we used to listen to traditional music, but at the same time I was listening to punk, rock and hip-hop, which I happened to get on tape from someone. We try to use things that have a meaning to us. In addition, we add tunes that we like, to give our music personality.
In Sandro's case, the Brazil percussionist, which kind of music does he bring in?
The song Revuelta, for example, the last song on our latest album, is a mixture of maracatú, a traditional Brazilian tune, with funky keyboard tunes and us singing. Chico, the singer of Martires del Compas and me. Chico sings flamenco, which actually has got nothing to do with the song. However, when you listen to it, it works. That's the most important thing. I make fusion but no confusion.
Your themes always contain a part of social engagement. Do you think that social engagement and music always have to be linked to each other?
The songs are not always of the same nature. Sometimes, they derive from the music, sometimes from a mere vision, or from a statement. Concerning our statements, I like to talk about the things in life. It's not about being political, because we dislike politics. We simply express our opinions and foremost, we talk about the things in life. I'm several things, not only one. However, it's often the same thing talking about singers: it seems that singers always have to be one thing only. The super hero, the super fighter, social but from that point on not allowed anymore to talk about love or their visions or whatsoever. I try to create a wide range, because you can be sick of Bush but at the same time fallen in love and wanting to chat about sensations as in Delaveraveraboom, which talks about the street Escudellers. Talking about me and the group, we participate in social event. We performed at 2000 festivals for free to support the things we are interested in. But in the first place, I am a musician, Macaco. The individual stands in the second place. I partake in different things, which I really love to do to express my opinion. But those are only our opinions, it doesn' t mean that we know everything nor that we try to change the world. It's more about counter information. Because, as a matter of fact, the information that we receive is poor, with the things happening in Irac, for example. We are also worried about the Palestine issue. That's why we are going to participate in an album, as Ojos de Brujo do, as well. What I want to say is that Bush is the most dangerous terrorist in the world. The people who know Macaco know that, but hopefully we manage to show ordinary people, as well, that the things we see on TV don't represent the truth.
Beforehand you used to sing in the streets of Barcelona. What could you tell us about street musicians? Has the situation since changed for them?
We played for a long time in the streets of Barcelona and Ojos de Brujo, too. We played several times at the Catalunya square, above the metro station. For us, it was a means to survive. We gained good money to live and to do whatever we wanted to do. At that time, you simply brought a generator, i.e. a battery of a car connected with amplifiers and than you played. We were a little bit too amplified but, however, we neither sounded like Metallica. But the Generalitat and the government have restricted that, because they want to get rid of the people living in the old part of the town. Barcelona is a maritime city. Previously, wealthy people didn't want to live in that area. They preferred to live in the upper part of the city. At the ports used to live prostitutes and musicians, but they want to change that. It's a strategy of the Catalan government to change the situation. It's not allowed anymore to play with electrical instruments in the streets. But, as a matter of fact, the musicians can't play with any instrument, because those who play with accustic guitars, sing without a micro or play the drums get their instruments confiscated. It's a political strategy. They destroy all the old part of Barcelona, because it's close to the sea. And since foreigners like that area, they want to establish a Barcelona '92 part two, very tidy. They make blockades. They say that in that area many old people are living. They want to get rid of them and their buildings, but they keep the area. If you go to square Real, for example, there is an example that clearly and strongly describes the Generalitat's policy: There have always been benches on that place, which served to sit down, to meet your friends and to chat. In Catalan, you have the Catalan rumba which originates from those benches. People meet each other, take a guitar and play the rumba! And what did the government do? They removed the benches and placed single chairs instead. That's surrealistic! People can't chat anymore.
You dedicated the second album to Narciso Monturiol. Is that someone important to the band?
No, that was a coincidence. A lot of lyrics of the second album were written on tour of our first album. We had been quite a long time on tour and a lot of lyrics about the sea came to my head; about deep water. It were not merely lyrics talking about the sea but about pirates, compasses and SOS signs. And I said to myself: "I really like that". I liked the linkage between those things. I didn't want to make a conceptual album nor anything in that style. I only liked to create a connection to film. When I was young, I really liked the book "Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea" from Jules Verne. I adored it. The thing about submarine is about being under water. For me, it's like an alternative, the underground. There is a bunch of bands in the South of Europe: in Italy, in Spain and also in South America. That's not the typical Latin music, because there are a lot more interesting things in it. We are not the only ones who do that. Everyone mixes the music with his tunes. For me, it's a bit like the world underwater. It's like sticking your head under water and discovering another world. Everybody knows the world above, because that's what is shown to you. But under water there is another bunch of things, a real world. And I tried to reflect that. When we were in the studio, I started searching on the internet with the guy from the studio. And all of a sudden we came across Narciso Monturiol. It's a person you study in school, but nobody remembers him afterwards. We were in the studios in Figueras, in the North of Catalan, and he grew up there. We even saw his submarine. He was an inventor, like Isaac Peralta. So we started reading about him and discovered that he was not only an inventor, but also had social ideas. He wanted to help. He wanted his inventions to be used for nice things that would help the people. We liked the idea and wanted to pay him a little homage. Today, Sandro, the percussionist, told me that his wife, who works as a decorator for the movies, met Narciso Monturiol's son. He was really happy and thanked us a lot. Sandro just told me that less than an hour ago.
You also participate in numerous projects with other bands, e.g. Los de Abajo, Ojos de Brujo and Amparanoia. How arise those collaborations?
I collaborate with the people I like, not only with people playing Latin music. We realized a project with the bassist of Suicidal Tendencies and Infeccious Grooves, Robert Trujillo. It's a Chicano, well, half Mexican half from Los Angeles. And when I was younger, I had a band playing in that style. We met in Denmark back then, we became friends and so I sent Trujillo a demo of our music. When he stopped playing for Suicidal Tendencies we started a project with two bass-guitars and some fairly good drums, which was called Mash Metal. I really admired this project. However, I also worked with Roy Paci, the trumpet player of Aretuska and I recorded some ska tunes with him. He also has another band in a totally different style of music, called Banda Ionica. They are all Sicilian, mingling tarantela, traditional Sicilian music, with other tunes. I like to work with open-minded people, meaning that they don't have to be necessarily people playing Latin music. Tomorrow I'm going to meet a Russian who makes trash metal, and maybe something comes of it. I don't like to close up. With Los de Abajo and King Changó I did not only sing, but we also hold a label called Hermandad Chirusa. With Martín, the guitar player, and the Colombian Carlos Jarmillo we founded a label to produce the musical parts of our albums. We produced the Los de Abajo album and some songs for King Changó. That's something different, because, in the first place, I'm not a singer. It's more that I try to help make things sound good. I try to bring the knowledge to the bands, so that the vision of their band stays alive. I don't think that much as Macaco, but rather as a musical producer. The role of the producer is to help things sound good, add things without the band would lose its personality. It has to be their album, not mine.
With Ojos de Brujo, it's still something else. It wasn' t a collaboration. I was part of the band. I founded the band with Ramon and Juan Luis. They are my family, my brothers. I was playing with Macaco at the same time, so I couldn't be present at all the concerts. At that point, Marina appeared, the canillas who is a very good singer. I really admire her. Well, we decided that it would be better to let her sing and that I would act as support, if available. That's what we did on the second album. There are a lot of songs on it, which I had for a very long time. That's why I sing on almost every album. Now, they released another album which is a real piece of art. I recommend you to buy it. On this album I mainly helped with the Fabrica de Colores. Carlos Jaramillo, the Colombian, has also participated in the recording. I sing two or three times, and I added some things. Marina wrote really good lyrics, but the most important thing was to compose an album that really reflects what the band represents now. Ojos de Brujo functions more like a collective. It's mainly Juan Luis, Ramon and Xabi. They are the hard core and I am like the cousin who always joins in. It could be, in the future, that I stop playing with Macaco and that we will make a record together, but only under the condition that I'll be present on tour. On the first album, in the beginning, they were asked: and where is "Mono Loco" from Macaco?, meaning: we are not going to pay you. That was a problem. It was very difficult being at two places at the same time. I was mad, the mad monkey (mono loco in Spanish)! We performed concerts, which were two concerts at the same time; Ojos de Brujo and Macaco. That was hard! And now, they've produced a gorgeous album with a sacred singer. Marina has a lot of personality. She has a lot of things to say. It's an independent interpretation of flamenco. Good flamenco musicians, no puristes, but the good ones with an open mind, admire their music a lot. It's the same for us. Look at Welcher, for example, the Cuban pianist. It's a master, someone important for the Latin music, but he came here to Barcelona to settle with his wife. And I'm lucky having him in my band. He has already played with bigger bands, like Ramon. It's always said that, if you make some fusion, you can mingle a lot of things. But some things you can't leave out. It's like you were talking to Bob Marley and he told you you always had to keep a basis in reggae. Afterwards, you could sing in French, Spanish, take trumpets, a scratch, some rap and some gipsy sounds. But you have to keep the basis. I think, we all have our personality. I think that Amparanoia, Macaco and Ojos de Brujo all have their personality and are dignified. It's nothing that can be done overnight. But we learned from the masters, the primary rocks of music.
To finish of, how do you manage to speak that quickly in your songs?
It's a word-play. I like to play with rhythms. I can develop several influences in rhymes. It's said that hip-hop was born in New York, but for rhymes it's not true. Call it rap if you like, but in a lot of other cultures rhymes have already been existed. Rhymes in connection with chants, the habit to rhythmically play with words. In flamenco, for example, if you listen to old flamenco, there have already been woman, who knew how to play with words. Another culture that appeals a lot to me is the tradition of ragga muffin. It originates from Jamaican culture and by using Spanish in addition you can do a lot with it. Personally, I don't especially look for the play with words, but I try to use words full of spirit, to avoid monotony. I don't like a lot of people in the hip-hop business. Because, when they make rap, they always use the same basis. I rather prefer people who interpret and play with words. I know a really nice song on the Ojos de Brujo album, half flamenco half Indian with a hip-hop basis. It' s called Quien egana no gana (who cheats doesn't win) and I rap, but rather slowly. I like the intention a lot. I'm singing very closely to the micro, like I would whisper in the people's ears. It creates a gloomy atmosphere, which I like a lot. I try to bring the force of the words forth not by speed but by the way saying them.
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