Colombia’s ChocQuibTown is one of the top nominees for this year’s Latin Grammy ceremony to be held later this week. Having won a Latin Grammy in 2010 for Best Alternative Song for their anthem “De Donde Vengo Yo,” the trio returns to Las Vegas this year with three nominations including Best Alternative Song for “Calentura” feat. Tego Calderon and Zully Murillo, and Best Alternative Music Album and Album of the Year for Eso Es Lo Que Hay. I had the chance to do a phone interview with one of the band members, Miguel “Slow” Martinez and asked him about the trio’s previous win and their new nominations, and much more.
First of all, I want to ask about how you became a band. I know that you and Goyo (female MC/Singer) are brother and sister, but how did you meet Carlos “Tostao” Valencia and formed ChocQuibTown?
Well, we knew each other since we were really young and we found each other once again in Cali, Colombia when we were older. Tostao and Goyo were submerged in the Cali Spanish rap scene, meanwhile, I was just listening to music. One day we met up and I had learned how to make beats. I studied music and decided to dedicate myself to this and that’s when we decided to make music in homage to our town. Up to now it has been the same but with better production.
Were there any artists that influenced you as a band that made you think this is the kind of music that we’d like to make?
Well, we’ve never forgotten about the music we grew up with, which is the folkloric music of Colombia and the Pacific. But we lived in Buenaventura and there you heard music from the U.S., a lot of funk and rap like the Fugees and Master P, and a lot of Southern rap too. What we decided on was to use our influences like Tupac, Notorius B.I.G., Lauryn Hill and the Fugees and mix it with our traditional music while paying homage to our region.
I do hear the Fugees as influences in your music. Goyo has a beautiful singing voice and she can flow as well. I try not to compare bands to other bands but when I meet someone that may not know you, I describe you as a Colombian version of The Fugees.
Yeah, that is in part to my little sister that has the gift of rapping and singing and you can clearly see how the influences have marked our story as a band.
FOR US [BEING NOMINATED] IS ABOUT THE INCLUSION,
TO KNOW THAT WE ARE A PART OF THIS…AND TO BE TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION IN THESE PRESTIGIOUS AWARDS.
Well, it’s a song that is very personal to my sister Goyo when she was going through a tough moment in her life. She knew that she could sing and become somebody in the music world. But in our town and our beliefs, we deem getting an education very important. Either you study or what? So she sings about her choice to learn from the streets, to take the route of music, and to go against the norms of these other beliefs.
Your lyrics at times deal with politics, circumstances and racism that many people live in, not just in Colombia but all over the world. Has being this outspoken brought you any repercussions?
Yes, for example when we touch on certain themes. There was an interview that we did in the U.S. with Jorge Ramos and we talked about racism in Colombia. That was something that made people very touchy. But it’s the truth, some people want to keep [certain topics] hidden, but these exists in all parts of the world.
Now let’s talk about the collaborations that you have been a part of including one with the Philharmonic of Bogota, and most recently with Tego Calderon. Are there other artists that you are working with or would want to work with in the future?
Yeah, we are always happy to unite with others through music. I admire many American producers like Pharrell Williams and we are thrilled that we got to do a song with salsa artist, Luis Enrique. We’d like to work with Marc Anthony. There are always artists that we have a lot of respect for, and it would be great to work on music together.
Do you still live in Chocó, the town that you named your band after?
No, we live in Bogotá in the capital of Colombia.
Tell me more about what is referred to as “el piano de la selva” (the piano of the jungle) also known as the marimba chonta. I hear this instrument a lot throughout your recordings.
Well, we do use the piano de la selva, it’s like a piano or marimba that is made of palm trees. They are produced in the traditional regions of the Pacific coast. They make them out of the trees and it produces a sound that is very pleasant, it’s a piano but with roots. It’s like a part of our identity.
How did you feel the first time that your band was nominated for the Latin Grammy back in 2009 for Best New Artist?
Well, it’s always an honor to be nominated for a Latin Grammy; we were all filled with happiness. For us it was about inclusion to know that we were a part of this. It brings us great joy to be part of something like this and to take us into consideration in these prestigious awards. It gave us a lot of satisfaction and joy.
Congratulations on your nomination for Record of the Year!
Oh, yeah. That is an honor. When we saw the nominees, we got chills. I am young and there are people in that category that I’ve listened to, admired, and sung along to their music. So be in the same category with them is just absolute happiness and makes me proud.
I imagine that it’s also a proud moment for the people of Colombia as well.
Yes, the people here in Colombia are very proud, and in Chocó we are seen a tremendous hit.
Are the plans for a U.S. tour in the near future?
Yeah, we’re in the process of planning a tour in the United States, so everyone be on the lookout for us! We’ll bring our music from the Colombian Pacific, and we’ll be releasing these details soon.