Interview: Malafacha, Chicago’s hidden ska gem

Volted interview - malafacha

Chicago-based ska band Malafacha first caught my eye after seeing them on the lineup for the popular Mexican ska band, Pantéon Rococó. Malafacha’s social justice lyrics, Latin rhythms, and heavy guitar riffs mixed with ska hooked me right away.

I talked to drummer Alex Cruz to find out more about the origins of the band.

Family project turned social justice ska band

As the only one with any playing experience, drummer Alex Cruz brought his nephews Moises Bello (vocals), Ivan Bello (saxphone) and brother Ezequiel Cruz together in 2003 so that his family could learn to play music.

“It all started as a bit of a mess to try to make something but nothing formal,” Alex Cruz said.

As their desire to play music grew, Piramides–a covers band that played rock en español, urban rock and alternative rock–was born. But playing covers just wasn’t cutting it. The band decided to make some changes, transforming Piramides to Malafacha.

“We decided to change completely as to where we wanted to go and we saw the genre ska as an alternative to have many people…it was little by little, it was ska’s own need to add other members,” Cruz said.

As time passed, the band eventually became a full-fledged ska band with 10 members and new sounds such as the congas; percussion and the trumpet would fill their music.

With all the new changes, the band looked to their own life for inspiration and the result were social justice lyrics mixed with everyday experiences.

“Basically, our life here in the U.S. hasn’t been easy because we come from another country with other roots, with another culture and another language and the frustration you feel,” Cruz said. “It’s an experience we are trying to express in our lyrics…we can be talking about racism and also be thinking about love, heartbreak, betrayal in any shape of everyday life.”

Though the general immigration experience and their anti-political ideas permeate their music, the band opposes violence as a means to solve problems.

“We’d like to say we’re against injustice, but we don’t want to incite people to take justice with weapons,” Cruz said. “We simply want to incite people to do justice by preparing themselves everyday.”

Though their message is clear, there was one problem the band noticed. Non-Spanish speakers liked their music but they didn’t understand what they were saying, Cruz said. With the intention to make sure that everyone understood their message, the band recorded the song “Inspiring My Soul,” primarily in English. The band is in the works of making more music in English.

Language is only one of the adjustments the band has made along the way.

Displeased with the results from their first EP “Retroactivo,” the band took advice from Missael Oseguera, saxophone player of ska band Panteón Rococó, and applied it to their second EP “Diferente.”

Recording with a metronome and the new guitarist Roberto Carlos Tovar produced positive results.

“We did [“Retroactivo”] very quickly, very fast, and did not let it flow; and then in the end we didn’t like it,” Cruz said. “We like the material from “Diferente” more [and] we grow with every step we take and I like the result, at least.”

The now eight-member band is currently working on new songs and plans to go to Florida, Texas, and Colorado among other places Cruz said. The band also plans to take their music across the border into Mexico.

Last year, Malafacha participated in a compilation, “De Regreso a Mis Raices,” released in Mexico City. The positive feedback landed the band another spot in a second and third compilation. Now, they have fans in Mexico asking them to play in their cities.

“Space for projects such as rock and ska is very reduced here in the US…to get a call from Mexico, you’re filled with joy,” Cruz said. “For a band from Chicago to play there and [to have] the people from Mexico City asking us to go, it’s like a lot of adrenaline.”

–Elizabeth Blancas

Photo by Daniel Reynoso

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