In a world where empathy can be in short supply, the brothers behind Kansas City Latinx rock band Making Movies see music and songwriting as a way young people growing up in a divided country can level the playing field.
The key is exposing them to mentors who can illustrate what’s possible, said Enrique Chi, emphasizing opportunities for youth won’t wait for the end of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which stalled the Latin Grammy-nominated band’s most recent tour.
“Most kids here cannot fathom how you could someday make music for a living and you could pursue a life based around the idea of music you create. They’ve just never seen it,” the Making Movies lead vocalist and guitarist said. “They’ve never seen it because effectively, no one here does it.”
Enrique Chi launched the nonprofit Art as Mentorship in 2017, hoping to foster more music success stories in Kansas City. Through a long-standing collaboration with the Mattie Rhodes Center, the music education camp eventually developed a recurring 12-week program called The Rebel Song Academy.
“When we started, we just wanted to do something and be part of the solution in some capacity so we started this little music camp with this really diverse mix of kiddos — there were kids from the suburbs, the inner city, and a lot of Latino youth,” said Enrique Chi.
Throughout the shutdown, the Rebel Song Academy transitioned to a virtual format to continue helping young people learn to effectively maneuver within the music industry, as well as to explore the creative components that go alongside releasing music, he said.
“When COVID-19 hit, we were already developing a way to do work year-round and now this situation has [taken us home from touring], which is allowing me to pour more energy into the programming than I would’ve if I was zigging around the country and otherwise playing concerts,” he added. “That’s really been my big mission of this year is to really solidify this curriculum and for it to be so robust so it will allow people to replicate this outside of us as a band and this organization, and also even outside of Kansas City.”
The Rebel Song Academy is expected to return in full this fall but the in-person aspect hinges on the state of the world and the pandemic during those months, Enrique Chi said.
Check out the Rebel Song Academy Live welcome video below, then keep reading.
Sharing immigrant experiences
COVID-19 revealed to the larger population what Making Movies and bassist Diego Chi have been saying for years, the cultural activists said.
“To me, this time highlights that it doesn’t matter if you’re a citizen or an immigrant or a non-citizen in this country,” Diego Chi said. “There are leaders who don’t seem to have any care or respect of people and that needs to be spoken out against no matter who you are or what side of the political aisle they live on.”
During the pandemic, he said, families continue to be separated at the border between the United States and Mexico — some sent to detention centers where they are unable to adhere to social distancing measures or keep supplies.
“A lot of them are living in very inhumane conditions,” Diego Chi said. “We’re looking to our leaders to act responsibly and to protect the population. But the guidance we’ve received from our current federal government has only highlighted the poor amount of empathy, leadership, and what seems like carelessness when it comes to the treatment of other human beings.”
Fueled by Panamanian and Mexican heritage, Diego and Enrique Chi — along with Making Moves bandmates Juan Carlos Chaurand on percussion and keyboards, and Duncan Burnett on the drums — use music as a vehicle to pave the way for sharing immigrant experiences, they said.
“My brother and I are both from Panama, but grew up in the Midwest, which is an immigrant story but also an American story,” said Diego Chi. “When you use the word ‘immigrant,’ it can be very polarizing and I think that that led us down a path where we were speaking out against some of the rhetoric that paints immigrants or people from Mexico or Latin America in very narrow, rigid lights that doesn’t actually do service to the diverse and beautiful culture of people that are from those places — myself included.”
Reviving a ‘family reunion’ feeling online
In addition to strengthening Rebel Song Academy, Making Movies is continuing to work on new releases throughout 2020, said Diego Chi.
Next up: the big reveal of a music video cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” in which fans were invited to participate by sending in videos of karaoke covers or simply dancing to the Making Movies version of the track.
“We also host weekly conversations with artists and songwriters through the Rebel Song Academy LIVE which is an extension of our [performances],” he added. “The live concert is really something I wish we could have back soon… a live stream doesn’t really scratch that itch, but part of what we’ve done is really dove into this conversation space where we can create a community and talk with young people on Facebook live streams.”
“I think we’re going to be seeing concerts as the last things to come back and, given the circumstances, the goal now is to find new ways to connect,” he said, noting the band is cooking up plans for a virtual festival experience in September or October.
The increased need for connection amid social distancing pushed Diego Chi to focus on what Making Movies offers to its audience, he said.
“This opportunity has really provided the time to step back and think about ‘What are the things that people get from our music, from our artistry, from our community?’ and ‘How I serve those elements?” Diego Chi said. “So for Making Movies, it’s been a lot about the spirit of giving back the lessons we’ve learned to young artists and the next generation of musicians that are going to continue to raise their voices but also finding a way for our current community to get together.”
Live performances in the past gave the feeling of a “family reunion,” he added — the hope is to revive that experience.
“It felt like every time we would go to a different city, we’d meet new fans or interact with friends who have since supported us and let us crash on their floors years ago or fed us a meal in their homes,” he said. “You know, those are the really special connecting points that we want to replicate and have that be a part of our online community.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.