Music Reviews
7:07 am
Mon July 1, 2013

Chico Mann: Plastic Keys, Blinking Lights And Burbling Beats

Originally published on Thu June 27, 2013 4:34 am

Marcos Garcia took his alter ego Chico Mann not from the 1970s TV series Chico and the Man but from a bit of dialogue in the early-'80s hip-hop film Wild Style. For years, Garcia was best-known as one of the members of the New York Afrobeat ensemble Antibalas. But one day, he began tinkering with his daughter's Casio keyboard, and since then he's only built on his arsenal of electronic playthings.

Though Chico Mann's songs are obviously built for today's dance floors, his influences are clearly vintage. On his latest album, Magical Thinking, he's leapt back to the early 1980s style known as boogie. This is not the boogie of the rock 'n' roll pneumonia and boogie-woogie flu days; it's a retroactively named genre that arose from the ashes of post-disco and funk music. Boogie is known for its big bubblegum bass lines and sticky stacks of synthesizers, and Mann digs deep into both here.

While boogie's bounce is front and center on Magical Thinking, Mann still preserves a connection to Garcia's other musical loves, including the distinctive, twitchy rhythms of Nigerian Afrobeat and the rapid pulse of Dominican merengue.

For an album that so broadly draws on styles across time and place, Magical Thinking could be right at home in practically any sweaty basement club around the world. There's a sense of sonic frolic, as if Mann was rapidly throwing ideas at the studio wall, with most of them sticking. That playfulness seems fitting for an artist who began with a toy store keyboard. Three albums later, he sounds like he's having just as much fun, banging away amid plastic keys, blinking lights and burbling beats.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Music now from a man who grew up at a crossroads of global music cultures. Marcos Garcia records under the name Chico Mann. He came of age in the hip-hop era. His father ran a Latin music label out of Hell's Kitchen in New York. Chico Mann's music is a mix of West African, Latin and contemporary dance rhythms. And on his latest album, "Magical Thinking," he adds a 1980s twist.

Reviewer Oliver Wang has been listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: Marcos Garcia took his alter ego, Chico Mann, not from the 1970s TV series "Chico and the Man" but from a bit of dialogue in the early '80s hip-hop film "Wild Style." For years, Garcia was best known as one of the members of New York's Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. But one day, he began tinkering with his daughter's Casio keyboard, and since then, he's only built on his arsenal of electronic playthings.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) I don't wanna stop.

WANG: Though Chico Mann's songs are obviously built for today's dance floors, his influences are clearly just as vintage. And on "Magical Thinking," he's leapt back to the early 1980s style known as boogie. This is not the boogie of the rock and roll Pneumonia and Boogie Woogie Flu days. It's a retroactively named style from the early 1980s that arose from the ashes of post-disco and funk music. Boogie is known for its big bubblegum bass lines and sticky stacks of synthesizers, and Chico Mann digs deep into both on this new album.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: While boogie's bounce is front and center on "Magical Thinking," Chico Mann still preserves a connection to Garcia's other musical loves, including the distinctive, twitchy rhythms of Nigerian Afro-beat...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Hey, you got the magic touch. It's magic. Hey, you got the magic touch. You got it. It's magic. You got it.

WANG: ...and the rapid pulse of Dominican meringue, though probably not quite what Garcia's father used to produce.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WANG: For an album which so broadly draws on styles across time and place, "Magical Thinking" could be right at home in practically any sweaty basement club around the world. There's a sense of sonic frolic, as if Mann was rapidly throwing ideas at the studio wall with most of them sticking. That playfulness seems fitting for an artist who began with a toy store keyboard. Three albums later, he sounds like he's having just as much fun, banging away amid plastic keys, blinking lights and burbling beats.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Our reviewer, Oliver Wang, is an associate professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach and writes the audio blog Soul Sides.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.