If you aren't familiar with the Baboons, one way to describe the Miami band's music is by saying they play a little bit of just about everything. The group enjoys experimenting with and exploring the sounds of a variety of local and international cultures. The Baboons recently even did a stint showcasing its worldly sounds as the house band on Fusion Live, the network's primetime program.
The group got its start in Fort Lauderdale at a spot called Squeeze where Mano Pila, percussionist and songwriter of the band, threw together some improvisational instrumentalists and combined music with poetry. That night was the first performance for the Baboons, a group of all guys, jamming out wildly like a bunch of well, baboons. When current lead singer and co-songwriter Majica was invited to come out to see the dudes perform, she quickly got involved. About 20 years later, Majica and Mano are married with two small children and still performing together. The two also host WDNA, 88.9 FM's Global Gumbo with Majica & Mano P.
After a very long hiatus from Broward, the band is returning for a very special show at Hollywood's ArtsPark where it'll be previewing its newest album in its entirety. And to think, the Baboons' first album, Evolution, won best album from New Times. Talk about endurance. Before this Saturday's show, we spoke with the musical duo about everything Baboons.
New Times: What can you tell us about your new album?
Majica: The new album is called Spanglish and it is inspired by, obviously, the cultures that we're surrounded by and there's a lot of great stories, songs in the album. "Spanglish" for example is about a person, which is actually me, (laughs) coming here to Miami and learning the language and falling in love and learning Spanglish and learning about love. Basically we decided that was going to be the title track of the album because it's very catchy and it's a fun upbeat tune.
Mano: A lot of the songs came out of a period of years where for one reason or another we were thinking about coming of age stories. So a lot of them wound up being stories about finding yourself in a multicultural world. In the last few years, while a lot of these songs were being written, there were a lot of babies coming into the band so there was quite a bit of thinking about new life and youth and looking back to childhood and looking forward to responsibility. And also because we enjoy drawing from a lot of cultures and a lot of different styles, there's also a message there of inclusiveness. We're not excluding anybody we're not saying, you know, we're just this or just that. We're saying everybody is welcome in the world of music.
Is there one song in particular you're most excited about performing for people?
Majica: Well one of our newest songs we played last night for the first time it's called "Cebolla." It's all about a sax player who is called the onion man and he makes people cry he's so good (laughs). So this is a song that, I don't know, I'm just kind of in love with it right now. It's super catchy, super fun, and always the newest song is the most exciting because it's the first time you're playing it and you're still kind of figuring it out, you're still a little bit nervous about it, and it's just always super exciting to break it out.
Mano: And it's a mambo-rock song which you don't hear a whole lot of. But it is both of those and it's in English. The thing about the song is it's kind of about this saxophone player and he's a Mambo king from the old days but now he drives a cement mixer by day. He's a working man, he's older. But when he goes out to play... There's a line that says, "He showed up in his two-tone convertible. His sense of style was incontrovertible." He's a stylish guy, he's still got it. The song is from the point of view of the kids in the neighborhood looking at this guy and kind of urging him on.
You have a show coming up at Hollywood ArtsPark can you tell us what to expect?
Mano: Well, we're gonna be giving a preview of the album we're going to record the next day. When we're done at the ArtsPark, we're going off to the studio to go set up for the next day to go in and record the album. So we expect to play essentially the whole album from beginning to end and maybe a few more classic Baboons tunes.
Majica: So it's kind of like a rehearsal for the album (laughs). Like let's make sure we're ready to record this stuff. But it's super fun, we always have such a good time. Everybody in the band, they're just all amazing people and we're so honored to play with these people. Each musician is amazing in their own way. Mono and I are the songwriters and the leaders of the band and we're just honored that these people play with us and have stayed with us for a very long time. We have a recent addition to the band Michael Mut. He's from another band and he joined us so that we were able to do the twentieth anniversary show. And I think we hooked him actually, I think he's hooked now. Because he keeps playing with us.
Mano: The other thing that I think is important about this show is that this is the first time we've played in Broward since 2009. The last time that we played in the ArtsPark was in 2008. So it's been a lot of years since we've been in Hollywood or Broward, and we've definitely never played most of these songs in Broward County at all. So it'll be exciting to get back there and play mostly new stuff for our friends and fans and family that we have up there. Which are a lot, hopefully (laughs).
It's pretty awesome that you guys get to create music, perform, and even host a radio show together. How did you two meet and end up performing together as a couple?
Mano: Well (laughs) that's an interesting story. I started the band with a bunch of friends of mine from North Miami back in 1993. Kind of on a lark at a place called Squeeze and we used to go to Squeeze a lot they had an arts festival that would happen once a month where people would paint all over the walls. And for one of those, the owner Jack Kearney invited us to come out and do something. So we put together this improvisational group of friends mainly just playing percussion and doing poetry. And then different people would step forward and take the mic while the rest of the guys would play percussion.
We wore war paint because they had paint there that night. So the Baboons were born. Maybe about three or four gigs into it we were playing at a place called the Zoo and we had a sign up that said "please feed the Baboons" and Majica and some of her friends were invited to go there by one of the members of the band and asked to bring bananas. I'll let her take it from here.
Majica: I had no idea what I was getting myself into. So I picked up some bananas on the way and when I arrived I saw the sign there and one of the members of the band asked me, "Do you mind coming up and feeding us during the show at a certain point?" And I said, "Sure!" So it became a wild frenzy of percussion and sweaty Baboons in cut off shorts and war paint and vests just jamming and it was all guys, there was no feminine energy at that point and I was like, "Hmm, this really needs (laughs) this needs something."
And then at a certain point, I went up and I fed them the bananas and they ate them wildly out of my hands (laughs) and I said, "Wow I really need to get involved in this." So then from there on, I started going to the rehearsals and then it took a turn, me and another lovely lady, she had joined the band earlier than me. She was a dancer and also a poet. So now we had two females in addition to all the males. That kind of balanced it out a little more.
Mano: It actually changed it dramatically. What happened is that suddenly there was a bunch of guys and a couple of beautiful ladies and the energy went from being all testosterone to having a whole bunch of estrogen and it was a much more combustible sexy mix in a different way. And obviously we really enjoyed it, and I think audiences really enjoyed the beautiful ladies up there singing and dancing and doing their thing.
They started to also bring their own poems and their own songs into the mix and after a few months we decided to plug in and go electric again. And we maintained that whole dynamic of a lot of worldbeat rhythms and AfroCuban and African rhythms and funk beats and poetry and that mix of a wild animalistic frenzy. But it was a lot sexier with the ladies involved, and, I don't know, maybe that sexy vibe started to rub off after awhile. And at a certain point, I think Majica and I just started to um have longer and longer hugs at beginning and ends of rehearsals (Majica laughs).
Majica: They'd be like come on guys. After about a year of us being in the band together we became very good friends. We used to go to concerts together. And then one day I gave him a necklace, and I didn't give anybody else a necklace, so basically that was my way of telling him that I was interested.
Mano: I got the message.
Majica: He got the message loud and clear.
Mano: That was 20 years ago and two kids later...
Majica: We have two beautiful children, 3 and 5. And now we're just able to come back and start getting active again. And we're super excited because when you have children it takes you to a new level of awareness of yourself and of what you're singing about. And the meaning of everything just means so much more.
When you're not putting your musical talents to use what do you enjoy doing?
Majica: Well as you said we have a world music radio show that we do on WDNA 88.9FM every Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. we spin world music for the community and it's a volunteer position. We do it just for the love of music. So people can experience music that they would never hear otherwise.
Mano: I think we're the only tag team radio DJs on WDNA because we put the show together and talk about what we want to play, and when we're on the air we're kind of throwing the ball back and forth to each other. And people are hearing two different perspectives and I think it keeps it more like a conversation and more fun.
The Baboons, 8 to 9:30, at ArtsPark, 1 Young Circle, Hollywood. The show is free and all ages. Visit thebaboons.com.
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