Latin music encompasses many styles and is wildly popular, but it remains more culturally insulated than many other genres. Kansas City's Making Movies is a rare crossover band in that it embraces its heritage without being wholly defined by it. The rhythm, percussion and musicality of Making Movies' sound has clear Latin roots, but the band just as often looks to indie rock. The recently released song "Twenty Years" sounds at first like Stephen Malkmus singing a Get Up Kids tune. A Cuban rhythm slowly rises to the surface. It's a hodgepodge, but the results are appealing.
The group has recently returned from a tour of Texas, the Midwest and the East Coast, its third monthlong outing this year. While traveling, Making Movies plays standard clubs and bars, where the band has established ties and grown a fanbase as a crowd-pleasing rock band. But Making Movies also books gigs leaning more toward the Latin-music scene.
"It [playing Latin-oriented venues] makes sense sometimes — it's usually the most logical place for us to start in a city," says Enrique Chi, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter. "In most of these cities, with the exception of New York, the scenes are very nascent, very baby. ... The venues are often restaurants. Hispanic promoters don't have any idea how to plug into the local scene, and the other promoters just don't know what's out there."
The experience of playing Latin venues can be far more fruitful when it comes to attendance. "We played an awesome show about a year ago in Salinas, California," Chi says, "where about 200 people came to see us just because we did a radio interview. ... Sometimes we're a little too different or adventurous for that crowd, but the people that love us are passionate about it."
The group gives back to Latin culture in ways beyond playing shows. Chi teaches guitar at the Mattie Rhodes Center on the West Side. Percussionist and keyboardist Juan-Carlos Chaurand's family — who owns the restaurant La Fonda on Southwest Boulevard — serves children and adults on the West Side with the nonprofit El Grupo Folklorico Atotonilco, a group that performs traditional Mexican folk dances. The Chaurands' dance studio and Chi's students are part of the band's gorgeous 2010 video for its song "Tormenta," which focuses on issues facing children of undocumented residents and features footage shot in Kansas City, Kansas.
The band has experienced its greatest successes outside Kansas City, but it maintains deep roots in the local scene, with relationships crossing genres from rap to jazz to soul to rock. Making Movies hosts an evening of music Saturday at RecordBar, joined onstage by a number of hometown friends, including pianist Mark Lowrey, trumpeter Hermon Mehari, RL Brooks of Maps for Travelers, rapper Les Izmore, and Tim Braun and Julia Haile of the Good Foot.
Chi says, "Tim is my favorite guitar player in KC. Hermon is my favorite trumpet player ... Mark Lowrey, he plays with 30 or 40 people out there, and I feel so humbled by his talent." The feelings are mutual.
"I gladly said yes," Mehari says. "I'm excited to see what I can add to their music."
"I've kind of missed playing Latin jazz," Lowrey says, "and though this is more Latin indie rock, I'm excited. Most of it [the songs] will be Making Movies songs, but we're also going to do some more classic salsa songs."
The show offers a chance to catch a wide variety of high-caliber local acts contributing to the sound of a band that's too often underappreciated in its native city. "As much as KC could be doing better for supporting local artists, we feel really blessed to have the support that we do," Chi says.