Making Movies And Rubén Blades Trace Stories Of Immigrant Injustice With 'Ameri'kana' | Texas Public Radio

Making Movies And Rubén Blades Trace Stories Of Immigrant Injustice With 'Ameri'kana'

May 19, 2019
Originally published on May 23, 2019 9:02 am

You might say Making Movies is a band of brothers. The Kansas City-based group is made up of two Panamanian-Americans — guitarist Enrique Chi and his brother, bassist Diego Chi — and two Mexican-Americans; drummer Andres Chaurand and his brother Juan-Carlos, who plays percussion and keyboards.

In January, Making Movies released its first single "No Te Calles," from its upcoming album, Ameri'kana. The single featured a special guest vocalist Panamanian singer, actor and activist Rubén Blades, and it was no ordinary music release. The band also launched a website. Notecalles.world is a collaborative site encouraging people to sing along with Blades and Making Movies, adding voices to create one long protest video.

YouTube

"I don't believe that as artists we should dictate what social change needs to be. But I think that it is our responsibility to ask those questions and to ask that of our audience," Enrique Chi says. "I think that what's really powerful about the song is that the song really relies on a on a faith that if you just ask people to raise their voice you're going to find more people that believe in justice versus those that believe in injustice."

By having fans contribute to the video, Blades says it presents a united front of Latinos urging change.

"There's this fantasy that somehow these things can't change," Blades says. I think they can and in some instances they must."

Other songs on the upcoming album like "Como Perdonar" ("How To Forgive") and "Delilah" tells of immigrant stories and interrogates laws in America that tear immigrant families apart. Chi himself has lived this story.

"Between the time that my brother and I was born, a law changed in the United States and my father, who has American citizenship, he was able to give my brother American citizenship," Chi explains. "But when I was born, he was not able to give it to me just because of the law. So my brother and I we could share a bathtub but we weren't citizens of the same country."

Chi and Blades say the purpose of naming the album Ameri'kana is to look back on revisionist history and honoring Latinos in this country who have always contributed to America's culture.

"You don't really go to an Americana of festival and find these stories that we've been telling, this Latin influence in American music. That part is omitted to this day. And so, I I felt like we were trying to musically remind people of the history that they may already know and have forgotten or maybe they were just never shown," Chi says.

Ameri'kana is due out May 24.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

You might say that the Kansas City-based group called Making Movies is a band of brothers. There are two Panamanian Americans - guitarist Enrique Chi and his brother, bassist Diego Chi. And then there are two Mexican Americans - drummer Andres Chaurand and his brother Juan-Carlos, who plays percussion and keyboards. In January, Making Movies released the first single from their new album with a special guest vocalist, Panamanian singer, actor and activist Ruben Blades.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO TE CALLES")

MAKING MOVIES: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But this was no ordinary music release. They also launched a website - notecalles.world. The collaborative site encouraged people to sing along with Blades and Making Movies, adding voices to create one long protest video.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO TE CALLES")

MAKING MOVIES: (Singing in Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Here's a contribution from New Yorker Renee Goust.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RENEE GOUST: I stand against misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and racism. Don't let anybody ever make you feel ashamed of who you are. (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ruben Blades joins us from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program.

RUBEN BLADES: How are you? Thank you very much for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Enrique Chi from the band Making Movies is in the studios of KCUR in Kansas City. Welcome.

ENRIQUE CHI: How's it going?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: First, let's talk about this song and the video. What's the message of "No Te Calles?"

CHI: Well, you know, I don't believe that, as artists, we should dictate what social change needs to be. But I think that it is our responsibility to ask those questions and to ask that of our audience. And I think that what's really powerful about the song is that the song really relies on a faith that, if you just ask people to raise their voice, you're going to find more people that believe in justice versus those that believe in injustice. If we do raise our voice, we will find those solutions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you amplifying the voices of Latinos who are feeling under siege these days in America - I mean, having people contribute to this - you know, the very name of the song, you know, not to be silenced? It seems like it is, though, imparting a message.

BLADES: Well, it is telling people don't - you don't have to take this sitting down. I mean, there's this fantasy that somehow these things can't change. I think they can. And in some instances, they must. I think we can actually make a difference. You know, a lot of people pay more attention to what some rapper says than what the the local representative of government says. So if you can have music, art in general as a ways to convey a responsible position, then let's do that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk about another song on the album, "Como Perdonar," how to forgive. Enrique, you're the singer. But it starts with spoken words from Ruben. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMO PERDONAR")

BLADES: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Roughly translated, it says, the earth doesn't know where a country begins and ends. This song is dedicated to all of you who are suffering on the world's borders and frontiers. Was this inspired by the stories of families being separated?

CHI: Yeah, it absolutely was for me. I have a connection when I hear other people's immigrant stories. I was an immigrant to the United States at 6 years old. And ever since I was a little kid, I've always known that the distinction of legality is something arbitrary and not directly correlated to my merit as a person. Because between the time that my brother and I was born, a law changed in the United States. And my father, who has American citizenship - he was able to give my brother American citizenship.

But when I was born, he was not able to give it to me just because of a law. So my brother and I, we could share a bathtub. But we weren't citizens of the same country. I did have Panamanian citizenship because I was born there. So I had to become a naturalized citizen.

And when I hear people assume that just because a rule has placed someone on one side of this line versus another, saying you are legal to be here but illegal to be here, it breaks my heart because when you hear stories of other families who have to be separated because of their legality, all of a sudden the punishment is to break apart a young child from its mother or father from his or her mom or dad. I just can't believe that we can condone that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMO PERDONAR")

MAKING MOVIES: (Singing in Spanish).

CHI: The question is, how do we forgive ourselves? How do we forgive our leaders? How do we forgive this injustice without forgiveness? I think it's very hard to have a real discourse on how to change these realities.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's hear another song. Ruben, you sing on this one. It's about an immigrant's journey. It's called "Delilah."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DELILAH")

BLADES: (Singing) A coyote led the way through the desert's burning sun. Still remember how it felt to be reborn.

MAKING MOVIES: (Singing) Because I was stranded for the love of Delilah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the song's about immigration and the sort of idea, the myth...

BLADES: Right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...That when you get to America, things will be better.

BLADES: Well, the whole notion is that somehow, by moving away from one situation and into another, things are magically are going to function, to work. At the same time, one has to be grateful to the fact that this country has given an opportunity to many people, including myself, who left because we had to. You know, I came here directly because of Noriega. Noriega was a CIA asset. You know, I mean, a lot of...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Former President Manuel Noriega.

BLADES: From Panama. A lot of people don't simply decide, oh, I'm leaving. I don't want to be here anymore. A lot of people leave because there are no other choices.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Enrique, last question. The title of this album is "Ameri'kana." But it's written in a particular way. Explain the title of this album for me.

CHI: Well, the title is written phonetically so that you're forced to say it more with a Spanish pronunciation. But I wanted it to be the kind of thing where you're like, it looks foreign to you until you say it out loud. And then you realize that, Ameri'kana - oh, Americana. And Latino music has not been written into that thread. You don't really go to an Americana festival and find the stories that we've been telling, this Latin influence in American music. That part is omitted to this day. And so I felt like we are trying to, musically, remind people of the history that they may already know and have forgotten or maybe they were just never shown.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Enrique Chi, thank you very much.

CHI: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Ruben Blades, thank you.

BLADES: Thank you, Lulu. And thank you, Enrique.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Ameri'kana" by the band Making Movies comes out Friday. Along with Ruben Blades, other guest artists include David Hidalgo from Los Lobos, salsa singer Frankie Negron and the female mariachi band Flor de Toloache.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REBELION")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.