Chico Mann | 02.11 | S.F.

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Words by: Eric Podolsky | Images by: Trevor Traynor

Chico Mann :: 02.11.10 :: Elbo Room :: San Francisco, CA

Chico Mann :: 02.11 :: San Francisco
Set in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, the Elbo Room‘s weekly Thursday night dance party called Afrolicious never fails to deliver sweaty grooves. This particular evening turned out to be especially hot, as the DJs were paying tribute to Joe Cuba, the under-appreciated father of Latin boogaloo. Featuring DJs in rotation throughout the night, the headliner and highlight of the event was special guest Chico Mann, the Antibalas gutarist-turned-Casio-beatmaster supreme. Marquitos “Chico Mann” Garcia certainly knows his way around a good remix. His set took pieces from every type of world dance music imaginable and combined them all to create a funky-ass tapestry of bombastic booty beatz.

Though Chico Mann usually utilizes a full band, this club gig saw a stripped down group delivering a set comprised of Garcia on vocals and Casio keyboard, a DJ (who dropped the majority of the sounds) and a percussionist playing along on hand drums and electronic pads. Considering the show was primarily a DJ gig, this hybrid group succeeded in delivering pre-programmed grooves while also infusing the music with a spontaneous live element.

After an opening DJ set of salsa and mambo grooves, Chico Mann took the stage to an eclectic, well-lubricated crowd and proceeded to get the dance floor bumping with his self-styled brand of deep, synthy world beats. From the start of the set, it was clear that this was not going to be a traditional tribute to Joe Cuba. Listening to Cuba’s original recordings from the ’60s, his hybrid style of mambo and R&B is certainly danceable but sounds a bit dated and heavy on vibraphones, recalling an older time of cocktail lounges, shiny suits and umbrella drinks. On its own, it is difficult to appreciate the music’s historical importance, but given the modern remix treatment by Chico Mann, Cuba’s music came alive to the young audience in a radically transformed way. His blipped-out Casio sounds and hip hop street beats replaced the mambo shuffles of original Cuba songs like “Hey Joe, Hey Joe” and “Bang Bang,” leaving the songs’ melodies and vocals intact. Chico Mann channeled Cuba with his traditional repetitive chanting of the Spanish lyrics, which kept to the Mambo tradition more than any other element of the night’s music and successfully whipped the crowd into a dance-trance frenzy. With this radical re-imagining of Joe Cuba’s retro sound, Chico Mann succeeded in helping the audience appreciate the past by bringing the music into the present.

Chico Mann :: 02.11 :: San Francisco
Along with the Joe Cuba tunes, Chico Mann also mixed in plenty of tracks from his latest album, Analog Drift: Muy…Esniqui. Catchy originals like “Mentirosos” and “Go to that Place” were rooted in repetitive Afrobeat grooves transposed to ’80s hip hop Casio beats and sprinkled with plenty of Mambo chanting and techno-electro bleeps and bloops. By the end of his cathartic set, the dance floor had reached critical mass, and many seemed blown away by the trance-like, layered wall of grooves, leaving us to cool down and dry our sweaty selves.

Listening to Chico Mann’s globetrotting, time-traveling mixes, it was hard not to compare Marquitos “Chico Mann” Garcia to Joe Cuba directly. Both came from the cultural melting pot of New York City, and just as Cuba fused elements of African-American soul and R&B with Afro-Cuban mambo to create his own musical genre, Chico Mann has taken old-school Afro-Cuban and Afrobeat sounds and infused them with a futuristic, 21st century hip hop attitude and swagger to create music that defies classification. Add to that the fact that both adopted catchy stage names (Joe Cuba’s real name was Gilberto Miguel Calderón), and the connection is undeniable. Both men prove that American music cannot be bound by genres, and are proof that the musical traditions in this country are ripe with fluidity. Any truly new, original music will always be a byproduct and result of music that has come before it, as evidenced by these two men and their music.

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