World Music. I roll my eyes at the term and have no Putumayo discs on my iPod, but often when one writes off an entire music style, bands come along that are so good, they breakdown your biases and your stereotypes disappear. Casa Verde Colectivo (Green House Collective), who’s been taking Mexico’s music scene by storm, proved to me once again that “World Music” can be pretty cool. And like any band that can really play, it’s their live performance that captivates. Made up of roughly 11 members spanning from Brazil to Canada, their music is both dense and mature, while never losing it’s fun, butt-shaking intensity. You could compare them to Manu Chao or Ozomatli…but while a lot of groups with a world sound (even the good ones) tend be all over the place, often losing their personality in favor of trying to represent too many musical styles, Casa Verde’s latest album Aqui y Ahora (Here and Now) maintains a solid style from start to finish.
I sat down with three of their members (Lucio La Rua: Lead Vocals, Guitar. Pablo Nuñez: Bass Guitar, Vocals. Mynah Marie: Accordian, Vocals) in Mexico City’s central plaza, the Zocalo, for a great conversation about music, concerts, and life in general.
So how did the band get started?
Mynah: The story of Casa Verde started in a horse caravan when Lucio and Cadu and some others were traveling by horse around Chiapas and Veracruz and they started to play music like this in the nature and from that the name of the band was inspired. “Casa Verde”: like a house of nature. This went on in the form of jam sessions for about a year and a half later on in Mexico City. Then slowly, slowly the project started to become more official, more serious and other musicians incorporated themselves in the band.
Lucio: So the beginning was like international jam sessions.
How do songs get started then? You have a lot of band members.
Lucio: The process of creating a song starts with the bass...sometimes me, sometimes Pablo. We imagine the riffs and then come the arrangements with the brass section. Then everybody starts to put some part of their soul in the music. But generally Pablo and I start the songs then everyone else works on it...the arrangement, the lyrics.
Are the lyrics usually in Spanish, there's some French stuff in there too right?
Mynah: Yeah it depends on who's playing in the band at the moment because a lot of us are from different origins.
Who are your musical superheroes then?
Mynah: (laughs) Well my background is more from Balkan or Arabic music...but none of us are traditional musicians or grew up that way.
So your accordion is more of a gypsy thing than a norteño thing...
Mynah: Yeah, definitely not norteño.
Lucio: The basics…I like Jimmy Hendrix to fuckin' Motzart...Mano Negra for example, this is of the bands from my childhood, I thought those guys were totally amazing...15 guys on the stage and every one of them is doing something different.
You guys have a lot of members. Is the group open, closed, are there transient members who come and go?
Mynah: Well that's why we call it a colectivo, because it's like a collective of artists...but the core group is always the same. We have a stable 8 or 9 musicians, but then we like to work with guests that add a little flavor in the albums.
Lucio: We recorded the album together here in Mexico City and our single (Corazon de la Calle) in Bilbao, Spain. But our philosophy is that we are travelers and we really like to share experiences with other musicians. We even try to put this beyond music with urban art, poetry...everything.
Mynah: It's like a movement. Casa Verde is a way of thinking.
Do you write your songs to be political or to teach people?
Mynah: I'm not comfortable saying we're political or we want to teach...but there's a strong message. We're not preachers or teachers, we definitely have a message of change that we believe in and are trying to influence people with...to get into that vibe that things can change in a positive way. It' not like taking sides though. We have a strong ecological belief...protecting the environment.
Lucio: Like in the old times we called them “juglares”, singers who transmitted everything to the town. We’re trying to show to other people that another way is possible.
Have you played outside of Mexico?
Mynah: We're working on it. We have some opportunities to play in California and in Canada this summer. So doors are starting to open. The album's getting a lot of circulation and making it much easier.
Where did you play your first show?
Lucio: It was here in the Zocalo...as festival called Sin Maiz no hay Pais (without corn there's no country [sounds catchier in Spanish]). We prepared a lot but had pretty bad instruments...hippy/punk style.
Anything else? Something you want to say to the American audience?
Mynah: We'll see you this summer!
Lucio: I really hope to go to San Francisco. Some of my cultural heroes are from there. We had many of our first jam sessions on Orizaba street where Jack Kerouac and other American poets wrote really amazing things here in Mexico City...and I feel really close to them. I don't know...maybe in a past life I died of an overdose in a jazz club...but I feel really close to American culture in these aspects...poetic and musical.