All Posts in Friends We Love

15/05/2014 - No Comments!

and then there was the chat I had with aamer rahman



Here's the interview I did with the dope comic Aamer Rahman, originally posted on Friends We Love.

Comics We Love:: Aamer Rahman

Aamer's ¨Reverse Racism¨ clip had gone viral. It was really tight and I looked for other material. Here's a person of colour and his delivery and politics sound exactly like conversations I have with friends and family. We wanted to support. After finding the¨Workshop for Whitey¨clip, that did it. Aamer was like a homie…in Australia…who I never met…or knew how to contact…Uh…

Instead, I devoured clips from Fear of a Brown Planet, the stand-up duo he was part of with Nazeem Hussain, and his new solo show, The Truth Hurts. The few days of stalking worked out because we Skyped back in February and again in April to shoot the shit about comedy, hip-hop, the legendary 5 ptz, politics, and more hip-hop.


JCA: What’s happening with the million things you’ve been working on?

AR: Working on my UK tour, so doing publicity for that. Been trying to organize some other shows outside of London. There’s that, then working on this US visa stuff, trying to pitch a show here, trying to figure out what job I’m going to do when I come back from tour, dealing with bullshit. And organizing my DVD filming. I’m gonna film my first special; I’m trying to crowdfund it. I got a friend who’s going to film it for me. It just doesn’t make sense to go through a company because you have to pay them back before you see a cent. I’d rather just, even if I don’t make any money off it, I don’t want to pay [a company] thousands and thousands to do it.

We should have an artist network where artists can reach out to artists, and anyone who’s got money at the time can just be, like, ¨Here.¨ That’s another Kickstarter campaign right there.

JCA: My friends and I saw the ¨Reverse Racism¨clip and wondered how we never heard of you before.

AR: So, talking about the ¨Reverse Racism¨clip, I was going to quit comedy this year. I felt like I was going around in circles. I was getting tired, so I recorded my last show. I thought if I’m going to quit, I may as well put this stuff out online so people get to see it. That was the first clip I put out; I had no idea it was going to go bonkers. I put it on FB and I tweeted it. I tweeted it to a few people who I know are hooked up with BuzzFeed, stuff like that, but even then it didn’t make it straight away. I don’t really know who or how it kicked off, but eventually it made it to Huffington Post, ColorLines. Anywhere and everywhere. Everyone was asking, ¨Who is this guy?¨

Reverse Racism

YouTube Preview Image

JCA: As a kid, did you lock yourself up in your room doing standup routines like Eddie Murphy’s Raw?

AR: No! I was the biggest nerd! Dude, I’m still the biggest nerd. (Shows me one of his figures.) This is what I do in my free time. I was just comic books, spaceships, Transformers, robots. That was my life. Super, super geek. I grew up on comedy like everyone else, listening to Chris Rock and watching Chappelle Show. I loved it but it never entered my brain that I would do this.

JCA: Was your family supportive when you decided to do comedy?

AR: Uh…nah. (Laughs) I mean, migrants who left everything behind in their home country to come and put their kids through better schools to get a better education to get them better job prospects? And I’m, ¨Hey! I like telling jokes!¨ It’s not that they weren’t supportive but migrant parents are always in that state of anxiety and I’m, like, ¨Who needs a backup plan?! What could go wrong with this?¨

JCA: Fear Of A Brown Planet recently did their final show—

AR: We did. It was emotional.

JCA: Any reflections about your time in the duo? Was it just time to go?

AR: Yeah. Nazeem has his own TV show that’s gone into its second season. We both were being pulled into different directions, artistically and timewise, and I think our individual comedy was becoming stronger than Fear of a Brown Planet. I think people were more interested in seeing us separately than a show that was half me and half him. We were just developing our own audiences. It’s still the most significant thing I’ve done comedy wise. It came at the right time and captured a certain type of sentiment. I think it was something that was really original and meant something to a lot of people, so I’m always proud of it.

JCA: Best and worst show and why?

AR: My worst show was definitely one of my first ones, an activist fundraiser or something. I literally had been onstage three or four times. I got on and I was already sick of my old material— my five minutes of material that I had done four times. I thought I would write all these new jokes. I told my first and then 100 percent blanked out. I stood onstage for minutes not remembering my jokes. The crowd thought I was doing it on purpose, laughing and laughing. The harder I tried to remember, I couldn’t. Eventually I just made some stuff up and that’s only because, literally, my brain stopped working. To this day friends say, ¨Remember that fundraiser and [you] pretended not to remember your jokes?¨Dude, my soul was bleeding to death. I have never ever tried to wing it since then. I am so anti-winging it. The whole point of comedy is to make it look like you’re winging it. People forget you’re retelling a script you’ve done many, many times before.

[Best was] Brixton. We went to Edinburgh [Festival]— 3,000 other acts and no one knows who you are. It takes the entire month to get momentum. A friend of ours organized a show for us in Brixton with two days notice and people came from all over. And it was London; people got it straight away. It was so cool.

Hey, you know 5Pointz? Won’t they just keep painting it? Whatever they make, people should just keep painting them, but I’m sure it’ll be well protected.

JCA: Yeah, they do. I grew up by it. While in litigation, owners painted it white overnight.

AR: Painted it white? Exactly! What a great metaphor.

JCA: You got the Chappelle opening [in February]! How was it?

AR: Supporting Chappelle was good. The crowd was good. He tours with a DJ and the DJ is really serious from the beginning about respecting the comics, don’t shout out, don’t heckle. And it was a small venue, about 3,000 people in an auditorium.

I met [Dave] briefly and he was super nice. That’s the most famous person I’ve been near and the way his fame makes other people behave around him was ridiculous. You have a greenroom full of food and it’s a great place to take selfies. It’s a magnet for douchebags and evil.

JCA: The cult of celebrity.

AR: For me, supporting Chappelle was the peak of my career. Then being in the same room as him put it in perspective where the peak of my career is in terms of the industry.

JCA: Do you feel like that’s happening with you?

AR: Yeah, that’ll never happen because of what I do. It’s just not cool to hang around me unless you’re actually interested in what I’m saying. I don’t have that crossover stuff. When I write, I’m imagining the people that I organize with. That’s who I want to be laughing. I want a small show with a hundred people who I’ve known for the last ten years rather than a thousand people that don’t even know what I’m saying. I think that’s why when personal shit happens it’s so much worse.

JCA: Louis CK said in an interview that he still works on his routine while on tour. What’s your process?
AR: If I have a show ready and am touring I don’t mess with it too much. I tweak it, but if I’m doing a show that people are paying to come to, I don’t take risks. I don’t throw an extra bit in…because I’m not Louis CK… (laughs) but you know what I mean. I’m not going to throw in what could be a flat two or three minutes in the show. Even writing wise, it just happens. I don’t spend time once a week or once a day writing. Sometimes I don’t have ideas for weeks and sometimes in two days I’ll write a bunch of stuff because ideas are coming.

JCA: On your Wikipedia page—

AR: I’m so scared of what you might say. I tried to make my own; I just wanted a very simple Wikipedia page. It got rejected. Rejected. Not enough sources. Random people made a page and it’s got all these mistakes in it. I’d edit it, and it would just get edited back, so I give up. Please tell me what it says.

JCA: It said that you lived between Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Australia?

AR: Correct! Ok, that’s a true fact. Unlike the members of my family.

JCA: How did moving around influence how you move in the world, especially in Australia?

AR: Well, I was born in Saudi Arabia. I moved to Australia for the first time when I was six, moved back to the Middle East, then back to Australia when I was about thirteen. Both times were a complete shock. I was going from a Muslim environment and very diverse, multicultural schools to Australia, which is just a complete other universe. I think the trauma of settling into Australia twice affected me, the difference in being in a place where your culture, your religion, and everything was cool to being in a place where it’s automatically alien.

JCA: Do you consider yourself Australian?

AR: Nooo, and I think that feeling is even heavier here. In America, you would have a lot of first generations that would say they’re American. In Australia, Australian is interchangeable with white. The only time I would refer to myself as Australian is if I’m visiting another country and they ask where I’m coming from. You’ve been reminded enough times that you’re not from here so we don’t claim it at all. Besides that, politically I feel because it’s a colonial society it’s not something I’ll ever claim.

JCA: Do you feel like Australia has progressed, regressed? In ¨post-racial¨ States, the election of Obama made things worse in a lot of ways.

AR: The thing I always say about Australia is we don’t even have the token progression. In the States, in the UK you hear about not having enough representation in politics, in television, not enough people of colour reading the news. Australia asks what you’re talking about. I think it is so heavily whitewashed because of our history: Australia had a white only immigration policy until the ‘70s.

When [conversations] happen, it’ll be four white people on a panel going, ¨Hm. Is Australia still racist? I’m not sure.¨ The colonial mentality is so deep across everything. After indigenous people got genocided, this country didn’t have to deal with Brown people until forty years ago. There’s still people who have the first Black or Brown family moving into their neighborhood. It’s literally like going back in time. It’s the worst, regressive, technologically advanced society on Earth.

JCA: How are your workshops for whitey going?

AR: Dude, that’s so old! The thing about this [¨Reverse Racism¨] video is that all of these people are looking at my first comedy now. It’s so embarrassing. I can’t take it down, I don’t want to leave it up…It’s had this domino effect on my other videos.

JCA: But it’s so good. That was the last clip that I posted.

AR: ¨Workshops For Whitey¨? Isn’t it very Australian?

JCA: No, it’s the same everywhere. I posted it and friends said it was funny shit.

AR: That’s awesome! Ok, maybe I will do that when I get there.

Workshops for Whitey

YouTube Preview Image

JCA: I watched the ABC Australian Story on you guys—

AR: That documentary is so fake! That’s Australia’s leading documentary program, right? It was a big deal we got on it. I didn’t realize it’s just like reality TV. They call me in, do makeup and everything. They do the full interview and then say [they] need [me] to come back. I sat there and the director read lines. ¨Can you say that line with more emphasis?¨ It’s totally scripted. I was totally pissed off by the end of it.

JCA: I was wondering how you guys felt about it. Did Nazeem feel the same?

AR: I think Nazeem was less pissed off, but Nazeem is generally less pissed off than me. I was pissed off about that and because we were Muslim guys. She was really fixated on [that]. How do we interact with women? What are our groupies like? It was exhausting. It’s not important. And the only footage of my sister was when they did this thing about groupies! I was so angry.

JCA: I brought the special up because they talked about how there were things you were not going to joke about. Is there anything off limits in your comedy?

AR: [In politics], no, I don’t think so. You will rarely, if ever, hear jokes about sex. That’s cultural and also, for a guy, as soon as male comics go into sex territory there’s always the probability, not the possibility, they’re going to say something wack. I don’t want people to come into my show and feel uncomfortable. Unless they’re racist which, in that case, I don’t mind. I just don’t need to do dick jokes or relationship humour or stuff like that. Culturally, it’s a thing and also politically, I don’t need to go there.

JCA: You mentioned in the special wanting to so comedy full-time. Are you?

AR: I might do festivals and then do a few months of work, then do some performing, squeeze in tours here and there. Australia is so small and the comedy I do is so niche here, it can’t be sustained full-time here. Unless I change my comedy.

JCA: If you had been planning to leave comedy, did you have your backup?

AR: HAHAHA. NO! I never came up with a backup plan!

JCA: That shows you’re on the right path.

AR: Heh. Hopefully…

JCA: How do you deal with hecklers?

AR: I don’t get hecklers. I’ve worked so hard to make sure random people don’t come to my show. Everything that I say and do publicly is political and tied to my work; people who don’t like it are just not interested. I never try to tweet generic stuff so that generic people will follow. I want a certain type of person to be at my show. Early, early on in Fear of a Brown Planet we, honestly, even then, didn’t get hecklers. We had people leaving and asking for their money back, but because it was all Brown people in the show, white people just didn’t have the guts to say anything.

JCA: Do you feel the comedy scene has improved?

AR: It’s pretty bland. I wouldn’t say it’s overly racist because I think comedy in Australia has a slight alternative tip. But it’s still super white, super male. All the ethnic comedy is…ethnic comedy. There’s a very small critical comedy scene. They’re really cool, but it’s small. BUT! I had one of the greatest hip-hop groupie moments of my life, and I’ve had many. Dave Chappelle turned up at a block party I was at that my friend was DJing. She starts playing ¨Microphone Fiend¨by Rakim. In the middle of it he turned around and started rapping to me. I started rapping back, and we had a moment. Two comedians rapping ¨Microphone Fiend¨ to each other! He didn’t know who I was [at that time]. I turned to my manager and my wife and I was, like, ¨No one filmed that?!¨

JCA: So…let’s talk about hip-hop.


JCA: Tell me when you fell in love with hip-hop and what you’re listening to now.

AR: I always listened to it. I listened to radio hip-hop growing up. I randomly bought Public Enemy’s [It Takes a] Nation of Millions [To Hold Us Back] when I was about seventeen? That’s when I started looking for hip-hop as opposed to liking whatever was on the radio. That was the tipping point in terms of all kinds of stuff that ended up influencing me. I feel like that movement aspect [in hip-hop] is kinda gone. You had eras of that stuff. Now you have to really dig to find that stuff. Like Jasiri X? Dude, I love this guy! Everything he touches is amazing….Jasiri X follows me on Twitter, and he retweeted that video of mine… Everyone else, I just stalk them.

I have been playing Bambu’s mixtape back to front! I think after early 2000, with Dead Prez, Black Starr, The Roots were kind of at their peak, that whole post-Native Tongues kind of thing sort of happened, there was a dip. I haven’t heard anything like this guy. And the beats! It’s 200 percent West Coast. When you listen to the real heavy political stuff, a lot of times you have to not expect anything from the beats. But the production! It’s like an album for me, not even a mixtape. It’s so good.

JCA: What’s the hip-hop scene like in Australia?

AR: (shakes head) It is so bad. Anyone who’s different is on the outer. It’s totally a reflection of Australian mentality. Even attending hip-hop shows of someone I like from overseas is depressing. The crowd is so…Imagine hip-hop was gentrified not even by hipsters but by rednecks. It’s so wack. I went to see Dead Prez and people were saying racist shit to my friends in the crowd. At a Dead Prez show.

JCA: Last or recent book that you loved?

AR: The last book I loved was [Sohail Daulatzai’s] Black Star/Crescent Moon. That was everything I had thought my entire life put into an amazing book. It’s hip-hop, what they tried to turn Martin [Luther King Jr.] into, what they tried to turn Malcolm [X] into, why hip-hop appeals to the Third World so much through Malcolm’s legacy.

JCA: Top hip-hop and top comic shows?

AR: I’d say Chris Rock. Margaret Cho, Hannibal Burress, Kamau Bell, and Hari Kondabolu, who worked with Kamau on his TV show. I haven’t seen a full show but he’s a friend of mine and I love their work.

Ok, [hip-hop] I’ll do it chronologically. Public Enemy 2003 because I got on stage. I told you I got so many hip-hop groupie moments. I’m not even embarrassed. That’s one of the top shows. Pharoah Monch and Jean Grae together was great. Dead Prez everytime I’ve seen them. I saw The Roots and Jurassic 5 together once; that was amazing. Who else? Those must be the top ones. I’ve only seen Mos Def once, but I had to see him support DJ Shadow. I don’t know how that happened.

JCA: If The Truth Hurts had an accompanying soundtrack, what would be on it?

AR: Rage [Against the Machine] would definitely be on the soundtrack. Rage was so formative for me. Rage and Public Enemy as an example of what art can be, how it can be angry but still be entertaining. They weren’t boring; it was amazing music. So Rage would be on it. Everyone I mentioned in this interview would be on it. There’s [also] this one album of Angela Davis on the prison industrial complex. I can listen to those tracks like music—that’s another amazing groupie moment of mine! Definitely some Chariman Omali, like Wolves off the first Dead Prez. Mikeflo put out a mixtape called Fly, Fresh, and Responsible. He’s got these mixes of Huey Newton and Malcolm set to music. They’re just tiny bits but they’re amazing, so I’d put some of those in.

JCA: What is love?
AR: What is love?! DUDE! Can you give me a context?

JCA: Nope. It’s whatever you take it to be in this moment.

AR: I’m gonna get back to you before I say something super corny…Shit! Okay, I have been thinking about this but …This is so awkward. And difficult. Love is…

JCA: Speak from your heart, Aamer.

AR: Love is community! Seriously, that’s what makes me happiest in the world. Community and performing to community. That’s it.

JCA: That was a beautiful answer. And it only took you two months to think about it.

AR: See, you’re such an educator! You got that out of me because I would have avoided that for the rest of…forever.

Click here to back Aamer’s Kickstarter and make it rain political comedy.

-Jennifer Cendaña Armas

Phot Credit: Baron Walton

13/02/2012 - No Comments!

Musicians We Love- Xoel López

This interview originally appeared in Dec. on Friends We Love, for which I guest write. And only now posting it. One of my favourite interviews I've done so far...Check it out


Great music. Good people. Work to inspire. This comes to mind when describing Galician musician and songwriter Xoel López.

He has been composing since his teens and gained popularity the past decade as Deluxe. Three years ago, though, he decided it was time for something else and put that name to rest. Off to the Americas he went…

That’s where I was introduced to his music: a random Saturday night in Montevideo’s Lindolfo Theatre, playing with Franny Glass and Pablo Dacal. The show was Canciones Compartidas, one of the many dates as part of Xoel’s La Caravana Americana project. When I learned about La Caravana’s joining of musicians and common roots, it compelled me even more to link with him. If it’s one thing I love, it’s Diaspora.

Recent schedules overlapped perfectly to connect in Buenos Aires, where he resides. It was a plethora of Spanglish, talking about being one half of Lovely Luna and their new album, Chang y Eng;producing Franny Glass’s new album, El Podador Primaveral; La Caravana Americana. And mate. Man, I love me some Xoel López.

JCA: Why Buenos Aires?

XL: That’s a good question. I decided three years ago to make a stop in my career and I decided to travel to America. One of the main parts of this story is that my girlfriend is from here, but that’s not all because I really wanted to be living in Buenos Aires. This is the kind of city that, when you visit, you think about coming back and staying for longer, you know? The other city where I felt that was New York. I came to Buenos Aires for two months and then to New York for two months, too. At the beginning, that’s the only thing I wanted to do. But then I decided to stay more and more and more and more and more. The years went passing by.

I left Spain. I left my career; I think, at the best moment… but [I was] just looking for new music, new experiences, living my life with more intensity. I needed perspective on all the things I’d done in Spain. I started very early—I was 15. When I was 17, I started to record records, doing tours in Europe. From 17 to 31, I made eleven records through many different projects. I never had time to chill. I needed it, and I thought America was a very nice place because the things I knew from this place— from North America to South America— I really loved. I thought it was a very nice place to go inside and go more deeply, with the culture and things.

JCA: Do you want to go back to Spain?

XL: Sometimes. It’s difficult to say because when you travel you always have these thoughts of staying. It depends on the day, the week, the month. Sometimes I miss a lot of things from there. Sometimes I worry about my career because I think the travel has been very long—maybe what I had is not anymore. But I would do it again. I really love this continent. Buenos Aires, especially, because I know this city more. When you start to know something of some value, you start to love it. The more I am here the more I love it. As the time passes by, I feel more like staying but I also miss Spain more. All the time there are these two feelings competing.

I have to say that the more I travel, the more I feel international. At the same time, I feel more Galician, more like my city.

JCA: What does it mean to be Galician?

XL: Galician people are immigrants. We are very rich in culture and many things, but not money; that’s the reason we were traveling all the time. We had a very important immigration at the beginning of the 20th century to America to many parts of the world, but especially Buenos Aires, Caracas, New York, New Jersey, Brazil, Mexico. Because Galicia came to America, I feel a bit American, too. There are many Galicians here, a lot of Galician culture in America. If you talk to a taxi driver, many times they will tell you, ¨My father is from Galicia. ¨This makes me feel like someone from these cities.

This is very important to say: we are travelers, but more than that, we have a strong culture. Even in Spain we are different. Spain is very complex, and Galicia is one of the reasons. We have our own language; that is why I really understand Portuguese, why I have listened to Portuguese music and Brazilian music since I was 10 years old. Galician is a mix of Spanish and Portuguese. It is the same language but it evolved in a different way. But we had the same language in the beginning. [I speak Galician and I love it] and it was a very important link for me to start speaking Portuguese, too.

JCA: How many languages do you speak?

XL: Not too many. I studied, like, three years of French so I can understand a little, but only Galician, Spanish, Portuguese, and a little English. [I studied English] at school and then I improved my English traveling, speaking to my friends in San Francisco.

JCA: How did you come to music?

XL: I can’t remember. When I was a child, I would listen to music and I asked my father to sing to me. He’s not [a professional] singer, but he likes to sing. And when I was, maybe, 8 years old, I started to play in the mirror with the [tennis] racket, [doing] that kind of stuff that every musician child has inside. I used to dream about having a band. (Laughs)At that time, I was probably more a manager. I would take cooking things and say to my friends, ¨Let’s play together. ¨ But we didn’t know how! This thing grew to what it is now. I think I was born a musician.

JCA: Where did you study or was there someone you studied with?

XL: No, not too much. I went to some teachers, especially for guitar, and I studied a little bit of piano. I studied in the conservatory, but just for three years. Everything was just half. I didn’t finish anything. But I took this little information I got and increased it by myself.

I think I learned singing by singing, singing, singing a lot. When I started, my voice was horrible. I started before my voice changed—you know, that moment when you become a man. I really practiced a lot; I started imitating voices I really liked. I made this mixer in the beginning, and then I started to make my own voice. It was something that just happened.

JCA: Why did you leave Deluxe?

XL: Deluxe was just another name for me. It was not a band, as many people think. It was a solo project. I really needed to change skins. Be myself. I started with Deluxe when I was 23 or something like that. Nowadays it makes no sense, that name. I am not the same person. I am more Xoel López than ever, maybe. My music is more directly related to my life and I don’t feel like there are two sides. I am not the kind of person that has [an onstage] personality; for me it is the same. I feel it very naturally. That is the reason I thought it was the moment to put them together and take off the mask.

JCA: Do you miss any part of Deluxe?

XL: It was easier; I stopped a successful career. For me, it was the right decision because I learned many, many things from life, from other musicians. I have more time now to do what I really want. At the same time, I think about my work; I had a lot of concert proposals. Sometimes I think maybe in the future I will miss that, but this change is the best for me.

I am still working hard to see if this is the correct way. The other way— I like it, but I prefer this one. So keep on going.

JCA: Did you get backlash?

XL: Well, my manager is the same, so he really understood. In fact, I am coming back to Spain with a new album. The first Xoel López album and I think I will start to work again and stay longer than these past 3 years. But he understood perfectly these three years of traveling, living, mixing music and growing up as a musician and as a person.  Fans…yeah. Sometimes they say, ¨Come back to Spain. We understand that you are traveling, but come on. That’s enough. ¨ But I’ve been coming back for a while. I have played, but it’s been more like a transitional tour because I play songs from Deluxe and new songs that people don’t know yet.

For people who like Deluxe, I don’t feel like it’s a break-up. It’s a continuance. The last songs—especially the last two albums of Deluxe—are Xoel López albums. It is just a change of names.

JCA: You write in English, too?

XL: It’s very interesting. I have to speak about the Spanish scene, because it wasn’t

something personal, not me saying, ¨I’m going to write in English! ¨ Many people started to sing in English and I’ll tell you why: Anglo culture is very strong all around the world. That’s obvious, especially in cinema and music. Many people in Spain were born with English and North American music. For us, the references were from there. That’s why we started copying: thinking that if we speak and sing in English it will be more similar to the music we like. That’s the wrong concept. We have to sing in our language as the English sing in theirs.

When I was 15, I started to make songs. If you were in an underground band, you had to do it in English. You had to do that. Then I grew up and I noticed that I was copying, and so then I started singing in Spanish. Naturally, I should have done it at the beginning.

I really like to sing in English, Portuguese, and many other languages. But now for me, it’s something to do on special occasions. I probably will never do an English record of my songs again. I could do it if I did it with somebody, but [for the past ten years] I always write in Spanish.

JCA: What comes first: the lyrics or music?

XL: Lyrics, always. Sometimes together, but normally, the lyrics. When I started writing in English, I would do the opposite— it was strange. But now, if I’m going to make a song, it’s because I have something to say. I write about something then I put the music to that.

JCA: Do you do any other art? For example, Gonzalo (aka Franny Glass) told me he writes scripts.

XL: Many times my songs come from poetry I’ve made. But I am not a poet. I don’t have any book. I don’t feel like doing it now; I feel more secure in the songwriting style.

JCA: Your lyrics are poetic.

XL: You think so? Songs are different from poetry, but they have the same root. I think if you’re a poet and you practice, you can write a song, and if you’re a songwriter, you can become a poet if you wanted to. Maybe in the future? I have many things written without music, so I have to make something with that.

JCA: Tell me about La Caravana Americana.

XL: Wow. That may be the best and biggest project I ever made because it was not just me. I conceived it and made it possible, but there are many people involved and, as you know, people from many countries— from United States, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Spain.

I wanted to explain to the Spanish people my travel to America and have a reflection of what I was living. It was very expensive for us— the project of our lives, maybe. But it was a dream come true. I took all these people to Spain and I showed them to the Spanish people to tell them there are many people making fantastic music that they don’t know about. If you listen to the radio, you listen always to the same thing. It’s not easy to meet a Pablo Dacal, a Franny Glass, or Bart Davenport. I wanted to show this very, very high quality of musicians, and we recorded a documentary of all my experiences in America and all the experiences of the Americans in Spain in this tour.

JCA: When does it come out?

XL: Maybe at the end of the year. It’s a very difficult process. In fact, we thought it was finished but then we decided to make it again; we really thought it was an important thing and we want to do it very well. In any case, I have the record in March, so I have things to do.

JCA: How did you find the musicians?

XL: Many of them because of friends. For example, Bart [Davenport] I met in Spain when he was playing there. That’s more normal: a North American playing in Spain, but not the opposite. I thought it was a very nice thing to do—me playing there [in San Francisco]. Bart really helped us in that way. Franny Glass, because I knew his manager. From that very first day, we became friends. It’s very funny— everything was very natural. Legiao Urbana is a big popular rock band in Brazil, and I met them because of friend in common, very casually. With all of them it was the same. Some of them—for example, in Venezuela, Jóvenes y Sexys and Ulises Hadjis—I met because I asked for people to play with as my band.

I had started doing this thing: I came to the country and I would say to the people I knew there, ¨Do you know people who could play with me? ¨ I didn’t have the [preconceived] idea of La Caravana Americana. It was a moment that came that I thought that this is incredible and a critical experience and I really have to tell the people about it. That’s how the Caravana came to my mind.

JCA: Is there anything that was missing that you would have liked to include?

XL: Yeah. Many, many things, many musicians don’t appear because it was a lot. The people in this documentary are not the most important part. For me, the philosophy, the idea of a mix of people, travel, cultures…the spirit is most important.

JCA: Do you feel yourself political? Is your music political?

XL: I don’t like people saying, ¨I’m not political. ¨ No. Obviously, you are. Every decision you make is political. That’s why I feel political, but sometimes I feel a little bit lost when I think about parties because it’s very difficult to know everything that’s happening. Politics don’t carry the whole thing. There are the banks, many things we don’t feel we can control. That’s why I feel apart from political parties and politics. But I have very strong ideas.

The Caravana is a project talking about opening borders. It is a little bit idealistic, too. It is democratic in many ways because there are many kinds of music and many different populations: people who are huge and some not so well- known, people 60 years old and people who are 22. This is political. I believe in this open mind concept of things. In fact, our friends from Colombia could not come to Spain because of passport issues. Very sad, but that’s a reality. This project is the opposite. It is against the monopoly. In Spain, we have English and North American influences. I love it, most of the records I have are from your country. But economically, we are influenced too much by that and it [affects] the music you do not hear, because it is all mainstream. If I live here, why do I have to listen to Beyoncé every day? Every time I get to a newspaper, it’s Beyoncé or Shakira. It’s not the only thing out there.

I was talking about the complexity of Spain, but in the States it is even more complex. New York —

JCA: Is like it’s own country.

XL: Yeah, absolutely. It’s strange, the feeling of being from somewhere. It’s very romantic and complex, something very spiritual. We were born where we were born; it was just by chance.

JCA: Lovely Luna. I have both albums.

XL: Really? And you are one of the people that prefer Lovely Luna to Deluxe?

JCA: No.

XL: Okay, because it is a very common thing. Somebody comes to me at night, especially in Spain, and they tell me they prefer Lovely Luna than Deluxe. I really like that! Somebody listened to the records and listened to the music. Deluxe was popular at one time, but Lovely Luna was that obscure project on the side of Deluxe. [Lovely Luna] is my friend Félix Arias and me. We have been playing together since 1995, have three records. Our first one was in English, but it was only 500 copies in 2000.

JCA: Why Chang y Eng?

XL: It’s a nice metaphor of what we are. Félix is one of my best friends. We always had it as a part of our bands. We started making more pop-rock bands, and Lovely Luna was this perfect place where we were playing just acoustic music. Now the folk thing is bigger, but at that time we were very strange people to the rest. ¨Why are you playing without bass and electric guitar and drums? ¨ Félix and I were, like, ¨We like Simon and Garfunkel.¨ It was the ‘90s, with people like Nirvana, Oasis…so [comparatively] we were so boring.

Chang y Eng reflect the idea of Félix and me together no matter what happened around us. We didn’t mind what was happening, solo projects, because we are always connected.

I heard the story of Chang y Eng by chance. I made a short poem about the guys, not thinking about Lovely Luna or Félix. When we started to make the record, I thought, ¨I have this poem. Maybe you’d like it. ¨

JCA: You’re favorite song of yours?

XL: I don’t have one to say right now, but I can…it changes.

JCA: Do you have a song of yours that you don’t like?

XL: Yes. There is one on the last record. Well, I have many, especially, ¨El Ultimo Encuentro¨ onReconstruccíon. Many people like it, but I never play that song on stage. Never. I recorded it and then decided I didn’t like it. There are things you do quickly. A month later, you think the song is not for the record. Maybe if it was a single or a B-side but it was an example of making things quickly. You have to make things calm, think about it, reflect. You have to take time to do things. Sometimes you can make something quickly and it’s good, but many times you feel regret.

JCA: Are you addicted to yerba mate?

XL: Yeah! You don’t like it? I have become a purist. I have to say in the beginning, I didn’t like it, like many things: I didn’t like the first beer; I didn’t like the first cigarette…I gave up smoking a year ago.

JCA: Good! What made you stop?

XL: Thinking about death. Really. I wanted to live more, not die because of this stupid thing. And my voice. In fact, I think it’s better now. My voice is more open. And mate is of the culture. It helped a lot to give up smoking because I substituted the cigarette with the bombilla. You get used to it… and then you love it.

JCA: So, the new Franny Glass album [El Podador Primaveral]. What can you say about it?

XL: It was a very, very inspired recording— something unrepeatable. You can like it or not, but it is what we wanted it to be. We didn’t have much money; we made it at my house and I think it feels like that when you listen to it, very homey. We made it in maybe two weeks, the whole day just recording, recording, recording. Very concentrated. We didn’t have the best studio in the world, so I think we based all the energy on the inspiration and the feeling of the record. I had to think about what to add or not. I did it with Lalo, obviously, but the songs were very finished. He really knows what he wants, and that [makes it] really easy for a producer. I could concentrate on the mood, adding clothes to a body that is already defined. It made it quicker. We changed things, but very small things. I really concentrated on what the lyrics made me feel and how they inspired me, making the perfect mood to them. The lyrics are very much about the past and it is very, as I think I do, too, cinematographic. It inspired me as to what to do with the atmosphere: more reverbs, more acoustic, more rock, whatever. It was a production based on the feelings. It was something special. Not better or worse, but different because we are very similar. For me, producing is very different. I am a musician and composer, so my concept of production is maybe not very good to other producers, you know? But it is special, different in many ways.

I love the record because I love Lalo’s songs, especially the new ones. I think they’re more mature now, the lyrics of the songs. He’s mixing things with some folkloric themes from Uruguay. For me, Lalo is one of the best songwriters right now in Latin America, but he’s going to be more artistically important in the future, I think. But I think the best person to speak about the record is Lalo.

JCA: What inspires you?

XL: Life, people. The way people communicate, their relationships. I wrote about different things when I was 20 than now, being 34. Sometimes I make this in context. I talk about a feeling and I am talking about a little world— a city, for example. I have a song on my new record called ¨Buenos Aires¨. It’s not necessarily about Buenos Aires; I’m talking about my feelings here and why I came. In fact, it came from a question many people asked: why are you in Buenos Aires? [Art] is like therapy. It is a way to communicate with yourself and with the rest of the people.

JCA: What is love?

XL: I have a song on the new record. It is called ¨La Boca de Volcán¨ and it talks about all the different ways to call love and how love changes. Love is maybe the most important thing in my life. I am not talking specifically the love of my girlfriend or my parents. I mean love in a bigger context. I am not very religious. For me, love is a kind of god. I really believe in love. But what is it? Nobody knows. It is many things. You know they say how God is everywhere? Love, for me, is everywhere. Sometimes it changes to hate, but it is something very complex.

JCA: Do you think you can have love without hate?

XL: Yes. I try not to feel hate at all. Yeah… I think you can be a lover without hate. Love is respect. It is empathy. But you have to love yourself first and respect yourself to respect people like that.

Expect a new album from Xoel early 2012.

Foto Credit: Lola Garcia Garrido

10/11/2011 - No Comments!

Youth Programs We Love: Save Sessions LA

My homeboy, DJ Phatrick, sent out a call a few weeks ago: a program he works with, Sessions LA, lost funding and they were raising the money to keep it going.  A click of a button and I learned that ¨Sessions LA is a DJ, music production, and recording Workshop for youth and young adults in Los Angeles.¨ What makes it even better? It’s free. In the midst of cut after cut to programming nationwide, let’s come together as a community and help each other stay up. Every dollar counts. Please click here to donate to SessionsLA and learn more about their work. - Jennifer Cendaña Armas

19/04/2011 - No Comments!

Musicians We Love:: CAMPO

Today I have a bit of breathing room (spring break is lovely), so posting my interview in the original Spanish.  Find the English version on Friends We Love.

Musicians We Love:: CAMPO

Hace poco tiempo, pensé…Yo respeto y me gusta la música de este homeboy. El homeboy al que  me refiero es el músico y productor uruguayo Juan Campodónico. Descubrí su música a través de las canciones de Jorge Drexler, después me di cuenta de su participacion en Bajofondo. Que yo ya conocía y me había gustado la música. No me cae la peseta a veces.

Ahora él es el capitán de un nuevo proyecto, CAMPO. El disco del mismo nombre que fue grabado entre Sunset Studios en Los Angeles y en su estudio en Montevideo y que va a salir este año. Esperen ‘dopeness’, con un sonido retro y la frescura de Uruguay. Tan bonito como la música, Juan es buena gente. ¿Qué mas puedo decir? Después de un día en su estudio, le ayudó esta neoyorquina con mi proyecto. Dice ´word´.

Señoras y señores, Juan Campodónico.

JCA: ¿Cómo  y cuando nació el proyecto Campo?

JC: Durante estos años he ido componiendo y delineando muchas ideas y canciones  que primero fueron parte de CAMPO en mi mente y que muchas veces terminaron integrando otros de los proyectos en los que trabajo. Muchas canciones que en mi computadora tenían el nombre de CAMPO terminaron siendo parte de discos de Bajofondo u otros artistas.

Luego de varios años sentí que era importante darle un lugar a este proyecto. Como todas las cosas en las que estoy metido es una experiencia colectiva, con varios partners colaborando en diferentes áreas, desde la composición hasta la interpretación y la producción.

Me considero un productor musical pero con un costado en la composición y un perfíl artístico. Algo así como un director para una película, es decir no soy el único responsable, no soy el actor, a veces no soy el que escribe el guión, pero el resultado pasa por mi visión, mi dirección.

JCA: ¿Cómo armastes el equipo?

JC: Fue muy importante el escribir canciones y compartir con músicos con los que nunca había trabajado. Como Martín Rivero, o la cantante sueca Ellen Arkbro, dos jóvenes songwriters. También me reencontré con Jorge Drexler con quien había trabajado como productor en varios de sus discos.

Pero también me basé en Bajofondo como sostén del proyecto, instrumentistas . (Luciano Supervielle, Javier Casalla).

El disco lo produjimos en conjunto con Gustavo Santaolalla (Café Tacuba, Babel, Brokeback Mountain)  y tuvimos el aporte de Joe Chiccarelli  (The White Stripes, The Shins) como ingeniero de grabación.

JCA: ¿Cómo construyeron las canciones?

JC: El proceso de composición es bastante complejo y se basa en la grabación, vamos grabando y modificando lo grabado. Hay canciones que han pasado por muchos estados bien diferentes antes de llegar a su forma final.

Yo planteo una dirección musical y al trabajar con alguien que aporta un elemento vocal y una letra eso modifica también la música que yo le había planteado antes, es un ida y vuelta. Todos nos influenciamos de todo lo que está pasando. La experiencia es muy rica, muy abierta y poco prejuiciosa. El enfoque en la composición está muy abierto. Es la manera de hacer algo que nos sorprenda a los propios artistas.

JCA: Para aquellos no familiarizados con el termino ¿qúe es ¨la música subtropicales¨?

JC: Hace años que digo que si definiéramos nuevos estilos , tendríamos más poder cultural aquí en el sur. La música que hacemos aquí en el sur es bien diferente de todo, pero como usamos guitarra eléctrica igual lo llamamos pop o rock, y nos estamos perdiendo una gran oportunidad de hacer explícita nuestra singularidad.

Lo de subtropical nació como un chiste interno. Siempre escuchamos que se habla de la música tropical como identificatoria de la música hecha en Latinoamérica. Aquí en Uruguay a 35 grados de latitud sur, no estamos ya en el trópico y la música que nos sale es un poco más áspera y un poco más melancólica. Eso significa lo de Subtropical. También es una guiñada a los elementos cumbieros (pero de cumbia rioplatense) que suenan en el disco.

De todas maneras creo que es un buen nombre para esta música, sobre todo viendo que el costado geográfico es parte de lo que le da su singularidad. ¿En qué lugar del mundo se puede mezclar  rock, tango, hip hop con melodías brit pop y cumbia? Creo que en esta parte del planeta.

JCA: En esta fase de Campo, ¿hay elementos que quieras incorporar mejor o más en la música?

JC: Sí, más allá de lo que pusimos en la música, tenemos varias ideas de cómo queremos que sea en escena.

El lenguaje de los espectáculos de música en general, se ha vuelto muy predecible y con muy poca magia. Se ha roto la caja negra clásica del teatro donde todo artificio era escondido para generar una ilusión. Los recursos del mago, la ilusión, han quedado de lado en el mundo del espectáculo musical; muchas luces robóticas y cables y fierros por todos lados, los escenarios parecen mas una ambientación de Mad Max que un lugar donde va a expresarse un arte tan abstracto y misterioso como la música.

Nos gustaría volver a algo escénico más simple, escenográfico  y quizás teatral.

Más allá de eso, cualquier proyecto artístico si está sano es una construcción permanente, cada día descubrís algo o el sentido de algo vira y te da una nueva visión.

JCA: ¿Qué deseas contribuir a la escena músical? ¿Hay algún vacío?

JC: No lo sé, para mi este disco busca la belleza, la belleza no solo en si misma sino buscándola en nuevos sitios.  Mi papá decía…En épocas de oscurantismo, la belleza por si misma es una forma de total rebelión.

JCA: El perfil de Facebook lee de el proyecto ¨descontextualizar elementos y estilos, para ponerlos en un nuevo espacio y poder ver la belleza desde otro punto de vista.¨ Nos cuentas la ultima vez en que has visto otra vista de algo y en el proceso descubriste su belleza.

JC: La belleza está en todas partes, es uno quien la tiene que descubrir. De eso habla este disco. Pone cosas de mundos muy diversos y esos contrastes hacen resaltar la belleza propia de cada uno. Una chica sueca que no habla español, cantando sobre La Marcha tropical. Un sample de Los Lecuona Cuban Boys sobre un beat de hip hop y sintetizadores de cumbia villera. En fin…

JCA: ¿Qué es amor?

JC: No sé que es pero si he visto alguno de sus resultados.