L.A. band embraces many styles for their soul identity
by Allen Thayer
In the imagination of their charismatic lead singer and founder, Bardo Martinez, Chicano Batman is a mustachioed, underground hero wearing a flannel cape over his wife-beater, armed with a crisscrossed “bandito-style” utility belt loaded with an arsenal of musical styles and emboldened by his sworn duty to make “Latin music” safe for gringos and Latinos alike. The Los Angeles four-piece band draws from a variety of styles, from Brazilian bossa novas, Colombian and Peruvian cumbias, Mexican rancheros and boleros to American soul, funk, and surf rock influences. In fact, the group prefers to dodge the “Latin” tag altogether. “It’s nice to be appreciated for our musicality,” bassist Eduardo says—and not just the usual “they’re good for a Latin band, because we’ve heard that too,” he adds.
Picking up where other transcendent L.A. “Latin” groups like Thee Midniters (1960s) or Los Lobos (1980s) left off, Chicano Batman’s unique and diverse sound takes “music that was in our parents’ collections, music that we were probably conceived to,” as the starting point, Bardo Martinez says, then filters it through the cultural cannibalism of Brazil’s pop-political Tropicalia movement made famous by Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Os Mutantes.
Alternating between psychedelic rancheros, turbo-charged cumbias and Blaxploitation-meets–Sir Douglas Quintet soul fusions, a Chicano Batman show has more changes than James Brown had sequined capes. Their sound continues to evolve from their 2010 self-titled debut LP as a trio (guitar/keyboard, bass, and drums) to their 2012 EP Joven Navegante, “an interlude” as a four-piece (adding lead guitar to make more room for Farfisa organ). Their third release, Magma, another EP, just dropped with three new Pan-American psychedelic grooves. Their second full-length is due for release overseas this fall internationally and next spring domestically.