Making Movies_Xopa

With ‘XOPA,’ Making Movies Made a True American Album

Photo by Felipe Rubilar.

“Our concern was ‘what if this is the last record we ever made?’ says Making Movies’ vocalist and guitarist Enrique Chi about their new album XOPA, which was written and recorded in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was sending most of the world into lockdown. “It felt like the most important thing at the time, to keep the idea that music can take you on a journey. It’s the dark and traumatic histories and the amazing resilience and beauty that make us who we are.” The Kansas City, Missouri, band — formed by Chi, his brother Diego on bass, Juan Carlos Chaurand on percussion, and Duncan Burnett on drums — have steadily come into their own by touring and releasing amazing music that fuses Afro-Latine rhythms with the power of rock. For their latest effort, they felt they needed to deliver a masterpiece.

The XOPA saga began in Mexico City when Rubén Blades invited Making Movies to share the stage with him at the Auditorio Nacional. They felt like the door was opening for them to communicate to a bigger audience. Shortly after they secured time at a Memphis studio, the band decided to seize the opportunity to capture the chemistry of their live performances and their blend of old and new sounds. “I’ve been chasing this idea that you can be a very modern band and implement the sounds of a retro, vintage-sounding act. It’s [about] the sound of the human beings that have lived together, bonded as friends and artists to become a little tribe. And when they’re playing, you hear that, too. There’s not that much of that in the world [anymore].”

This opportunity came just when the pandemic started in early 2020, which forced the band to make some quick decisions. Since this was early into lockdown, not a lot was known about safety measures, so the band traveled together in the same vehicle, stayed in a single room, and recorded in the studio together whenever possible. However, their mission was clear. “We felt like we were risking a lot — maybe even our health and our lives — to be together to make music. So none of it could be bullshit. The opportunity to be together and to be in the studio all of a sudden [became a] higher sacredness.”

XOPA then took on a life of its own and became a larger statement than the band originally intended. “We were in Memphis, which has this history of American music,” says Chi. “It’s a rock and roll album in a way. It’s coming from the birthplace of rock and roll, and it’s all in Spanish by an immigrant band with a Black drummer from America. Yes, this is America. This is American music in the broad sense of the continent, but it’s also from the nation, the United States of America.”

“[The album comes] from the birthplace of rock & roll, & it’s all in Spanish by an immigrant band with a Black drummer from America. Yes, this is America. This is American music.”

Another important factor that came into play is what Chi describes as their mentors, the people who have contributed to their career up to that point and helped them find their path. Some of them are featured on the album, including Blades, experimental guitarist Marc Ribot, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Dolores Huerta, and Alaina Moore of Tennis. For Making Movies, getting close to these figures was a pivotal experience. “It was a way to remind us that no matter how big the stature of your art gets, you still have [the same rate of] successes and failures,” Chi says. “And you have to learn to take those in stride; that way, we can harness that wisdom into our playing together.” 

“I think it’s a key element,” he continues, referring to finding community in their chosen field. “It’s a weird lifestyle. You’re kinda married to a group of other human beings. Life is very strange compared to a corporate life or any other traditional modern business. But it must work like a tribal, ancestral kind of life where a group of individuals go out together to hunt for their families and bring back what they get.”

The resulting album is a blend of traditions bent into psychedelic shapes powered by the anger of punk and the joy of cumbia. In a certain way, they tap into the primordial aspect of rock music and Nuyorican salsa without copying any particular style. “It’s the same stew of ingredients,” Chi says. “This time it passes a few new ingredients that we can add in and we’re distilling it down through our lens. The same way that they made those Fania records, like, ‘oh, man, let’s do a son, a cumbia, and a son cubano, and it’ll be this new sound with a New York jazz influence and a folkloric Latin American thing.’ It’s the same process we’re following to make something that’s ours.”

XOPA is not a personal statement for the members of Making Movies, but one that reflects a bigger introspection. While the music is a riot, the message behind it yearns for calmness. “I think the theme is self-acceptance. I think at that time and the pandemic gave a lot of us a moment to reflect on ourselves, our journey, identity, successes, failures, and I think that’s what the record represents to me. So many of us don’t like to think they don’t like really fully owning all parts of our identity and forgiving ourselves for the ways we’ve fallen short for what we wanted to accomplish. The bravest thing that human beings can do is be honest with each other and admit failures and vulnerabilities.”

Listen to XOPA below.