The extraordinarily talented collective of musical activists M.A.K.U. Sound System emerged from the expat-Colombian community in Queens, N.Y., where more than 80,000 Colombians reside, according to the 2006 U.S. Census.
Curiously, their name is also that of an indigenous Colombian tribe, but they actually chose it because it is Colombian slang for “low class” and they also wanted to tie it in to the sense of the Jamaican-style street parties and their sound systems.
The band was founded by guitarist Camilo Rodríguez along with vocalist and bass player Juan Ospina and other musicians from Bogotá who originally intended to play traditional folkloric Colombian music. Today, in a large ensemble that includes several multi-instrumentalists including Liliana Conde from Barranquilla and Robert Stringer from the state of Georgia, they amp up and rock out traditional Afro Colombian roots and rhythms with a fierce punk attitude and drive them straight to the 21st Century .
M.A.K.U.’s sound reflects all of Colombia, with heavy doses of the Caribbean and Atlantic Afro Colombian rhythms. They are also proud of the fact that they keep their Colombian roots in a fairly pure state as their music is always the product of real instruments – no laptop at all to be found.
Their music also has a special texture thanks to the jazzy touches that Stringer in particular adds to the mix via his trombone. He explains that he has found many common elements in the rhythms of the Afro Colombian diaspora and his own jazz studies.
Additionally, their live performances are driven by a no-holds-barred rocked-out style that transmits an amazing to their tunes which almost always include moments where most everybody is on some kind of percussion instrument—drums, maraca, tamboras. This also means at some point everyone in the audience will be jumping along and shaking body parts imaginable and unimaginable to the beat of an irresistible flow.
Nevertheless, M.A.K.U. never, ever loses sight of the rhythms of their homeland. As several of them say, laughing, in our interview, “What we play always sounds very Colombian!”.
Feature photo by Max Ocampo
M.A.K.U. Soundsystem will perform at Martyr’s on September 5 and Villapalooza Little Village Music Fest on September 6.
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