The immigrant experience is an opportunity to create, to find a voice that speaks loud and proud, to connect past and future. A chance to make history. That’s what the eight-piece M.A.K.U. Soundsystem does on their fourth album, Mezcla (‘Mix’). Through the eyes and ears of Colombians who’ve arrived and made their homes in New York City, it is, in every way, a mix, an invitation to think and to dance.
The band passionately elaborates, “The immigrant experience is complex. Though reasons and conditions for migrating vary greatly (modes of transportation, access to resources and language, fear of violence, health, etc.), one thing we can certainly say is that it is a life-changing, identity-shaping experience. As a group of curious and creative people, our immigrant experience manifests itself through the playful exploration of our musical roots and cultural heritage, while making commentary on our day to day realities, inevitably reflecting our times. For the past several years, M.A.K.U Soundsystem has come together week after week to practice communicating in multiple ways; musically, culturally, politically, and straight-up emotionally growing closer as we continue to develop a shared language. It’s not always a tight groove, but the point of our mixing is not to become homogenous. Our album “Mezcla” is about us coming together through and with our differences, to create a musical experience where we can all be truly present as unique and essential elements of that mix.”
Mezcla is a relentlessly honest record. The music hits the feet and the hips, powerful and overwhelming, while the lyrics reflect the lives the band members live. There’s the giddy flirtation of a summer Saturday night on ‘Haitiana’ and the thought that comes from looking around somewhere so different and asking ‘What Do You Wish For.’ But it also embraces darker political questions that don’t have easy answers. The opening track, ‘Agua,’ for instance, wonders why some people own the seeds that should be for everyone – who are those who have and who are the dispossessed? And ‘De Barrio,’ the warm, inviting waltz that closes the disc, examines the journey so many coming from Latin America to the US undertake.
M.A.K.U. Soundsystem is a powerhouse that’s been built over years of rehearsals and gigs, criss-crossing America from the Lincoln Center Outdoors -in their adopted hometown of New York- to Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Canada and around the globe to the Roskilde Festival in Denmark and onto the Atlantic Music Expo in Cape Verde. Everywhere they’ve won over friends: a storming appearance at globalFEST saw the band awarded a touring fund, while new outlets have kept heaping praise on them.
Mezcla is a statement, an embrace. Think and dance. A way forward delivered with the urgency that’s become a hallmark of M.A.K.U. Soundsystem. It captures the live sound of the band, that thrilling rawness where the rough edges become a vital part of the whole, plenty of freedom but with the tightness honed by night after night of gigs.
It’s passionate and blazing, turning from anger to tenderness, to endurance and hope. M.A.K.U. Soundsystem is the modern immigrant experience in a microcosm – and it’s not so different from all the generations that have gone before. People carrying their own mix of the past and the present, the old and the new, tradition and modernity. Mezcla reflects the lives they’re building.
“We try to keep it human,” Ospina says. “To give people something they can relate to.”
To think and dance.