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M.A.K.U. Soundsystem on new horizons of Latin music

February 7, 2020

The line between a good show and a great show is largely undefinable. How can you quantify fun? M.A.K.U. Soundsystem, a genre-blending band whose music draws from a broad swath of influences spanning from cumbia to psychedelic rock, played a set at Ladd House on Saturday evening. For about an hour, M.A.K.U. Soundsystem got about as close to a perfect show as I could imagine.

Upon the band’s arrival at College, I was immediately taken aback by how few members there were. They played as a trio, with Juan Ospina playing bass, Camilo Rodriguez playing guitar and Andrés Jiménez on drums, while all three members contributed on vocals. M.A.K.U. has had as many as eight members, and I was surely expecting more than just three to show up.

However, any doubts surrounding how M.A.K.U. would sound as a trio were quickly erased when the band started playing. Ladd’s living room filled with sound and everyone started to dance. After this, the details get hazy. The room was hot, bodies moving everywhere, moving almost instinctively to the unrelenting rhythms coming from Jiménez’s drums.

Everyone in attendance stayed the whole time—none of the classic “show up for the first 20 minutes then go to Supers” Bowdoin nonsense. The packed room, combined with the relatively bare-bones setup of three members, gave the show a very punk feel. But instead of a mosh pit and sweaty men, everyone was dancing their asses off—sweaty men included. The energy was, for a lack of a better word, electric.

Before the show, I caught up with the band for an interview.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Bowdoin Orient: Where did the name M.A.K.U. Soundsystem come from?

Camilo Rodriguez: M.A.K.U.  comes from the Nukak-Maku [which] is an indigenous group. And this group was displaced by the war in Colombia, and they came out on the front page of the New York Times back in 2010 or 2009.

Andrés Jiménez: Yeah, 2009 or 2008.

CR: We just use that name because of that.

Bowdoin Orient: So you guys all hail from Colombia but the group formed in New York. Do you think that your music is necessarily influenced by mostly Colombian artists or other stuff that you are exposed to living in New York?

Juan Ospina: Primarily and first and foremost, to me, it’s a New York experience. We are Colombian and that’s where we come from; what we do in music and the scene that we’re a part of in New York involves things that deal with traditional music from Colombia, so that’s in us. But also we are part of a world. New York, as you said, they call it “the melting pot,” so it’s diverse within itself. There’s a lot of sound from different places of the world, you know, a large spectrum of Caribbean music, a large spectrum of African music … and then there’s music from New York itself, like salsa, hip hop and all that stuff. I think all of that mixing is inevitable and it permeates and breeds and we breed it back, but also, I think the good part of it—what we enjoy—is that it comes through this M.A.K.U. filter, in which it leaves a print that is unique and our print of the diaspora in New York.

Bowdoin Orient: As musicians, how do you feel like the United States is changing in terms of interest and perception of Latin music?

JO: I think could it be that we’re surrounded by this world that feels it’s tired of the usual things; we all grew up in Colombia, we would listen to the radio and they’d play all the stuff that came from here, like Bon Jovi. So having listened to all of that and coming here, there are a great amount of people in this country who still wanna listen to “oldies but goodies.” And I like all that! But at the same time, I don’t know if it’s because of the radio, but all of a sudden it seems that people are looking to listen to other people’s stuff. The eclectic sound has become more accepted in America, it doesn’t just sound like rock all the time. Maybe, but that’s what it feels like.

AJ: Yeah it’s also the migration. Things take shape. Everything is migrations, especially in a place like New York City. You know, people from, say, Ecuador—you’ll find more musicians from Ecuador doing things and changing things around. I think for Colombian people, we are probably a result of a lot of people that have come before us to pave the way. If you look at history you’ll see the Puerto Ricans have had a big, big, role in opening up doors for the Spanish-speaking people that came after them, in New York. And you have like the boom of salsa, because of the Dominican community, too. We’re all some result of migration. So in that sense like society and music will always be linked together, you know, in that way.

Bowdoin Orient: Obviously, Latino people in the United States have been playing a massive role for the entire history of the U.S., but culturally, Latino people have been shunned. And now I think that with a growing Latino population—a vastly growing one—it seems like parts of Latino cultures are starting to be more and more integrated into “American culture.” That begs the question, do you guys see any signs of appropriation? I feel like I hear more and more of just vaguely Latin sounding music made by a bunch of white dudes.

JO: There are people like J. Balvin and Rosalía who actually made a charge into the mainstream, right? Beyond whether we like it or not, I don’t think none of them could have had a chance before, I don’t think the mainstream industry would have taken a risk to have somebody saying three, four, five words in Spanish, they’d be like ‘Hell no! That’s gonna ruin my labor, you know, America is not ready for that.’ But apparently they realized that, you know, people are seeking something different.

Bowdoin Orient: Latino culture really is such a massive part of American culture.

JO: The blend is undeniable, yeah. But tonight could be a testament to that. People were saying that we’re playing at a college that has bankers that come out of here. There’s that need for a new kind of wave. We’re into different things in life, it’s not necessarily just all monetizing.

Bowdoin Orient: People want to dance.

JO: People want to dance! So that’s what we shall see tonight, to watch the sons and daughters of—and these are the words of your co-college students—the neo-liberal kids are here. Let’s see if they also are into the feeling of things, you know.


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