Interview by Daniel Coston
From the April 2017 issue of Tangents Magazine
For many years, Charlotte has been home to a popular Latin and International music scene. Musicially and culturally diverse, the music plays throughout the area in any venue that holds listeners and dancers. New to this scene in CHOCALA, made up of four veterans of the local music scene. Daniel Coston ventured via email to find out more about the group, and the city and scene that they call home.
Tangents: CHOCALA. How did the band come together?
Davey Blackburn: After Patabamba, Liza, Claudio and myself wanted to continue making music together. We had developed a strong relationship and the music and magic was still there for us. I have known Michael Anderson for many years and have seen him play many times in Snagglepuss and other lineups. We ran into each other at a coffee shop and talked, one thing lead to another and bam!
Liza Ortiz: Davey, Claudio and I were already in a band together named Patabamba. When that ended, we decided to keep making music together. Michael had seen Patabamba play and expressed interested in playing with us, so we decided to invite him to be part of our new project.
Claudio Ortiz: Chócala developed from Liza, Davey, and I spending over a year building a strong song writing dynamic through our work on music for Patabamba. We were already used to having fun and exploring different soundscapes and Davey invited Michael to join in on the party.
Michael Anderson: Magic.
Tangents: How would you describe the band’s music?
Blackburn: A culmination of cultures, scenes, experiences and meaningful adjacencies that are shared through sounds that we naturally feel to create.
Liza Ortiz: Best I can come up with is Latin Psychedelic Fusion.
Claudio Ortiz: I’m going to try REALLY hard not to use the word fusion to describe our sound even though that’s technically what it is. Psychedelic, multi-cultural polyrhythmic. Nevermind that’s worse. I’ll just say fusion.
Tangents: And what does CHOCOLA mean?
Liza Ortiz: Chocala means high five in Spanish.
Claudio Ortiz: Chócala literally means “crash it” but is slang for “high-five” through most of Latin America.
Tangents: What’s the plan for the band? Shows? Recording?
Blackburn: To make music, to record the music, to play shows and events, to me CHÓCALA is a cultural bridge to connect.
Liza Ortiz: Our plan is definitely more shows and collaborative cultural events. We have also set the goal to record by the end of the year, so if not a full album, at the very least an EP.
Claudio Ortiz: There is a growing interconnectedness of genres, artists, and ultimately, cultures in Charlotte’s music seen. Being a part of that growth is really special. I’d like to play venues, events, and bills that are out of our comfort zone, in and out of town. Given our combined schedules I think having an EP recorded in time to put out by late Fall is totally attainable.
Tangents: For you, where does an inspiration for a song come from?
Blackburn: Between the four of us for sure and the world.
Liza Ortiz: The initial inspiration for a song usually comes from the vibes we get from each other. With a few exceptions, most of our songs have come from between song jamming. We will be going through a set list and while we set up for another song Davey will create a beat that we all start jamming to, or Claudio will start a bass line that we all come in on, and instances like that turn into full songs. Lyrically my inspiration has come from my personal growth in furthering my consciousness.
Claudio Ortiz: It’s hard to come up with a simple answer for what inspires my ideas for my input to our songs. Obviously, memories, feelings, and travels. I’d have to say that my biggest inspiration when we’re to date has been everyone else in the band. Our songwriting process has been very collaborative and open ended which has made us read each other and play off of each other's ideas in the moment.
Anderson: For you, where does an inspiration for a song come from? 50% - my emotions, 50% - the Ether, 50% - other Chócala band mates
Tangents: What is more important to a song. The drum beat, or the melody line?
Liza Ortiz: I think they are equally important. Both have the capacity to change a songs feel and emotion in such drastic ways. You can play the same melody and have different drum lines and it will never get old because the beats continue to give it interest and life. And on the other hand, there can't be a maintained interest in a beat if there isn't a melody to make it into a full song.
Blackburn: Its all inclusive to me.
Claudio Ortiz: I think dividing songs into melody and drum beat tends to limit them, dimensionally. We might all feel that way to a certain extent. Davey plays his drums, keeping the tones of all of his percussion in mind and how it can affect the melody of the song. Liza’s meter and cadence while singing is very intentional. When I’m playing bass, I think I play it rhythmically more than I do melodically. I think Michael does a stellar job of deciphering all of our crazy ideas and tying them together with his sax playing, highlighting the rhythm or the melody depending on what is lacking.
Tangents: How has the Charlotte music scene over the last 15 years?
Blackburn: I feel that it is more diverse and friendly to some extent. I'm very proud of Charlotte and our music scene, I have been playing in bands since I was 16 and going to shows in and around Charlotte even before that. I'm 40 now and over that time I have seen a lot of immensely important shows here. Not just important for our city, our scene but for the world. That energy that is created here or that has traveled here and then released here doesn't only remain here. I feel we are a more of a global city and have a growing global scene.
Liza Ortiz: Considering that I am only 28, I can only speak for the last 13 years and specifically the bubbles of music I was interested in those times. When I first started going to shows I was really only ever going to Tremont and the Milestone. I was listening a lot of Ska, Punk, and Hardcore. So while there is a high possibility that there was a variety of music happening at the time, I unfortunately wasn't aware of it. I was only getting that specific side of Charlotte music. Eventually I feel like everyone started shifting towards the Indie folk scene and thats what got me going to places like the Evening Muse and Neighborhood Theater and exploring other venues and bands. So while I know there have been several shifts in the Charlotte music scene, in my experience it wasn't until the past 5 or so years that I have noticed a rise in diversity of music and a variety in bands that venues will feature.
Claudio Ortiz: I’d say that because of social media (the internet at large) there is a interconnectedness and an increased potential to communicate that that hasn’t been seen in the past. It’s exciting because I’m seeing bands in our community build bills and relationships that would’ve been a lot more difficult to build in the past.
Tangents: There’s a much more diverse music scene in Charlotte in 2017. Talk about the community of Charlotte musicians, and community of international music.
Blackburn: I feel that there are pockets of international and multicultural scenes here in Charlotte but over all has grown into something that the entire city and the surrounding areas can enjoy and experience. With the help, guidance and passion that people like Tony Arreaza and with organizations like the Latin American Coalition we have a strong foundation to become an even more global presence.
Anderson: Everyone loves music and are supportive of each other's interpretations. It makes playing shows that much more fun.
Tangents: Where are the best places to hear CHOCALA, and international music in Charlotte?
Blackburn: Our home base is Plaza Midwood. Snug Harbor and Petra's have been our main beat. Latin Night in Plaza Midwood has been an overwhelming success. This once periodical event has now grown into a monthly must see. *Ask me more about this event later. All the international festivals that happen in different locations in and around Charlotte is great way to see and experience multicultural celebrations. Another venue that we are in collaboration with is La Revolucion in the NC Music Factory. Through Calibre Rock a local Hispanic music promotional outfit we have set up two upcoming shows that are the beginnings of an on going relationship. Others are Ilois Noche, A Piece of Havana and Amor Brazil.
Liza Ortiz: Snug Harbor and Petra's definitely feel like home, and it is where we most frequently play. Both venues have done a really great job in featuring more musical Diversity. With Su Casa at Petra's and with Snug hosting things like Hip Hop night, Shiprocked, Latin Night, I think they have done really well in making a fun unpredictable atmosphere. I think there are plenty of venues that are welcoming international artists, so my suggestion is doing a quick search on cultural events in Charlotte rather than sticking to one venue.
Claudio Ortiz: Every venue I’ve played in Charlotte has it’s particular draws and reasons as to why people prefer one over the other. Snug Harbor is home base for us. That’s for sure. There is multi-cultural music happening all over the city all the time and I’d say it’s safe to assume that I don’t know about a lot of them because I’m just as guilty as most about living in my bubble. There are a handful of productions around town that are really exciting. Afro-Pop at Morehead Tavern, Funk-Shun (rotating venues) Sessions at Petra’s are a couple great events to go support. Leanna Eden is doing a spectacular job curating Sessions and getting artists around town to communicate with each other.
Tangents: Broader question. What does music mean to you?
Blackburn: Music lives and is a part of everything in my life. It has been there in the most important times of my life. It has guided me through and been there for me always. I have to play.
Liza Ortiz: Music is home. My mom taught herself how to play guitar and mandolin and she has the most beautiful voice, so thankfully she he always stressed the importance of music to Claudio and I.
Anderson: A mixture of thoughts, emotions and observations expressed through mathematical relationships and contrast
Claudio Ortiz: Music is my prefered medium of non-verbal communication.
Tangents: Favorite shows you have ever played. Describe.
Liza Ortiz: My favorite shows have been our two Halloween shows at Snug Harbor. Claudio made these beautiful masks both times, and both shows had such an amazing energy and were unbelievably fun.
Claudio Ortiz: The first Latin Night in Plaza Midwood was amazing. I think everyone involved with that event understood how meaningful it was to have a night like that.
Anderson: The next one
Blackburn: They are all my favorite as long as I get to play.
Tangents: Finish this sentence. At the end of the day, CHOCALA is….
Liza Ortiz: At the end of the Day Chocala is joy.
Claudio Ortiz: FUN. I mean, the term means hi-five. We’ve set the intention with the name we decided on, that’s for sure.
Anderson: Ready for the next.
Blackburn:....El Que Anda En La Miel Algo Se Le Pega.
...He who walks through honey becomes quite sticky.