Brown soul? Acoustic hip-hop? The Luna Blues Machine redefines Chicago’s music scene.
How can two Latina, Chicago vocalists evoke A Tribe Called Quest, Qwel, the Grateful Dead, and traditional Mexican folk music? The answer lies in the Luna Blues Machine’s deep-seeded Chicago roots.
The dynamic sister duo, at the heart of LBM’s impassioned and empowered lyrics, grew up on the southwest side of Chicago. Maritza (vocals, classical guitar) and Belinda (vocals, mandolin) grew up in the Back of the Yard community and later moved closer to Midway, by Ford City Mall. The sisters attended Queen of Peace High School and started singing and performing at a young age. They were commonly known as “those girls who were always singing in the hallways.” The sisters were part of school and church choirs and were even part of a six part accapella group of young women. One of their favorite groups to cover was En Vogue. The sisters grew up in a house full of mariachi music and oldies. It was at home where they had their earliest lessons on instrumentation, listening to their parents’ music. The combination of U.S. popular contemporary compositions and dusties from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border heavily influenced the sound and soul of this Chicago staple.
At college the sisters started exploring jambands like Phish and envisioning themselves as not just singers, but as performers in their own band. LBM started working out songs from ‘01 to ‘03 when they began gigging across Chicago. Maritza mentions, “One of our first shows was at (Sub)T’s bar. (Subterranean up on the north side, in what is now, commercially referred to as Wicker Park.) The group established itself among a burgeoning grassroots community of organizers, artists, musicians and teaching artists that Maritza would later come to consider LBM as part of an invigorating “acoustic hiphop movement.”
Maritza and Belinda are both actively involved in their community as teaching artists, both giving music classes for youth across Chicago. As a teaching artist and as a performer Maritza mentions that it was through a production of Frederico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding, where she learned how to play traditional jaracho and son huasteco music, traditionally from Vera Cruz. She says this Mexican root music, son music, hugely effected how she plays her guitar. Maritza says, The release of Lauren Hill’s Unpugged album, and the rise of other contemporary Black women’s voices such as, India Ari and “Erika Badu changed the way Beli and I wrote songs.”
Being from Chicago, at the crossroads of cultural exchanges, LBM has fuzzed together all their influences into a uniquely, authentic and empowering new trajectory for musical performance. I had the privilege of talking intimately with Maritza about LBM’s aesthetic and influences. We shared on everything from the genre-bending band to instruments, playing in Chicago, and the fans.
JLB: What affect would you say Chicago has played in your music?
MC: Chicago has been our backdrop. Living here our whole lives, meeting all different types of people and music. I know that I feel that we are a Chicago band, geographical. I feel like at one point that when we first started doing open mics, the acoustic hip-hop scene, I really felt that it was a movement, a revival. I really [enjoy] getting to know Chicago musicians, the people who play for each other.
JLB: You describe your band as part of an acoustic hip-hop movement?
MC: Acoustic hiphop, soul, latin folk/soul. Beli and I have been jokingly calling ourselves Brown Soul.
JLB: Brown Soul…I like that…
MC: Someone once called us India Ari with beats. I’ve even heard funk, someone recently described us as Hawaiian-Alterative.
JLB: Oh right, because of Beli on the mandolin. Sounds like LBM should run for presidency. A cross genre, multicultural crowd pleaser with a post-colonialist flare. That leaves Hippy on base, and you on the guitar and vocals too…?
MC: Accustic classical (guitar). Strung with nylon string, different than steel string, gives it a “folkier” sound.
JLB: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?
MC: Thank you to the fans that have been with us since the beginning. Keep spreading the word.
In five years LBM projects they’ll be touring outdoor festivals across the country, hanging with their hippy crowd, at festivals like Bonnaroo in Tennessee and even playing gigs across seas. LBM has put out several smaller LP’s but you can get your hands on their recently self-produced and promoted premier, self-titled album online, Luna Blues
You can catch the Luna Blues Machine at their next shows
Apr 7, 2010 – 9:00PM
2447 North Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60614-2403