Providence, RI’s Malportado Kids make music that casual observers might label as “world music” if they weren’t aware that the band’s members, Victoria Ruiz and Joey La Neve DeFrancesco, also front the prominent political punk band Downtown Boys, who just released their latest record, Full Communism. My personal beef with a genre label like “world music” is that it makes anything not sung in English (or a Western European language) an exotic endeavor, further asserting that English is the standard, that white, Anglo-Saxon culture is “normal” and everything else just fits into the noise at-large, songs whose origins you don’t need to know. In short, it’s become a dated and lazy label, and if you’re in need a better breakdown of the many historical reasons why it’s problematic (wrong) to think that English should be considered the “standard,” and what cultural exotification is all about, check out Edward Said’s On Orientalism. If Phoenix sang songs in French, we would still call them a French rock band, but as soon as Manu Chao emerged with his genre-bending, globally oriented sound and lyrics delivered in myriad languages, he became a kind of token world-music pop icon. “World” has become another label for “unfamiliar,” “different,” “strange.” This is the societal climate that Malportado Kids came of age in, and fortunately, they made Total Cultura to stomp all over these ideas of what “Made In America” should sound like.
Music in Spanish shouldn’t be novel; our country is built on the languages, and the lives, of slaves, immigrants, and indigenous peoples who lived in these lands long before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. This is a point that Malportado Kids expound on in the lyrics to the track “1492 Overture,” its cathartic, buzzing breakdown paired with what sounds like the sonorous plucking of a mbira, but could just as easily be a digitally rendered effect. While that song harps on injustices long-since past, “Basta Huedo” elaborates on all of the ways that white supremacy and post-colonial cultural oppression proliferates and makes itself at home in today’s society. Victoria Ruiz ignites the track with her hoarse demands (“Give me back my fucking land!”) before Downtown Boys’ drummer Norlan Olivo joins her in verse: “Cops harass us all day, like everyday, like everyday/ But I love the streets that I come from/ And I love the hood no matter where I go.” Total Cultura closes with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 single “I’m On Fire,” because really, what’s more classically “American” than a track off of Born In The U.S.A.? It’s a sneering nod to one of their heroes, a seamless inclusion. On Total Cultura, Malportado Kids are reading their oppressors the riot act in Spanglish, coating their political prose in cumbia-inspired dance-punk. This album is a revelation; listen below.
Total Cultura is out 6/2 via Dead Labour. Preorder it here.