The hero… the archetype from the Greek meaning “protector” or “defender,” extended to those demonstrating moral excellence; an entity which progresses tenaciously in relative obscurity remaining unknown until a major debut.
We mere mortals may at some moment discover a major influence, someone to emulate or follow or study; that which embodies our version of success. Finding that example, and applying the lessons, is difficult at best.
Consequently, it takes a lot to stand out in LA. It takes even more to remain committed to the honorable conviction of being a role model. Yet the quartet known as Chicano Batman have decided to take up a musical quest in a complex city, which although is over 50% Latino, still caters immutably to other ethnicities. There’s no doubt that these gentlemen understand that moving from novelty to “investment worthy” continues to be a tricky path.
There’s a draw, a release and a conclusion… and Chicano Batman are on the hunt to fulfill their American Dream. Bardo Martinez, Carlos Arévalo, Eduardo Arenas and Gabriel Villa may have started-out relatively “laid back”, but now it’s all business. Lucky for us their trajectory follows a host of trailblazing influences from the 70s.
Though my Dad brought me up with Glenn Miller & Bing Crosby, and my mom with Elvis & Vicente Fernandez, it was my grandmother who bought me my first 70s album, KISS Love Gun (yes, with the paper-gun that POPPED). Grandma also bought me my trusty ‘ol Realistic radio-recorder, which led to years of Casey Kasem and to an appreciation of musicianship.
And this is what sets certain artists apart, what differentiates a work-of-art from a product… the attention to detail and the respect. Not merely crafting the song, but the actual art of making the music. Over the centuries virtuosos have filled halls with geniuses and intellectuals; those whose sole purpose was to master their instruments. The “final piece” was an inevitable result of all that screwing around, but by no means the ultimate goal.
The 70s were especially interesting when it came to pushing the limits of dissonance, insane arrangements and spiritualism. We had Al Di Meola, Steve Lacy, and Santana; prog-rock gods and disco demons; soul-searchers, punk activists and superhuman storytellers. This decade had it all…
And thanks to Chicano Batman, I get to re-live it again as they take some of the best of the 70s and mold it into a style that is truly unique. But these guys aren’t merely doing this for ME; they have embarked on an engaging heroic journey to inspire and entertain us all.
Citizen LA: Ok… You got people shaking their asses. You got really inspiring music. You got soul. Watching the performance, it was obvious the band was having a good time up there… except for you, Carlos, you were a little serious.
Carlos: I have so many things going on with my effects that require a lot of concentration. I mean, I wanna dance around too, but… [sad face].
Citizen LA: Aww, look at that. You don’t give Carlos a chance to dance! What’s wrong with you guys??
Bardo: We are all pretty busy up there. I play the guitar, the keyboards, and sing all at the same time.
Citizen LA: I think I saw you working a Hacky-Sack too.
Bardo: You know it!
Citizen LA: Chicano Batman, huh? So which one of you is Bruce Wayne?
Bardo: I guess that would kinda have to be me, cuz I came up with the concept. It’s all about us being superhero-like in your own right.
Citizen LA: So in this concept I hear: One part Santana… One part Latin Jazz Fusion… And a twist of Marley. No doubt there’s a heavy 70s influence in your music.
Carlos: If you live in LA you hear Art Laboe doing the Oldies on Sundays, and that’s been since we were little kids.
Bardo: A lot of what I listened to came from my Pop’s records and cassettes.
Eduardo: My Dad was in Vietnam, so he listened to The Doors, Ray Charles, Iron Butterfly, Janice Joplin, more rock stuff. Then he would do Mariachis on Sundays.
Gabriel: I love 70s music. It was so pure, so rich… so raw and delicious.
Citizen LA: Your music is at times a bit complex especially being performed by only four people. Is there room for improvisation?
Bardo: It’s actually pretty methodical and thought-out. We let ourselves jam around the idea, but I don’t really think we’re a jam band.
Eduardo: We have to seriously rehearse the set because we have a lot of changes, a lot of dynamics. It’s definitely not easy. And if we don’t rehearse the set, we’re gonna lose each other playing live. So there’s little improvisation.
Citizen LA: So how does LA treat you?
Bardo: Our music is real and honest. I think our LA fans identify with that and understand what we’re doing. We hope to empower them. And being from LA there are many Latinos fans that don’t get many opportunities.
Citizen LA: For years I lived down the street from Boyle Heights, and I can tell you that East LA really needs heroes. The kids need people like you. Someone that they can look up to and say, “I wanna be like him.”
Bardo: What you’re saying is absolutely true. People say, “You guys are going to Coachella, right? Don’t’ forget about us, please. ”
Citizen LA: Aww… that’s so cool.
Bardo: We carry the weight of our families, especially for those family members that are old and can’t make it. For all the fans that come to our shows, and buy us drinks, just cuz they believe in us. For me, all this is not mine. This is not “our” band”, this belongs to everybody. This is a moment for everyone. Let’s own it, man! Let’s be proud of this, because this is just the beginning.
Citizen LA: Right on… wait… so who’s buying you drinks? Cuz, bro, hook me up!
Carlos: It’s all about peace and love and harmony. That’s what we’re trying to project as a group. If you come up to any of us, we’re gonna give you a hand. Everybody’s on the same playing field, no matter where you’re at and no matter how high up on the ladder you THINK you are. There’s nothing more real than our brothers, our community.
Adventures, challenges, enlightenment, and eventually praise comes to the hero, whose originality emanates from the suppression of the ego. The path has reason and reward, however the hero must contend with constant demand to “be someone”, or worse yet “someone else.”
After a few minutes of watching Chicano Batman perform, it became apparent that these guys are committed to their art, to their instruments. After a few minutes of hanging-out, it became apparent that these guys are rooted in a positive mindset with no contrived effort to be anyone other than themselves. Their fans should feel confident that these guys are the real deal.
And upon learning that we all had a similar LA upbringing, Bardo referred to us as “homies,” a humble compliment to say the least– especially coming from a power quartet whose talents run circles around many of today’s musical acts.
In my opinion, they all have a little bit of Bruce Wayne in them. [:P]