Chico Mann

It’s rare to hear music for the first time that sounds completely new, yet at the same time very familiar. It’s like running into an old friend years later. That’s what happened when I listened to Chico Mann’s latest album “Analog Drift.” Elements of rhythm, instruments and vocals echo recognizable sounds, but are arranged in a way that I could never have fathomed. Think Black Eyed Peas, only without the Fergie, and actually fresh.

Categorically speaking, Chico Mann blends Afrobeat with Cuban music (naturally, because of his Cuban decent), funk and heavy synth. What that translates to is funky, super-chill, Latin-flavored music you can lounge or dance to, depending on your state of inebriation. But to fully comprehend the New York-born artist’s sound, words wouldn’t do it justice. It’s something that has to be experienced. Check out his site to listen to his creation, but before you do, read his thoughts on dance battles, his greatest influences, must-have playlist and vuvuzelas. Seriously.

Words with Chico Mann

Describe your music in five adjectives.
Spiritual, light-hearted, funky, authentic and inspired.

Your music is a fusion of different genres, but mostly Afrobeat. How would you explain the Afrobeat sound?
It’s a style of music from Lagos, Nigeria, invented by the musician Fela Kuti. The sound is a mixture of funk, African high-life and Afro-Cuban music -- it’s part James Brown, jazz and Cuba. 

Who are some of your greatest influences?
Definitely Fela Kuti, but Afrika Bambaataa, James Brown and Lisa Lisa have also been big influences. I also respect old Cuban greats like Celia Cruz and Arsenio Rodriquez.

You play most of the instruments in your music, what can you play?

I’m primarily a guitar player, but I can also play the keyboard and bass. I also learned how to play electronic music by programming my own beats.

Is there an instrument you would want to learn next?
I’d like to get more proficient with percussion instruments like the conga.

The tambourine is like the magical instrument when you’re recording.

Tambourine: instrument or noise device?
Instrument. Definitely. The tambourine is like the magical instrument when you’re recording. When I’m trying to build dynamic in a song, I throw in a tambourine. It raises the intensity by a few notches.

How about the vuvuzela?
[laughter] I still don’t know what that is, but if you get me one, I’ll play it.

Your thoughts on sampling?
I’m all for it, but personally, I don’t sample. Growing up as an analog musician, it’s something I never did. I see the value of sampling great recordings and using it to spread culture, but I strive to make recordings that are hopefully worthy of sampling.

You recently dropped your second album “Analog Drift”, what’s the meaning behind the title?

The literal translation is when an analog keyboard drifts out of tune, a characteristic with analog synths. But the larger meaning is the beauty behind imperfection. People fault analog keyboards for drifting, but there’s something organic and beautiful that comes out of that.

How has your music matured on your second effort?
Technically, it’s the fourth album, but only my second full album. The first three are in a series and share an aesthetic, and act as a lead up to the fourth. My music has gone from low-fi beats, to sound and rhythms, to a programmed sound that reflects the logical progression of Afro-funk to afro-beat to the intersection of both of those with electro and freestyle.
Name five songs on your must-have playlist?
Songs are too hard but I can give you five albums: Sun Ra, Angels and Demons At Play; Fela Kuti, Sorrow, Tears and Blood; Ismael Rivera, El Sonero Mayor; Little Dragon, Machine Dreams; and a tie between Fela Kuti’s  Alagbon Close and Kalakuta Show

Dance battles to resolve disputes. For, or against?
For. It’s a creative and artistic way to solving problems.

Lastly, you win the Sickest Logo Award, how can I get an 8-bit image made of my head?
The funny thing is the logo came about naturally when I was out on tour with Antibalas and not some clever marketing ploy. I would draw a logo on my guitar tuner pedals so the other musicians wouldn’t accidentally take mine instead of theirs, and it evolved into a caricature. My guitarist, Luke O’Malley, took a picture of the drawing and converted it into an 8-bit character logo I use today. 

More About Chico Mann

  • Born in New York City
  • Parents are of Cuban descent
  • Mother is a pianist
  • Father is a record producer
  • Born "Marcos García"

Checkout "Ya Yo Se" from Chico Mann:

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