At the Record Bar, Making Movies frontman Enrique Javier Chi shares a complaint with the audience. "My waitress last night was totally racist — 'Are you black or Spanish?' " he says, aping her.
Chi's olive skin, lush lips and just-past-shoulder-length dreadlocks might be perplexing to folks who like everyone to fit into easily identifiable categories. The same could be said for percussionist Juan-Carlos Chaurand, who represents, along with Chi, "the Latin half" of Making Movies, a Kansas City band that blends rock-and-roll guitar sounds with traditional salsa rhythms and lyrics sung in Spanish and English.
Both languages echo, amid whoops and claps, through the crowd at the Record Bar, where most every seat in the house is taken. It's Father's Day, but a proud woman's voice keeps shouting mi hijo from back near the bar.
Chi seems to be talking to her when he introduces the band's only cover of the night — a traditional salsa song.
Chi was born in Panama but grew up mostly in Lee's Summit; Chaurand's family (including the woman who keeps shouting) emigrated from Mexico to Kansas City when he was a kid. Bassist Nic Kolar and drummer Brendan Culp make up the other half of the band that Chi started in 2007.
At a coffee shop a few days before the Record Bar gig, Chaurand and Chi speak about the early days and the future of Making Movies.
"I didn't mean to form a band," Chi says. At first, Making Movies was just an outlet for his songwriting and his vague desire to mix up the two musical styles that influence him most. "It was just whoever — it was usually a train wreck," he says with a laugh. "Whoever" was usually Chi, his younger brother Diego on keyboard and bass, plus anyone they could snag on drums — sometimes their father.
I've been listening to their music for two years. When Chi handed me their first EP, I knew that eventually the musical hybrid would catch other people's attention.
It's finally happening.
Last year, after self-releasing Tierra Firme Vol. 1, an EP that includes both the English and Spanish versions of five songs (available free for download on MySpace), the band played about 100 shows in the Midwest, including three gigs with the Mexican band Aterciopelados, which Chi describes as "the Cranberries of Latin rock."
Hooking up with that band for one date in Kansas City and two in Chicago helped Making Movies nab its own headlining gig at the House of Blues in Chicago. That break led to front-page exposure on MySpace Latino.
Predictably, all of that good fortune happened as the band was undergoing lineup changes. Chi's brother decided to quit, and Chaurand entered the picture.
Chaurand initially became friends with Making Movies on MySpace and then ran into Chi at a local salsa night. "It just clicked from there," Chaurand says. He performed with the band publicly for the first time at the House of Blues.
An experienced and versatile salsa percussionist, Chaurand has helped turn Making Movies' Latin twist into a true musical backbone. Onstage at the Record Bar, he taps various surfaces — congas, cymbals and a boxy instrument that he sits on — with his palms or a drumstick, his body undulating to the beats he creates.
Chi's shuffling feet pick up the rhythms. He often turns his twinkling gaze toward his bandmates but meets Chaurand's eyes the most.
Other times, Chi seems to slip inward, especially as his fingers fly through a slightly Santana-like guitar solo. His eyes squint shut then, and his tongue darts to and fro.
A definite standout in Kansas City, Making Movies is part of a Latin rock scene that's huge in Mexico and has strong pockets in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. "They all sound like 18-year-old garage bands," Chi says.
He's quite confident of the sophistication of his own project, and proud of its accomplishments so far. But Chi, who worked for the short-lived, local record label Curb Appeal, understands the volatility of the music industry. He keeps his expectations low. If this band takes off, "it will be in, like, year six," he says.
The next performance in year three is at 7th Heaven on July 4 during the Taste of Troost festival.