Four young Angelinos in vintage formalwear, playing songs that blended Brazilian Tropicalía with early ’70s psychedelic soul came together in 2008, called themselves Chicano Batman and never looked back. They have released two full-length albums, played Coachella, and toured with Alabama Shakes and Jack White, among others. They will release their third album, Freedom Is Free, and make their ATO Records debut on March 3.
Frontman Bardo Martinez met bassist Eduardo Arenas in 2008, and they quickly found common ground in the work of Caetano Veloso and other Tropicalía performers, as well as the kind of vintage soul and pop heard on “the albums our parents have in their closets.” They recruited drummer Gabriel Villa and made their first album as a trio; guitarist Carlos Arévalo joined the band in 2011 and they released The Joven Navegante EP the following year, establishing themselves at the leading edge of the American Latino Music revolution boiling out of Los Angeles.
Chicano Batman’s look has done as much to set them apart as their sound or their name. Since the beginning, they’ve performed in matching suits and ruffled shirts, referencing 70’s bands like Los Ángeles Negros, Los Pasteles Verdes when it was a big thing, to dress fancy, play romantic ballads and still be funky. That sharp funk groove shows up throughout Freedom Is Free, but especially on the title song. Bardo’s uplifting lyrics, delivered in his uniquely dreamy/romantic style, are bolstered by the backing vocals of New York’s all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache.
But Chicano Batman is more than just funky grooves and romantic ballads; they have something to say about current events. “The Taker Story” on Freedom Is Free delivers a message over a slow, ominous groove that is a stinging indictment of imperialism and conquest, with the Mariachi Flor de Toloache amplifying the song’s simmering fury as the band channels the Funkadelic of “March to the Witch’s Castle” and America Eats Its Young.
Outside the studio, Chicano Batman has built a stellar reputation and a major fan base through heavy national touring playing major festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo, opening for Jack White, Alabama Shakes, The Claypool Lennon Delirium and Gogol Bordello. In 2017, they’re planning their own national headline tour, sharing with anyone who wants to hear the news that Freedom Is Free.