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Artist to Watch: Enrique Chi

The Making Movies video recording session in July at the Folly, with Chi at center. (photo by Jim Barcus)


The Leader of the KC Latinx Band Making Movies Battles Inequality Through Music and More

The official music video for Making Movies’ powerful 2019 song, “Tired of Giving In,” begins with the Kansas City Latinx band perfunctorily performing onstage while literally handcuffed to their instruments.

But the band’s seething front man, Enrique Chi, can play nice for only so long. He’s soon coaxing exploding bursts of dissent from his guitar, defiantly careening about the stage and unsparingly sharing the terrible yet change-inspiring truth as he sees it. 

“I’ve been lied to time and time again . . .” Chi laments. “Why am I here again?” he moans. “Let me out!” he wails.

The singer’s quizzical bandmates eye one another with increasing unease. What’s he up to? Is this sort of thing allowed? 

“The handcuffs are a metaphor,” Chi says of Making Movies’ cinematic shackles. “It’s saying that, obviously, people of color are celebrated when they’re performers, but you can take them off the stage and they’re usually in some sort of metaphorical or legitimate chain. And if you start speaking about this stuff too much, it’s like, ‘We need to quiet you down,’ like you’re going to get in trouble, because you’re not playing by the rules.”

“If you make your interaction with music an expression of your own journey inward, you’re going to have a really rewarding experience.”

Enrique Chi

Chi, 37, is indeed weary of inequality’s habitually cruel concessions, but he won’t give up the struggle against them. It’s why he so enthusiastically inhabits two separate yet intersecting roles — as the leader of his Latin Grammy-nominated band, which since forming in 2009 has worked with such Latino luminaries as Los Lobos and Ruben Blades, and as the executive director of Art as Mentorship, the grass-roots educational organization that he founded in 2011 as a summer music camp for kids.

“After five years of running the camp, folks in the community and participating families wanted more than only a one-week music camp,” Chi recalls. “That’s why I decided to start a not-for-profit and created Art as Mentorship to house various programs, but most importantly to launch the Rebel Song Academy and to push toward year-round programming, which I’m excited we’re doing now.”

The Rebel Song Academy has been raising funds to complete construction of its own recording studio, where aspiring young music-makers will receive hands-on training from accomplished mentors in a pro setting. While any kid with a musical knack may dream of becoming a star, the bottom line at RSA isn’t about cracking commercial success in the music industry, but rather focusing on one’s interior life and creative process.

In mid-July Enrique Chi recorded a video with his group Making Movies inside the Folly Theater for “Playback” on Kansas City PBS and 90.9 The Bridge. (photo by Jim Barcus)

“If you make your interaction with music an expression of your own journey inward, you’re going to have a really rewarding experience,” Chi says. “If you make your interaction with music an exercise in a popularity contest, you’re likely going to be pretty unhappy, no matter how much success you find. And success can be different for every person, right? Like Louie (Perez) from Los Lobos says, if you’ve made a song and it touches one other person, you need to consider that a huge success.” 

As for the success of Making Movies — including Chi’s brother Diego on bass, keyboardist/percussionist Juan-Carlos Chaurand and drummer Duncan Burnett — the group is featured in the PBS documentary “AMERI’KANA,” which debuted in July on KCPT, Channel 19. And every song on the band’s forthcoming, and as yet untitled, fourth album is to have a “visualizer” or online video created for it, thanks to initial funding from an Arts KC Inspiration Grant. 

“The term ‘music video’ connotes the template of a narrative with tons of edits, and if we had a quarter million dollars, we could make a real music video for every song,” Chi says. “We don’t have anywhere near that, so we’re using visualizers — a piece of art made with intention that can also serve as a subtitle delivery vehicle for folks who don’t speak Spanish, but may really like the music, to be able to absorb what the meaning of the music is.”

Wherever Chi’s commitment to music may yet take him, as a talented teen from Panama growing up in Lee’s Summit, he had no way of knowing where he’d be today. And he can still find himself reflecting on what it was like to once be a budding but oh-so-green talent looking for the right path forward.

“I still go back to this idea,” Chi says, “just like, what would the 16-year-old version of me have needed to hear to end up in the same place or even a better place, but most importantly end up there without hitting as many roadblocks? 

“And, I would say, your talents have to evolve. Your talents to build teams and structure your time and be a leader become as important as the talents that you thought were the thing that would be the reason for you being successful. I thought that my ability to play the guitar at 11 would be the reason for my success — and it is, but also it’s not. It’s all these other things that play into it. I probably will not be an agent of change in Washington, but I do have these talents.”

Enrique Chi and Juan-Carlos Chaurand of Making Movies will be featured performers at Ghost Light: A Haunted Night of Songs and Stories from KC’s Cultural Crossroads, Sept. 30-Oct. 17, on the lawn of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. For tickets and more information, kcrep.org/show/ghost-light.

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Brian McTavish

Brian McTavish is a freelance writer specializing in the arts and pop culture. He was an arts and entertainment writer for more than 20 years at The Kansas City Star. He regularly shares his “Weekend To-Do List” at KCUR-FM (89.3)/kcur.org.

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