Picture a still pond in a remote landscape with a lovely woman dressed in a spring-themed dress wearing a colorful bandana sitting peacefully in an old fashioned row boat accompanied by two young guitarists calmly plucking away in a folk-inspired tune with elements of a Dixieland jazz piece. Living a carefree life, the song, Marinero Wawani, describes the young Colombian band’s Monsieur Periné, gypsy-sensibility. With only two albums under their belts, Monsieur Periné has received international attention and acclaim for their eclectic musical diversity. Infusing a varied mix of musical styles from folk, swing, jazz to pop and Latin rhythms, Catalina Garcia, Nicolas Junca, and Santiago Prieto take listeners on a musical journey through the jungles of the Amazon to the streets of Paris and under the canopy of a vaudeville circus tent through Eastern Europe with their latest creation, Caja de Musica (Music Box) which has won a 2015 Latin Grammy for Best New Artist and had been nominated for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Rock Album/Urban/Alternative Latino and Album of the Year. Wrapping up a US tour through New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston, the talented trio is still in awe of the experience which highlighted their year in 2015.
Having met in college in Bogota, Colombia in 2007, the group started to play together privately covering weddings and birthday parties until an opportunity to play at the Red Bull: El Ensayadero contest back in 2010 presented itself creating the perfect storm that snowballed them onto the musical fast track. The contest was looking to sponsor original musical acts of which best described Monsieur Periné’s growing, developing style winning them the top prize for their Be Bop interpretation. As part of the prize, the band was given the opportunity to play at Colombia’s alternative rock festival, Festival Estreno Picnic, which was their first stage performance in front of a large audience including members of the music industry. Since then, they won a Gold Record for their first album, Hecho de Mano (Handmade), along with 2 awards from the 2013 Shock Tigo Awards for Shock Artist of the Year and Best BogoShorts Music Video for “Coucou”. If that was not enough, they released a music video for their single, “Suin Romanticon,” of the same album.
Now, lightning seemed to have struck twice with the production of their second album, Caja de Musica. Produced by Eduardo Cabra (”El Visitante” of Calle 13), Ruben Albarran of Café Tacvba and Vicente Garcia, the album was released on June 16, 2015. The success of the album led to a sold out show later that year at the Teatro Jorge Eliecer Gaitan in Bogota-Colombia prompting the band to take their show on the road on their Nuestra Cancion Tour visiting Cali, Medellin, parts in Europe like Germany, Switzerland, and Spain, as well as a show in Mexico at the El Plaza Condesa on Halloween. True to form, they also sold out at the Mexican theatre.
The album, Caja de Musica, itself is a nice blend of swing, jazz, pop and a mix of European influences. Each song transports the listener to a different location as if embarking on a cross-country, global trek. For example, Tu Ma’s Promis and Turquess Menina makes the listener feel like one were walking the cobble-laden streets of Paris on a brisk, early evening stoll window shopping the nearest stores. While Nuestra Cancion utilizes elements of swing and jazz to offer an upbeat tune to which can easily bring a skip to anyone’s step, Mi Libertad offers a pensive alternative pop rock song inspiring listeners to travel on an open road to a distant horizon with no planned destination ahead living up to its name, My Freedom. Coincidently, that sense of travel and exploration is exactly what best describes the band’s intention when they produced it. According to guitarist, Santiago Prieto, the album is really a diary of their journey, a diary of a Gypsy life and the musical landscape that epitomized their travels through Europe and Latin America exposing themselves to varying cultures, customs, and music.
The success of the album itself has been quite surprising for the band. Santiago points out that they are really a young band with only 2 albums, yet to be nominated for both the Grammy’s and Latin Grammy’s has been an incredible honor signaling that they are doing something right with their unique brand of music inspiring them to produce more improving on what was done previously. With their latest performance at the Teatro Jorge Gaitan, Santiago emphasized that they took their performance to a new level recording the concert and setting up a whole production surrounding it in hopes of producing a quality-grade DVD to document the live performance adding to the journalistic theme of the album itself. He described their albums as photographs of moments in time not really capturing the whole spectacle and ambiance of the live performances. For him, the live shows are much better than the albums themselves because they really take you into this journey with them. Although, that should not dissuade anyone from checking out their albums since they are still their proverbial diaries of their own musical journeys.
Once describing their music as “a flirtation with swing from an experimental laboratory,” Carolina, Nicholas, and Santiago worked tirelessly to stay creative and original researching new sounds and types of music from all over the world. They indulge in their ambivalent, musical identity as a band poking fun at the Latin American perceptions of the French stereotype and language by adopting an unusual French persona for the group. It’s really a statement against conformity while embracing an eclectic identity, an identity which has worked for them so far. Santiago Prieto goes into more detail about the band and their latest album, Caja de Musica, giving readers a backstage pass for lack of a better word to their musically diverse journey which has taken this young band to heights not frequently seen in the industry.
James Daza: Last year, you completed the Nuestra Cancion Tour visiting Medellin and Cali. You had the opportunity to perform at the Teatro Jorge Eliecer Gaitan en Bogota, Colombia performing your new album, Caja de Musica. How was that experience performing at the theatre? What was it like?
Santiago Prieto: It was great. We were very grateful. It was great because this is the most legendary theatre in Bogota. It is really huge and important in Downtown Bogota, There is a lot of this history there. We played for the first time at this theatre. It was very cool for us to play in one of the most important theatres in Bogota. We performed in this concert on the 10th of October of last year. We also recorded video of this moment, and we are currently turning it into a DVD. It was really cool because we created a whole new hall concert about a show we directed and choreographed with video, lights, and collaborated with a lot of people on this show. It was a really nice show. We have been playing this show since then. We have played in Cali, Medellin, and in Mexico on Halloween. We’re going to play this show 3 times in Bogota. We’re going to close the theatre Americano which is huge. They do it every year. It’s really cool because this new show has opened up a lot of doors for us. It’s something new in Colombia and for Latin America this kind of show for a young band that was well received. So, we’re really happy with this show and this album.
JD: How did your band form? What was it like performing for the first time as a band?
SP: We formed several years ago. The first time we saw each other, we began to play. We were just 4 of us at the beginning. It was like 8 years ago. We started playing seriously as a band like 4 years ago when we released the first album. We have been playing together since 4 years ago. Of course, things have changed, but we are 8 people on stage. Four sections of percussion, drums, and a double bass player and vocals. Catalina and I are the foundation of the band. We’ve been playing for 4 years with this 7-8-piece band, but we started like 8 years ago playing in a lot of weddings, birthdays, and all those types of jobs we had. We love to play. I think that is the best asset we have. Fortunately we’ve played a lot all over in Colombia, Mexico, and in Europe. We have played 3 times in Europe. We have played good European tours that played in different countries in Europe It’s pretty cool because our live show for me is better than even the album we hold because it’s like a photo of a moment in time, but the live show is like the real thing. It’s what we play. It’s the real, real stuff. We are putting a lot of effort in becoming good performers.
JD: Tell me about the name of the band. What does it mean? How did you choose it?
SP: When we started, we began playing a lot at weddings and baptisms. We were the background musicals of the rich people in Bogota. When we started playing these concerts, we didn’t have a name. We played a lot of music from Brazil, boleros, and Latin music, a lot of Latin music and jazz. We started playing swing and this French sound which is really European like Dixie jazz or jazz manouche. We also played something French. So when we were playing for these kinds of people in college, we found the words, perine, which is a word in Spanish which is a part of the body (perineum). It’s really like a funny, character and to walk in a certain way of the French stereotype that all Latin American people have from the French culture that everyone thinks that the French culture is very elegant, very cultured. We were trying to poke fun a little bit of this French stereotype. We decided to use this name. The people that hire us were thinking of this very elegant man that played their weddings that has this French name and can speak Portuguese and English. So that is the origin of the name. We just leave it and its sounded right. We found out it was a good name that couldn’t be well defined like our music. It was not jazz; it was not swing; it was not pop. It was a mix of something you could not easily define. We were happy with the name. So, that is a little of the explanation.
JD: I did notice in your latest album, Caja de Musica, you have kind of a European tone to the music. You mentioned a couple of the styles. What other European styles of music did you incorporate in your album?
SP: In this last album, I think incendi music which I recorded with the guitar. It’s inspired in the classic tradition. It’s from Eastern Europe. Chouval Bwa which is also a French style. There are also some arrangements, finger arrangements like bass in the classical music tradition. This record was meant to show the journey we made the last 3 years. Where we put a lot of Latin American roots into it, like Mexico, Argentina, Peru, and of course Colombia and the tours we made in Europe which we played in a lot of countries with bands from all parts of the world. In this record we tried to show the sound and landscape of all sorts of emotion and the trip we had together for the last 3 years. So we have a lot more of Latin music, Latin American roots. It’s really rooted in Latin American styles and feelings.
JD: So, would you say that the range of music in your album grew from your travels in Europe and Latin America which is why it seems so diverse?
SP: Yeah. I’d say that is the reason. We try to do a journey like a diary of a journey. It was like the idea of this record. To put the people in the journey we had. So, if you hear from top to bottom . You start with Nuestra Cancion which is very like the first album we made, catchy. We then starting to pull new styles where we go to the beach in Mexico, and then with Wawani which is like a beach sound. We recorded a marimba from the east coast of Colombia. Then we end up with the song Mi Libertad which is a song which has a charango foundation which is the sound of the Andean mountains. Then we finish with this instrumental sound that is also from Colombia and the Andes. It reflects where we were and records our journey.
JD: What were your musical influences?
SP: We have a lot of people that are doing what we are doing. For example, Nicolas uses a lot of rock., psychedelic rock. A lot of Brazilian music also. A lot of pop music. Catalina likes to hear a lot of jazz music. Myself, I like jazz music too and tango music. I like Latin music like salsa, Caribbean and world music. Also classical music. I love it. We try to create a whole universe for each type of music. We try to investigate new forms of music to use in our sound. Music is always changing and we want to try to make each album with a new sound to it.
JD: Who would you like to work with now after having so much success with your latest album?
SP: With this album, we would like to work again with those who helped with this album like Eduardo Cabra. He’s the producer for Calle 13 and he was so passionate about the work we really liked working with him. Also, we would love to work with Monsieur Periné to just sing with him or work with him or just get to know him. We love him.
JD: How was your Caja de Musica tour in the US? What did you like about the tour?
SP: We did this tour in January. It was the third tour we did; it wasn’t the first time we came to the US, but it was the first time we did 5 concerts in the East Coast which was really cool. We went to NY, Washington, and Boston, Some of the concerts were sold out. There were of coarse people who knew our music, but there was also a new audience. Everybody was really good connecting with the music. There was a really good vibe with everybody. We were starting to come to USA more often. We’re going to be there in the end of April and also in August. We like that there are really good opportunity in USA. We also signed with a live booking agency which is called IMN (International Music Network). They have been working really well for our project in the US. So, we are really happy too to play there and to learn about playing there. That’s the most important.
Monsieur Periné blends a mix of different musical genres borrowing from European influences and infusing them with Latin American roots creating a musical rubicon with no set, discernible identity or label classifying their brand of music. Always changing and evolving, the humble band from Colombia has pleasantly surprised international audiences with a fresh sound and an original take on conventional genres inviting them to join the care-free band on a Gypsy-inspired journey across boundaries as they explore the world through a different set of eyes and ears. Relatively new to the industry, their talents have taken them to the pinnacle of musical recognition by receiving nominations in both the Grammy’s and Latin Grammy’s and having won awards in them. The mere acknowledgement of their work among industry veterans is enough to inspire new directions in making music and hopefully a continuous evolution of a style that is strictly one of a kind.