By Yarely Ortiz
While volunteering for South by Southwest in 2017, I was roaming around the Austin Convention Center to see what musicians I could watch during my lunch hour. As I was roaming around the second floor, I walked past a big poster announcing Chicano Batman was playing.
I thought Chicano Batman was an intriguing name, as Chicano is an identifier for people of Mexican descent born in the United States and Batman is a familiar superhero figure. I entered the venue to watch them play and was amazed! It was my first time hearing about Chicano Batman, a Latin alternative band whose sound can be considered lounge-grooves, R&B and psychedelic.
Chicano Batman was the first alternative band I came across that was based in the states before Latin-alternative music bands became popular and dominant in the music industry today with bands like Los Retros, Sen Senra, Omar Apollo and The Marias.
Chicano Batman originated in Los Angeles in 2008. The band is composed of four musicians, Bardo Martinez (lead singer and guitarist), Eduardo Arenas (bass and guitar), Carlos Arevalo (guitarist and keyboards) and Gabriel Villa (drums and percussion).
The band’s name was created after Martinez watched an indie Filipino film. “[The name] is literal and not literal at the same time. It could be like, yes I’m Chicano and this is who I am, and I’m a hero as well. But it is also a cool combination of two things…it is a culture and it’s pop culture combined,” Martinez said on Guitar Interview.
Chicano Batman’s Freedom is Free released in 2017 and is the band’s third album. The album consists of twelve tracks for a grand total of 39 minutes. The album incorporates a strong sense of funk and American soul music, with influences from ‘60s and ‘70s R&B, like Curtis Mayfield with a Chicano spin.
Freedom is Free is Chicano Batman’s catchiest album, with its funky, trippy and mellow brown-eyed soul songs. The album starts with “Passing You By” where the melody overlaps with reverb guitar riffs and Martinez’s high-pitched voice. This theme repeats itself with other tracks like “Jealousy,” “Run” and “Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm).”
Many of the songs by Chicano Batman offer timely social awareness. “La Jura” tackles police brutality, offering the point of view of the artist as he sings about the loss of his friend after he was shot by a policeman. “The Taker Story” is a song inspired by the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn who divides the world into two cultures, the taker and leaver.
Martinez both sings and comments on the sin of man detailing genocide, slavery and in-depth philosophical thought on the “taker” mentality.
The catchiest song of the whole album is “Friendship (Is A Small Boat in a Storm)” which is about the trials of friendships and personal reflection after adjusting oneself internally to cope with the externalities of life. The song takes on a soulful jam featuring a strong psychedelic guitar.
Freedom is Free is a great piece to listen to. The album explores the emotions of the heart and soul as it tackles social events prevalent to the people and embarks on culture. Freedom is Free is seamless and timeless.
You can listen to Freedom is Free and other Chicano Batman albums on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Deezer and Pandora.
Featured image by Chicano Batman.