Music News

Chico Mann's Global Sound Moves Feet

He may be armed with a laptop and sample pad, but don't confuse what Chico Mann — the stage name of Marcos J. Garcia — does on stage for DJing.

"I get mistaken for a DJ, and it's like, 'Wow, no, this is not DJ,'" Mann says.

As a member of Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, he's no stranger to playing in a live band, and he aims to replicate that sense of musical spontaneity, even as he performs solo.

"I can go in and mess with it, rearrange it, change the drums underneath it, dub it out," Mann says. "It's not like a playback, karaoke thing."

Mann's debut disc, Analog Drift, feels like anything but karaoke. The album's 12 songs ricochet between Afrobeat guitars, thick old-school hip-hop synths, glitchy drums, and Latin rhythms. Mann sings in Spanish on most of the tracks, switching to English for a Wild Style-ready take on the Talking Head's "Once in a Lifetime," and the rhythmically meditative "Go to That Place." But even the large chunks of the record that are instrumental feel lyrical, with melodic, twinkling keys accenting the dance-floor beats of the live and sampled drums.

"I was raised in a Cuban family, but I grew up primarily in New Jersey, so it's multi-cultural around here, I guess," Mann says. "I was just exposed to all those worlds [hip-hop, Latin, Afrobeat]. I think the music I make is a really natural expression of the context in which I grew up."

Mann's early life was dominated by music. His mother was a radio disc jockey and pianist, and his father produced merengue records. The saturation in his parents' record collection is evident, but so are elements of electro-pop and breakdancing culture. Mann says his music is made for dancing.

"[Concert-goers] should expect to dance, because if they don't it would be a bummer," he says, laughing.

"Time has gone on, and with social media, I see where my name pops up and stuff, and often times people are like, 'Cleaning the house, listening to Chico Mann,'" he says. "One recent one was, 'I wish I had someone to listen to Chico Mann with me at 4 in the morning 'cause I'm high and drunk . . .'"

It's hard not to move while the record is on, and Mann aims to translate that energy to his live shows.

"In terms of the aesthetic I'm going for, I want it to feel more natural," he says. "I play through the songs. There's variability and imperfection, and I think the beauty of music lies in the those things."

Utilizing studio mixes, he adds live elements over his pre-recorded tracks, but often finds inspiration in subtracting them instead.

"Deconstructing it," he says. "That's even more fun than assembling it."

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.