(Left to right) Diego Chi (bass), Enrique Javier Chi (singer-songwriter, guitar), Brendan Culp (drums), and Juan-Carlos Chaurand (percussion) (Photo/Lindsey Fisher)

[VIDEO] A Kansas City indie rock band mixes in Caribbean sounds and giving back

Earlier this month, the Afro-Caribbean indie rock band led by two Panamanian brothers, Making Movies, started making big moves with lots of glorious noise. The bilingual band from Kansas City dropped their album “A La Deriva,” produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, won MTV Iggy’s “Artist of the Week,” and started a national tour ending in May.

“My first memory of being a person is loving a song by Dire Straits,” says lead singer and guitar player Enrique Chi while touring with the band in Puerto Rico. “I was in Panama City, and I heard a piece of the song “The Walk of Life” in an ad, and I cried because they never played the end.”

As an ode to the power Dire Straits had on him, Chi named his band after another one of their songs, “Making Movies.”

“What I love about music is its ability to become a fabric,” says Chi about how a song could take him back to when he was 2, and what he was smelling at the time. “I was in Panama a while ago, and my grandmother loves Hank Williams, and I could see it on  her face — it like pulled up a file. I can only think of very few things in life that could do that — connect to your soul I guess.”

He says his guitar-playing dad was also an inspiration to him.

“My brother Diego plays bass in the group,” says Chi, 29. “We grew up watching [our dad] play…We loved classic rock — The Beatles, Peter Gabriel, and my mom likes Latino music like merengue and cumbia. It took a lot for me to figure out how to mix it — we’re bicultural people — our rhythms are the pulse to our heritage. It made sense to combine them. We were able to make a music that is powerful and unique.”

He says his parents moved to Kansas City with plans to study and go back to Panama, but they stayed.

“We were the only Latinos,” says Chi about growing up in Kansas City. “Once I became an adult, I realized in the city there’s a pretty big Latino community.”

In 2009, he says he and his brother kicked around the idea of starting a band.

“We met Juan Carlos, a percussionist who was able to give us the Afro-Caribbean sound, and we instantly hit the road in a van and started booking shows wherever we could,” says Chi. “It kind of all came after that…”

Juan Carlos Chaurand says he grew up in a very Latino neighborhood in Kansas City, unlike Chi.

 “I grew up among Mexican families, and my family actually owns a Mexican restaurant,” says the Mexican-American percussionist. “My mom directs a Mexican folk group, and I grew up dancing, and I help teach.”

He says for him, it was pretty easy to maintain his culture while simultaneously blending others into a harmonious melody.

“When I was 12, there was a band in Kansas City — a Latin band trio, who wanted to do more Caribbean music, and they invited my dad to play. He said I’m too old for this — take my son. I got into playing the timbales… Around 13, I got into salsa. So since then, it’s taken over my musical influences. The rhythms have captured me.”

A few years ago, he met the Chi brothers at a salsa club, and they invited him to jam. Now 26, he plays the congas, timbales and the keyboard in Making Movies.

“They have grown to be my brothers,” says Chaurand about the band. “It’s taken over and I couldn’t be happier. I’m excited to see where this journey takes us.”

Their new album, “A La Deriva,” although upbeat sounding, takes you on a serious path if you listen closely.

“It is based on a couple of things that happened around my life,” says Chi. “We do some work with kids are at risk with domestic violence or school problems, and one of the songs ‘Estaba buscando’ is about one of the young women I met there who has gone through abuse — she’s 13 and gets pregnant by some other kid. It affected me.”

He explains if you’re not careful, your life can develop a dangerous cycle, and he wanted to bring attention to that.

“As a man, the decisions you make…your kids are affected by it,” says Chi. “The record has a couple of characters in it — the younger person is basically me. The last two songs I talk about wanting to go a different way — that’s the aim of the record.”

The group has actively supported the DREAM Act since 2010, and has co-founded a music camp for underprivileged kids in Kansas City called M.U.S.I.C.A. (Musicians United by Social Influence and Cultural Awareness) last year.

Mattie Rhodes — a non-profit we partnered with — lent us a space for a week, and we were able to run it with volunteers, and a bunch of instruments were lent to us from a university,” says Chi about the one-week program in August, which they hope to repeat annually. “There were 25 kids the first year.”

He says through music, people are able to unite, because there’s always a common ground.

“I just want people to listen,” says Chi. “In this disposable lifestyle, I hope people take the time to digest it. I feel like it’s worth it — we put in the effort.”

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