As we approach the Fourth of July, it is hard not to think of our ancestors and respective immigrant histories. M.A.K.U Sound System is a band of Colombian musicians from Queens, New York with that groovy immigrant beat that is at the heart of the fabric of this country.
The band will be playing their signature Afro-Colombian sounds on July 3 at Tropicalia in Washington, D.C..
I sat down with one of the band members, Felipe Quiroz, to learn more about the band's raison d’etre, and how music can be a powerful force for social change.
How would you describe the sound of your band?
M.A.K.U.'s musical foundation is in traditional Colombian rhythms but we all come different musical backgrounds and each person puts their own influences into the music in a process of musical communication, acceptance and exchange. There are strong elements of soul, funk, afrobeat, rock, jazz and noise, not always explicitly discernible but all coming together through a DIY, punk approach to getting things done.
You guys have a brilliant fusion of rhythms. What particular message do you want to send?
I believe that more than promoting a particular agenda, we try to conceive a space for unity, equality and dancing through our performances. We want to provide our audience, at least momentarily, with an experience of communal gathering, where people from all ages and all places can come together and dance!
Can you talk more about that. What makes your music and performance a powerful vehicle for social change?
Again, more than a particular social agenda, we try to be as honest as possible with our music and ourselves. We do talk about things we experience in our everyday lives as immigrants, as struggling artists, as lovers, as New Yorkers, but always, always with a positive spin. That's the key. We are nobody to judge anybody; all we try to do is transmit a positive feeling of gathering and understanding. I believe people enjoy that; all we can hope for is for somebody to leave after our show feeling irie! If we can do that, we are doing something right and we'll keep doing it for as long as we can.
How does music play a role in immigrant identity and reform?
In a way, our music is a reflection of the neighborhoods we live in. The people that surround us, multiple cultures coming together to better themselves, working hard, struggling and hustling. It's not always pretty. Most of us have been undocumented at some point. I am myself a recent Deferred Action beneficiary and a Dreamer, so yes, growing up undocumented in New York City has made me who I am, no doubt about that, and our music reflects it. We are breaking down musical barriers--mental, social and physical walls that prevent us from enjoying and benefiting from each other's unique greatness.
How do you measure the impact of your music performance?
Dancing! If people are getting down, it is working. If they are just staring at us, we know we have to break the ice and make them feel like it is totally cool to freak out and move however they feel. Interestingly enough, this is harder to do here at home in New York City. People are a lot more receptive and excited outside of NYC, but regardless, there is always someone really dancing and letting go, even if it's just a couple of people. It makes us want to do it again and again.
What does M.A.K.U stand for?
I will let you know when we come visit D.C.! Editor's note: the secret is on M.A.K.U.'s website: http://www.makusoundsystem.com/#!about