Nothing says Halloween more than a black mass. And to celebrate Latino style, it’s best to highlight a no-fucks-given band from Oakland, CA. La Misa Negra, combines a wealth of musical influences as diverse as their cultural background. Known for their unique blend of heavyweight cumbia and high-energy Afro-Latin music, the band has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting live bands on the West Coast.
Marlena Fitzpatrick: A band name like La Misa Negra (The Black Mass), has rebellious- like religious connotations. For those exposed to the band today, why the name for this band?
Marco Polo Santiago: I’m a metal head and a diehard Black Sabbath fan, so I wanted to give the band a name that was kind of a translation of Black Sabbath. Even though we’re playing cumbia and Latin dance music, I wanted to set the band apart by giving it a heavy, memorable name that totally goes against all conventions for this type of music. I also like the santeria imagery that people have been able to deduce from the name because it acknowledges the fact that the music we play is Black music. It’s rooted in music that originates in Africa and one of the key aims of this band is to highlight those African influences in our music. There are a ton of cumbia bands and “Latin” bands who have abandoned, virtually, all traces of the African roots of the music they play. We’re among the bands that are trying to preserve those roots and remind people where all of this music comes from.
Marlena Fitzpatrick: This second album is self-titled, but you’ve dubbed it the “red album.” Although it appears an on-the-nose name given the cover is red, what’s the abstract, subjective meaning behind this moniker?
Marco Polo Santiago: Again, that’s another rock inspiration. Metallica and the Beatles each have self-titled albums that are unofficially called, the “Black Album” and the “White Album,” respectively. I decided to go self-titled on this album and when the artwork ended up being red, it all just fell into place. There are some existing “contending” albums that have claimed the “Red Album” title but I’m not a fan of those albums, so I refuse to acknowledge their existence. LOL. Plus, our artwork is way more red than those other albums.
Marlena Fitzpatrick: We can see the rock influences and hear them too. There’s, however, a distinction. This album is rich with Afro-Latin genres. From cumbia to son, you make everyone dance. Who are your main influences?
Marco Polo Santiago: Metal, hardcore hip-hop, Latin jazz, funk, and cumbia are my favorite genres and, therefore, are the dominant influences in the music I write. Obviously, the classic big bands from Colombia, like Pedro Laza, Pacho Galan, and Los Corraleros de Majagual make up the foundation on which LMN is built on. But even those guys had a lot of outside influences, from Jazz and from what Cuban bands were doing in the 40’s. That whole Latin jazz scene also plays a significant role in our sound and guys like Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Cal Tjader, and even (or especially) Perez Prado are HUGE influences for me. I gravitate towards minor keys and darker, “mean” sounding melodies, and that’s present in most of the music I listen to but especially in metal. Groove reigns supreme in this band and that’s another common component of all of those genres.
Marlena Fitzpatrick: You touch upon some social themes in your lyrical content. In Dueña De Mi and Acosadora you tackle female empowerment. What socio-political issues are you all passionate about?
Marco Polo Santiago: Equality, climate change, war (and gun violence in general), are at the top of my list. We have songs on this album that address each of those things in one way or another. Prior to starting LMN, virtually 100% of the lyrics I wrote were political, and specifically leftist. When I started this band I wanted to make music that was fun and brought people together, but I have this need to be able to address the problems facing us today, like gun violence (which we address on Pistola) and water scarcity (which we address on El Agua Ya Se Acabó). It’s also important to challenge the thinking, traditions, and policies that hold down sectors of our population. That’s what inspired Diana to write Dueña de Mi.
Marlena Fitzpatrick: Speaking of El Agua Ya Se Acabó, what message do you have for Puerto Rico and all the victims of hurricane María who are now without food and water?
Marco Polo Santiago: Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by all of these hurricanes (and earthquakes too). Climate change is real and we’re not taking any significant measures to slow it down. It’s going to take a lot more than a few rolls of paper towels. I encourage those who can, to donate to any of the organizations that are out there providing relief to Puerto Rico (and also Mexico).
Marlena Fitzpatrick: Thank you for your solidarity and amazing music.