What would Woody Guthrie say about “This Land Is Your Land” being used to sell whisky? All outrages and seeming contradictions aside, the version recorded by Chicano Batman for a Johnnie Walker ad campaign incidentally advocating multiculturalism allowed for the LA band to put their idiosyncratic soul stamp on the old folk song, while retaining a personal connection to it.
“We grew up listening to ‘This Land is Your Land,’ and singing it when we were in elementary school, not ever thinking about what the words are and what they meant,” bassist Eduardo Arenas told Latino USA in February. “Now here we are in our mid-30’s in a very different political climate. Now we have an opportunity to appropriate that language for what it means to be Latinos in this country.”
“At first we were hesitant,” he said of the corporate hook up, though it was ultimately left to the band as to how they would proceed with reinterpreting a classic. Plus, “the unofficial anthem of Trump’s travel ban” turned out to dovetail nicely with themes explored on Chicano Batman’s new album, Freedom is Free, its title itself a riff on militaristic jargon for the blood and bullets spent on the American ideal of “freedom.”
Formed in 2008, Chicano Batman who routinely dress in matching suits and ruffled shirts, has largely made its name on a laid back brand of psychedelic soul; its two previous albums are stocked with the kind of chill retro pop inspired by Brazilian Tropicalia and subjects as non-controversial as the cool breeze. But there were other elements slowly working on the band’s development: Its musicians hold advanced college degrees and worked in student organizing; they’ve also had day jobs as substitute teachers in LA’s pressurized public school system. It was only a matter of time before their politics would merge with their music.
“We have songs like “La Jura,” a song about police brutality,” says Arenas. “Area 7,” an instrumental, concerns Palestine and the militarization of policing here at home. The set was recorded well before November’s election with producer Leon Michels in Los Angeles, but its sound, feel, and some of its lyrics are absolutely in tune with the here and now.
“Everybody has a breaking point where your true colors come out in your music,” says guitarist Guitarist Carlos Arévelo. For Chicano Batman, that time is now.
Chicano Batman Tour Dates
Apr 15 – Indio, CA – Coachella
Apr 20 – San Diego, CA – Music Box **SOLD OUT**
Apr 22 – Indio, CA – Coachella
Apr 29 – Pomona, CA – The Glass House **SOLD OUT**
May 28 – George, WA – Sasquatch Festival
June 21 – Mexico City, MX – Lunario del Auditorio Nacional
June 29 – Lawrence, KS – Free State Film Festival
June 30 – Davenport, IA – Daytrotter
July 01 – Chicago, IL – Live on Lincoln
July 07 – Saint Paul, MN – Turf Club
July 08 – Des Moines, IA – 80/35 Festival
July 09 – Milwaukee, WI – Milwaukee Summerfest
July 11 – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Ballroom
July 13 – Nashville, TN – Exit/In
Jul 14 – Louisville, KY – Forecastle Festival
July 15 – New York, NY – Central Park SummerStage
July 16 – Greenfield, MA – Green River Festival
July 23 – Los Angeles, CA – FYF Festival
July 29 – Newport, RI – Newport Folk Festival
July 29 – Camden, NJ – Xponential Festival
Sept 17 – Telluride, CO – Telluride Blues & Brews Festival
Denise Sullivan is a California-based author of books on music including Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop, The White Stripes: Sweethearts of the Blues and Shaman’s Blues: The Art and Influences Behind Jim Morrison and the Doors. She is an editor-at-large and the political columnist at No Recess! Follow her @4DeniseSullivan and at her blog.
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