Words: Dominic Valvona
M.A.K.U. Soundsystem ‘Mezcla’
Released by Glitterbeat Records, 27th May 2016
The fourth lively polygenesis rave-up from the eight-piece Colombians abroad, M.A.K.U. Soundsystem, is both a celebration and reminder of the immigrant’s continuous travails.
Adding a South American carnival spirit of crossing rhythms and sizzling syncopated sauntering to the scenery of a city already synonymous with being one of the world’s melting pot epicenters, the M.A.K.U. still find something new to bring to the New York party. Translating the title of their latest album Mezcla leaves you in no doubt that they’re all about the ‘mix’; whether that be the mixing up of musical styles or cultural identities. For a band that is mostly made up of former Colombian émigrés you’d expect the Afro-Colombian influences to be strong. A musical heritage itself influenced and cross-pollinated with various visitors over the centuries – both forced and of their free will -, the South American homeland is one of the most diverse, though more famously it is known for its world-renowned and highly influential version of the ‘cumbia’ style of music. Used on this album to great effect, cumbia rubs up alongside a colourful myriad of other musical lending and borrowings, including hip hop and jazz.
Not too loose as to fall apart, yet no so tight as to lose that essential raw live sound the band are so famous for, Mezcla walks the line between the two well. As strong as the ‘mix’ leitmotif is, they also chant and implore the listener to ‘think’ but also ‘dance’. The infectious music will invite you to the floor but the lyrics will emphasis the struggles of the dispossessed.
They begin with a call for unity to the sound of hot brass and skipping time signatures on the opening ‘Agua’, following with a whirling free flow of Soweto township like harmonies, Fania Latin percussion and New York sass shuffling chants to overcoming challenges, ‘Thank You, Thank You’. Encouraging us to ‘Let It Go’, they take on a musical ride through time and geography; 90s’ Moog from clubland mixed with West African polyrhythms and jazzy nuzzling horns all set in the contemporary environment of the immigration crisis.
M.A.KU. Soundsystem produce a questioning but vibrant soundtrack for a modern, troubled and beleaguered America on the edge of an identity crisis. Yet there is a certain joyful spirit that remains infectious, celebrating the fashioning and diverse make-up of the band’s local neighborhoods; showing that this cultural and musical exchange is a two-way street.