ChuCha Santamaria y Usted
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ChuCha Santamaria y Usted

Oakland, California, United States | SELF

Oakland, California, United States | SELF
Band EDM World


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"ChuCha Santamaria Fever"

Sofía Córdova and Matt Kirkland both wear big glasses. They met at Bard College, work as photographers by day, have an MFA between them, and have been known to drop words like "performativity" into regular conversation. Talking to them — and through absolutely no effort of their own — you're overcome by the distinct and unshakable knowledge that they are smarter than you by leaps and bounds. Their first album, recorded under the name ChuCha Santamaria Y Usted and released eponymously last year, was a high-minded concept piece about the Caribbean diaspora. All told, it could be the most insufferable thing you've ever heard, except it's not, at all. In fact, it's fantastic and vital and fully unpretentious and imminently catchy, what you might call "conscious disco" if that didn't sound absolutely terrible (or sell the duo criminally short).

Besides, Kirkland and Córdova themselves are — rightfully, mercifully, wonderfully — wary of the artsy-intellectual thing, too. "We don't want this to be pretentious art shit that you have to watch in a gallery," Kirkland said, sitting in a downtown Oakland park last Friday. "Mostly, we want it to be something you can dance to." And at the same time, when it comes to music, "political" can easily become code for boring or preachy — neither of which ChuCha is, or would ever want to be. "We're trying to be fun and weird and interesting," he continued. "Sure, it's political, but politics is nuanced, and we have no interest in being didactic about it."

In person, he and Córdova are friendly, funny, articulate, charmingly self-effacing, and totally not the kind of capital-S serious types you might imagine, given their résumés. For one thing, neither of them have very extensive musical training: Córdova, 26, logged several years in a children's choir and a few playing flute in middle-school band; meanwhile, Kirkland, 29, grew up a music geek, half-seriously making beats with friends before realizing in his late twenties that he'd hit something of a dead end, that "I can't offer anything new to the world of, like, white guy with a guitar makings songs about, you know, my life." He grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan; Córdova's originally from Puerto Rico. They met in their late teens at Bard, started dating soon after — they were married in August — and, following college and a couple years in New York City, moved to Oakland in 2008 so Córdova could pursue a master's degree at the California College of the Arts. It was shortly thereafter that ChuCha Santamaria — they've now dropped the "Y Usted" — was born.

Even before Kirkland and Córdova explain ChuCha's origins, there's a palpable feeling of urgency and personal necessity to the project, of place and time and circumstance all converging to make two people who'd scarcely picked up an instrument in years do so and make a record, but the band makes more sense given its context: For Kirkland, the project represented a chance to do something that felt new, different, and not woefully played out, and for Córdova, it came out of feeling fed up with theory in her grad school classes, wondering how to bridge the abstract and the concrete. She'd been reading a lot of music theory, listening to a lot of dance music, and thinking about both of those things in relation to each other and to the Caribbean diaspora — that is, the way emigrants brought native musical traditions from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and elsewhere to the United States, where they melded with hip-hop, dance, pop, and R&B. She decided she wanted to try to pay tribute to that tradition, mostly for personal reasons rather than political effect.

"It's kind of like a stab in the dark, but I feel like I've had this experience of immigration, or whatever you want to call it, or diaspora," she explained. "And I'm feeling stuck, and I have this story, and I've never told it, and maybe it's not important to anybody, but I want to tell it, and do so in this really specific tradition." Kirkland happened to have an old synthesizer lying around, so Córdova fed him some abstract ideas as to what she'd like the song to sound like — "palm trees, darkness, with clacking sounds in the background" — and wrote a set of lyrics about Columbus' "discovery" of North America to go along with it. That song became "Fiebre Tropical," the lead single from the album, and both the mood and production process stuck: Before they knew it, Kirkland and Córdova had written and recorded an eight-song LP, released last summer by the Austin label Young Cubs.

Musically, the album is arresting, effortlessly and earnestly fusing Latin freestyle, Italo disco, Nineties pop, and electro, along the way referencing Santigold, Ana Tijoux, Madonna, and maybe MIA before she got annoying — and, of course, the cross-pollinated proto-mashups of the American melting pot that Córdova had originally been inspired by. Lyrically, it's a loose but linear narrative told through the voice of ChuCha Santamaria, whom Córdova adopted as an alter-ego because she didn't want the music to speak only to her own singular experience. "I wanted to make it universal by making it specific," she explained. The first half of the record is about the presence of colonialism, while the second is about immigration and assimilation.

Heavy stuff, for sure, but here's the thing: because Córdova sings primarily in Spanish, and because the lyrics tend toward the abstract, the narrative undertones are more implied than explicit, and it takes a close reading to parse ChuCha's songs. Take "Grito de Lares (Ridox)," for example. On close inspection, it's a ballad for a failed intellectual revolution of the same name, the first documented push for Puerto Rican independence. But on the dance floor, it's a classic, perfect electro-pop jammer, with burbling arpeggios, a yearning chorus, moody synths, and a pruriently addictive heavy-breathing interlude. It's most likely the only song ever written about revolutionary politics that can reasonably (and favorably) be compared to "Slave 4 U"-era Britney, and it's fucking brilliant.

This, at its core, is what makes ChuCha's music effective: it works on multiple levels, making itself accessible at whatever degree of attention the listener wants to pay. In other words, it's a concept album wherein the concept is not required to enjoy the record. In that sense, it's telling that the record's been well-received by both the San Francisco art crowd and sixteen-year-old YouTube commenters from the Midwest — and that Córdova and Kirkland are equally thrilled to have both fanbases."It's important to us that all those things are there if you want to spend the time with it," Córdova said. "But it's okay if you just wanna dance."

And, weirdly, that too is something of a political statement, as Córdova and Kirkland conceptualize it. "You give yourself identity, and other people give you identities, and the immigrant gets an identity," explained Córdova, from behind her big glasses. "And then you have this perfect space on the dance floor where you can just be rid of that, at least for the duration of the song."

Contact the author of this piece, send a letter to the editor, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter. - East Bay Express

"ChuCha Santamaria y Usted EP Review"

In the movie Drive, the lead character is a quiet man. He enjoys driving nice cars--fast. By nature of his hobbies and subsequent employment, he spends his time lurking the orange glow of LA's night-streets. With a cool demeanor, he chews on toothpicks, builds engines, and on occasion smashes a man's head in with his cowboy boots. Like magma under a volcano, our anti-hero hero's rage flows under him waiting to erupt. It's brought out by the surprise and possibility of the dark and its inhabitants. He's followed by an original soundtrack, heavily influenced by 80's synth pop. The songs and their sloppy harmonies compliment the night time scenes, but also work to humanize our hero during the day. They speak to his heart and his magma; to his soul and to the fire running through him.

The sounds of Chucha Santamaria Y Usted's self-titled debut EP, released on Young Cubs, are similar: heavily pop-synth influenced tracks reminiscent of the 80's but with a more contemporary edge. They're not blindly happy pop songs; they're dark, at times foreboding. The thundering Fiebre Tropical, a smash single since the summer, leads in the EP with a vibrant energy and the cool urgency of female vocals lamenting the arrival of tropical fever. By I Came for You, the second track, we know we've entered a dark place--a street-crawling space in which the paranoia of urban living manifests itself in high frequencies, echos, and tingling synths. Fanta Fabuloso sounds like a Passion Pit song turned on its head. Ominous imagery is everywhere: love songs set in the fog, desperate longing and obscured vision, prophetic lizards and moths. Take this bit form Grito de Lares Ridox: "Takes the whole night digging, buried in the mud/ eat their gun with your dancing on our way to the sun/ our new haircut feels like falling down the stairs/ backwards and forwards the jungle pushes us." It's violent--magma rushing underneath the surface.

Yet just like Drive, there is something heroic in the ferocity. Perhaps this is due to the production of Matthew Kirkland, the mastermind behind Chucha's music. Several of the songs could easily be dance tracks. The beats and rhythms are sultry. They're wild and sexy like the curves of the night, and this is only further emphasized by Sofia Cordova's voice. She's stronger when she sings in Spanish, which is not to exoticize; the diction and rhythm add another layer to the music and increase the tension. Always slightly off from perfect harmony, in that lazy way of 80's pop, her vocals are mesmerizing and a bit intoxicating. Between her highs and lows are a sense of freedom, a taste of fear, and a promise of adventure, just like night crawling. Maybe this is the sonic painting of Cordova's Puerto Rico, her home and according to her a place "where the poor are destined to live or die." Chucha's EP gives you chills but it also makes you sway. You'll want to listen to it track by track. You'll find your favorite singles and put them on your playlists. You'll keep the record spinning during parties. And on your drives through the orange glow of downtown or post-sunset subway rides into your nightly journey, this will be your soundtrack.

Rough around the edges but still smooth; dangerous and alluring. It's enough to make you wonder what they'll do with a full album.
- Profound Aesthetic

"ChuCha Santamaria y Usted"

Bilingual synth/club pop that really works, when it works. Vocalist Sofia Cordova and producer Matthew Kirkland work out of Oakland, CA, parsing out a varied mix of Latin freestyle and gamey electronic production, akin to the earliest M.I.A. efforts, but with more nuanced songwriting. A couple tracks really stand out, either due to their sultriness or the inventiveness of the melodies themselves, but one gets the sense we’re going to be hearing a good deal more of this sort of electronic diva/Italians Do It Better framework in the coming months, that Drive sdtrk. being a suitable yardstick for such shenanigans. Totally glad this exists, but I think their next one has a chance to be great. Clear vinyl. (
(Doug Mosurock)
- Still Single - Doug Mosurock

"ChuCha Santamaria y Usted EP Review"

While the faux Latin pop stars contemplate and exploit the fictitious renaissance of the lambada, there’s a new act in town worthy of the arched legs and the tall, chandeliered ballrooms. Puerto Rico’s Sofía Cordova and New York’s Matthew Kirkland have created a nest of up-scale and rule-breaking songs on their self-titled mini LP as Chucha Santamaría y Usted. Based in Oakland and enlisting Disco Tex and The Sex-O Letters as a prime influence, this pair of gleaming musicians (who point to an audiovisual experience at all cost) has a serious talent overseeing rhythmic momentum and nourishing their cadenced possession.

When trying to describe the band on their Facebook profile, the married duo redirects us to a quote from Howard Hawk’s adaptation of Raymon Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep. “She tried to sit on my lap when I was standing up!,” perhaps you need the context of the story to fully appreciate the give-and-take dialogue that’s happening here, but when trying to grasp the highly stylized ecosphere of Chucha Santamaría y Usted, understanding the fundamental and ultra contrasting elements of noir (as a brutal mood rather than a genre) comes in handy. Knockout single “Fiesta Tropical” fulfills the premise of the duo employing dualistic noir haze as if it were part of their negotiating terms to find sonic mantra. The track is happy catchy on the surface and wildly contemplative in the backdrop, just like the tropical fever they so ecstatically warn us about.

Although they sound urban, it would be somewhat of a stretch to say Chucha in the same breath as Santigold or M.I.A. (for one, because there is no anti-establishment or third world commentary here), but if publications abroad need that kind of guidance, well, there you have some. In all the Spanish-language pieces (but especially in "Fanta Fabuloso") the duo is closer to the reverse-shot-reverse pop structures contemplated by bands like Pau y Amigos or even María Daniela y Su Sonido Lasser, bands that, let’s be honest, make some of the most digestible pop on our continent. It’s the quieter (mostly in English) pieces in which Chucha really explores all corners of composition. Particularly in the anthem-striking “Bright Young Light Pt.2,” which unfolds beautifully with its semi-dub, semi-balladry articulation. Chucha Santamaría y Usted is onto something. With both members sharing custody of a love story, the future seems even more promising. For now, they’ve managed to visualize and endure the landing of a butterfly onto a girl’s hair just so the insect could whisper into the girl's ear that everything will be okay. Yes, they’ve made that superfluous thought believable. - Club Fonograma

"ChuCha Santamaria y Usted - ChuCha Santamaria y Usted"

How often do you play a record by an artist previously unknown to you and feel excited within the first minute of listening?
The digitized choir that greets the listener on “Fiebre Tropical,” the opener of Chu Cha Santamaria y Usted’s self-titled release, is one of those grab-you-by-the-throat moments rarely found in music less than vital to your existence, and trust me — this will be like water, oxygen, and your favorite drink at the bar once you’ve listened to this bizarre sounding but truly captivating “mini LP.” The word “mini” when describing the LP is slightly misleading, as there is nothing mini about this album from the sound detail, scope of vision, and energy it harnesses effortlessly. Take “Miami Lakes” with its Kraftwerk-like mix of robotized lyrics and chiming synths that should make you question their presence, but are joined by a heartbeat-like syncopated drum beat that pulls you in immediately. Perhaps it’s time to say the word “disco” without looking around nervously?
It’s all too easy to look at the cover and be reminded of the often theatrical dress of a certain Icelandic singer, but perhaps that’s where the similarity ends. Whilst Bjork output has become ever more deliciously obscure, Chu Cha Santamaria y Usted is often singing in a language perhaps unfamiliar to many casual listeners and making the words part of the tapestry of sounds. This serves to weave together the album with an expert attention to tone and sonic detail, and it could be that you understand the often distorted words — some are in English, some Spanish — but the chilled-out soundscapes possess a warmhearted Latin persuasion with traces of melodic Kraftwerk, the inspirational feel of Bjork, and a sound close to Optic Eye.
Choosing a stand out track is a difficult task, as after one listen you desire to hear the whole LP again and again. Like the best music it leaves you wanting more, sustaining the tension and internal euphoria over the full eight tracks. - Verbacide

"ChuCha Santamaria y Usted - Bright Young Light Pt 2"

This soon to wed duo of Sofía Córdova and Matthew Kirkland bring a latin accent to the electro pop on their self-titled debut set for release in two weeks on Austin’s Young Cubs label. They’ve got plenty of energetic and aggressive beats and lyrics in store, but ahead of that release, Chucha Santamaria Y Usted are offering the track “Bright Young Light Pt. 2? as a sample. It’s gliding intensity is descriptive of the album, but the track is mostly an example of Córdova and Kirkland at their most restrained. - URB

"ChuCha Santamaria y Usted - ChuCha Santamaria y Usted"

Representing Oakland by way of Puerto Rico and New York, Sofía Córdova and Matthew Kirkland (aka Chucha Santamaría y Usted) are all about the mezcla. Fusing elements of Latin freestyle, ítalo disco, and progressive politics, their new synth-driven mini LP is a soulful blend of Debbie Deb and Anita Tijoux, with hints of early M.I.A. thrown in for good measure. Handling concept, lyrics, and melody duties, Córdova impresses on the album's eight songs, while Kirkland's backing tracks, albeit sparse, keep the body moving. Topics range from the "discovery" of Puerto Rico on the simmering "Fiebre Tropical" to the challenges of immigration on "Dipsi Diver." Other highlights include the Santogold-invoking "Fanta Fabuloso," and "Bright Young Light Pt. 2," where a glowing Córdova momentarily trades in her native tongue for English. Even "Miami Lakes," which tones down Córdova's vocal presence, displays a complex yet emotional allegiance to a freestyle genre that, at least in San Antonio, still gets plenty of spins. "Making this album came out of a personal question, for sure, but if you strip all that away it should remain a solid dance album, following in the traditions that implies," says Córdova. "This isn't ironic pastiche, it's the real thing." - Current

"ChuCha Santamaria y Usted - Fiebre Tropical"

Perhaps disco would have been granted a longer shelf life had it been imbued with a sense of historical significance. Chucha Santamaria Y Usted aims to make that case, a pair of Puerto Rican and Brooklyn natives that now calls Oakland home. With a spirit and political sense that recalls "Arular"-age MIA, the two weave myriad subgenres of dance and pop with their message. "Fiebre Tropical" is no exception, addressing the 'discovery' of Puerto Rico amidst an entrancing beat. Increase your knowledge when their mini LP drops June 28 on Austin's Young Cubs label. - RCRD LBL


ChuCha Santamaria y Usted "S/T" (Mini LP)

Young Cubs 2011 (Vinyl & Digital)

1. Fiebre Tropical
2. Miami Lakes
3. Fanta Fabuloso
4. Dip-Si Dai-Ver
5. I Came For You
6. Grito De Lares (Ridox)
7 Bright Young Light Pt 2
8. Domingo De Gloria



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