Every year the Latino community seems to be disappointed over how few Latin artists represent at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival. They take to social media expressing frustration over how such a major festival can ignore the demand of the massive Latino population in Southern California.
When not one Latin artist was booked at the 2014 festival, discouragement swept the community.
That’s why we’re excited to see Los Angeles’ Chicano Batman at this year's festival. Tijuana’s Nortec Collective and Panamanian-via-Oakland rappers Los Rakas are also on the bill, rallying a comeback for indie Latin artists.
There are always Los Angeles artists from other genres at Coachella, but this is the first local Latin band to play since Ozomatli in 2011. It gives the Latin music community inspiration, as it has been waiting for another artist to break through.
“We have to be ready for the momentum. Coachella raises our profile to play anywhere in the world,” says Bardo Martinez, lead vocalist and guitar player for Chicano Batman.
In the past, Coachella has had success with major Latin artists like Manu Chao and Café Tacvba. In 2011, when Coachella tickets sold out in record time, the joke around town was that Latinos were to blame, as the festival underestimated the significance of the Spanish-rock band Caifanes' legendary reunion.
The momentum of indie Latin music seems to have slowed down in recent years, but lately it’s been ramping back up, with artists eager to appeal to all audiences. Goldenvoice, the promoter behind Coachella, debuted Supersonico, its first annual Latin alternative festival, at the Shrine last October. It was nicknamed the “Latino Coachella,” but it really doesn’t compare.
For groups like Chicano Batman, the ultimate goal is not to separate Latin artists with their own festival, but to treat everyone as equals.
“The only thing we have in common with those other Latin artists is we’re brown. If we were white dudes with a name like Tijuana Panthers, no one would question us,” says Martinez.
“Who do you consider Latino anyways,” asks Martinez. “It's all about how people are marketed and how publicists pitch you. We live in a racist society where there always needs to be categories.”
Chicano Batman is ready to play for an all-new audience at Coachella. They remember a similar experience at the Viva Pomona festival last year.
“We came on and people were tripping out. I didn’t know if it was good or bad, but they need to know we exist. It’s a cultural exchange, and that’s what’s going to happen at Coachella,” says Chicano Batman guitarist Carlos Arévalo.
Their name is inspired by the political movements of the '60s, when Mexicans fought for equality and recognition, and the spirit of their music reflects artists from that decade who protested and performed to deliver a message.
“In the '60s you had President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated, there was the Vietnam War," says Arévalo. "When you listen to Jimi Hendrix’s 'Machine Gun' or Miles Davis’ 'Bitches Brew,' it feels like an all out assault on the times.”
If you ask Chicano Batman, their romantic love ballads and retro soul rhythms are just as powerful.
“With all the hate in the world right now, love is political,” Arévalo explains.
Chicano Batman is planning for an EP to come out this year inspired by Jack White’s keyboard player Isaiah “Ikey” Owens, a Long Beach native who recently passed away. Before he died, Owens reached out to the band via Instagram, saying “I have a vision for your sound and want to take it to the next level.”
They planned on meeting in Washington D.C., but Owens passed before that could happen. Owens’ production partner was aware of his plans for Chicano Batman and they collectively decided to move forward with Owens’ vision in his honor.
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“We’re staying true to Ikey and doing it right,” says Arévalo.