September 1, 2019 (Updated)
Charlotte quartet Chócala (Latin slang for high-five) have cemented themselves in the local music scene as a jubilant force to be reckoned with. Despite only having a three-track demo tape, recorded in their practice space, the band’s sound and enthusiastic live performances have propelled them into hearts and spotlights around town. The band recently played Confluence, a two-day local music festival hosted by the US National White Water Center, and Music at the Mansion, a statewide initiative highlighting Carolina musicians. The band consists of siblings Liza (vocals/synth/keys) and Claudio Ortiz (backup vocals/percussion), Davey Blackburn (percussion), and Michael Anderson (saxophone).
Chócala’s charismatic debut album features the band properly recorded and at their best, having refined the eight songs over their three-year evolution. Liza’s powerful vocals weave cleanly alongside the dynamic narratives of Anderson’s saxophone which float playfully on album opener “Joseph,” flirting with staccatos on “Ojos Bobolos” and prowling darkly on “Tinieblas” over Ortiz’ wiggling, alien-like synth effects. The percussion by Ortiz and Blackburn is consistently entrancing with its intuitive blend of expert precision and free-form jazz-centric foundations. The psychedelic undertones and irresistible grooves compose a natural rhythm. The band’s vibes are alluring, inviting and celebrating internal rhythms; hips light up, arms raise, and feet can’t help but to tap along to the band’s compositions.
The album’s sound is vibrant and uplifts Ortiz’ lyrics which cover a spectrum of topics including mental health and radical self-acceptance. The energizing “Se Subio” stands out on the album with dub-synth and hectic percussion. Ortiz’ voice stays unwavering and focused, standing like a shining source of hope over the chaotically swinging jam. The steadily-paced, intentional “Solo Quiero Bailar” features chirps of natural instrumentation, bringing a warm braid of comfort as Anderson’s saxophone solo dances down a lonely dusk covered street.
Experimental synth continues on “Sombras” which combines the circling sound with a trumpeting but earthy bird-like call as the planetary groove lifts itself by the edges in an ethereal synth-led soft cloud.
“Humboldt” is a busy street-wise intersection, beeping with commanding synth, sharp tempo turns of bombastic percussion and the wide compression of keys. Blackburn and Ortiz collide on beats to create an almost drumline ensemble beneath Liza’s rejoicing vocals. Saxophone and synths team up in the song’s outro to smooth out the feverish percussion.
Album closer, “Reina de Mi,” which begins simply with only the siblings’ harmoniously grouped vocals, is a premiere fusion of the band at its most compelling. Blackburn follows the duo’s vocals shaking a solitary cabasa before Anderson’s saxophone creeps in to fully introduce the track. Liza leads with empowering, crystalline vocals, building the song into a lustruous and oscillating experience.
The talent of the band members is matched only by their passion for the music they create. In these times where our country’s president spews racist vitriol at Puerto Rico, Central and South America, Chócala’s brilliant, exuberant sounds are a celebration of the culture, providing a radically liberating atmosphere.