Chico Mann of Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra on Analog Drift
There are always those albums that you miss. Analog Drift, by Chico Mann came out in 2010, but I didn't get it until last week. Which is a real shame, because it's a fantastic disc, featuring 12 tracks comprised of vintage hip-hop synths, Afrobeat shuffles, Latin vocals, and a Talking Heads cover that nearly out-funks the original.
The album is the solo debut of Chico Mann -- who plays guitar in Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra under his given name, Marcos García -- and he is scheduled to perform Thursday, October 6 at the newly opened Crescent Ballroom downtown.
García and I spoke over the phone about his multi-cultural influences, his Chico Mann alter-ego, and the optimal conditions for listening to Analog Drift.
Up on the Sun: So you've worked with Antibalas, as well as your solo career.
Marcos García: Still do, yeah.
So "Chico Man" is your alter-ego.
Yeah, I'm thinking I might just have to merge my alter-ego into Antibalas as well [laughs.]
Yeah, I don't know. It's funny, because more and more people are recognizing me as Chico. I've generally tried to keep the two worlds separate, but they keep coming together, so why fight it?
The music of Antibalas and Analog Drift are not the same thing - but not all that different, as well.
Yeah, it is cut from the same cloth, it's a different pattern I guess.
Were you raised in a multi-cultural family?
I was raised in a Cuban family, but I grew up primarily in New Jersey, so it's multi-culutural around here I guess. I was just exposed to all those worlds [hip-hop, Latin, Afrobeat]. I think the music I make is a really natural expression of the context in which I grew up.
Do you perform solo?
I've experimented with a lineup for years, and now I'm doing it solo. I'm using a laptop and a MIDI control, playing synth, singing, tricking it out a little bit. Coming up with new arrangements of the songs. I'm just having fun.
What should people expect at a Chico Mann show?
They should expect to dance. Because if they don't... it would be a bummer [laughs].
I was listening to your record while working this morning, and my girlfriend asked me if I was having a dance party.
As time has gone on, and with social media, I see where my name pops up and stuff. Oftentimes people are like, 'Cleaning the house, listening to Chico Mann," or one recent one was, 'I wish I had someone to listen to Chico Mann with me at 4 in the morning 'cause I'm high and drunk...
Those are the optimal conditions for listening to your record?
[Laughs]. I don't advocate it...
Your album doesn't have the feel of a "club record." It doesn't have that...soulless feeling so much club music has.
I don't sample anything; I record it all. In terms of the aesthetic I'm going for, I want it to feel more natural. I play through the songs. There's variability and imperfection, and I think the beauty of music lies in the those things.
And you try to achieve that live?
The manner in which that principal is applied is slightly different in the live show. I've sampled myself. I'm basically running the recording sessions, they are mixed down... There's little elements to subgroup things - so I have control over all the parameters of all the songs. I can go in and mess with it, rearrange it, change the drums underneath it, dub it out. It's close, but it's a little different. It's not like a playback, karaoke thing. I get mistaken for a DJ, and it's like 'Wow, no, this is not DJ.'
So you are assembling the songs in a live setting? In real time?
And deconstructing it. That's even more fun than assembling it.
Chico Mann is scheduled to perform Thursday, October 6, at the Crescent Ballroom.