In the music industry, it’s easy to feel like you’re only as good as your latest album. It doesn’t matter how big your last record was. “What have you done for me lately?” When you confront that blank sheet, that sonic void – the best solution is to be true to yourself, or more importantly, be true to the extreme. That’s the way to make the creative juices flow. Be like the quote attributed to Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
That’s how Dani “Macaco” Carbonell has approached his work on this album over the last two years. No fewer than 25 songs emerged during pre-production, of which 13 made it onto the record. This is more than a step forward. These songs are written in bold, making us reflect on our lives with their lyrics. They are songs that you’ll want to enjoy while relaxing or at home, alone or with company; and songs that will accompany you as you go out and take on the world.
Macaco’s signature stamp is all over this album. His vocal inflections, the Mediterranean and seafaring musical vibes, and the mix of rumba and reggae that are in his DNA. And he takes it all one step further. Macaco has a restless mind, fond of risks and commitment. He is no stranger to immersing himself in musical challenges, such as using the stringed mandola over a dub beat; juxtaposing the iconic 808 drum machine with tango-flamenco handclaps; adding percussion to religious processional choral music; and even recording inside a closet to unlock incredibly intimate acoustics.
The result is Civilizado Como los Animales, the new album by this Barcelona native. The title comes from a phrase in “El Progreso,” recorded by the Brazilian singer-songwriter Roberto Carlos in 1977. Banned in Argentina by then-dictator General Jorge Rafael Videla, this song was one of the first ecological anthems in Latin music history.
Macaco sought to work with different producers who would contribute unique perspectives on his compositions. Among them, Rafa Arcaute (Calle 13, Residente, Aterciopelados) and Raül ‘Fernández’ Refree (Lee Ranaldo, Kiko Veneno, Rosalía). Most of the material features co-production by Macaco and Tomas “Tirtha” Rundquist, his guitarist over the last several years who co-founded the 1990s Swedish-Spanish indie rock group Undrop. These two talents understand each other well and have propelled Macaco’s musical evolution.
This album has no shortage of acclaimed recording artists who have happily signed on to this project. Among them, Niño de Elche, Visitante (Calle13, Trending Tropics), Bego Salazar (Las Migas), Jorge Drexler, Monsieur Periné, Nach, Juanito Makandé, Antonio Carmona, Estopa, El Kanka, El Canijo de Jerez, Mr. Kilombo, Silvia Pérez Cruz and Miss Bolivia. In addition, there are spoken-word sections read by Antonio Escohotado, Joan Manuel Serrat, Inma Cuesta, José Luís Algar and Oscar Jaenada.
Pressing “play,” we hear the title-track introduction with its handclaps, drum machine, plucked mandolas and guitars, and reggae rhythm. Quite the preview of the universe that is opening itself up to us. This music adorns a thought-provoking spoken-word recitation by the writer and professor Antonio Escohotado. From there, we dive into this record which has three distinct currents – alternative, singer-songwriter, and finally anthemic.
Starting with the first, most risk-taking facet of the album, we listen to:
“De Serie“: A masterclass on how to play Bob Marley-influenced guitar, while adding handclaps and dub-style electronic drums. Guest vocalist Niño de Elche provides a brilliant sheen, while Bego Salazar offers a savage counterpoint, as the mandola again makes its presence known as part of Macaco’s new sound. The groove is strong. As the lyrics say, “Living serially, tell me what number they’re going to call you with.” A song that opposes alienation.
“Ovejas Negras“: “I’m the pride of my grandmother who is the embarrassment of my family,” says Inma Cuesta in a moving reading. We hear Moorish chants and devastating percussion. It is an exceptional arrangement, tailor-made for Macaco’s warm voice, Niño de Elche’s poignant singing and the poet Nach’s raw rap: “Yesterday, innocents serving a sentence, today the obscene liberty of the brave.” Perhaps he is recalling that those who sing out can be judged. José Luis Algar closes out the song with a text that says, “You all will dance if we play.” It is sweet revenge, the revenge of art.
“Agárrate“: A dub rhythm with fat bass is joined by strings and mandolas. The Argentine vocalist known as Miss Bolivia offers an ebullient rap: “Why should I shut up if I was born shouting?”
“Mamma“: This song rolls along with an uplifting Gnawa-influenced guitar, along with Visitante’s keyboard and programming wizardry. The lyrics are dedicated to warrior mothers: “The shoulder where gravity collapses.”
The second, calmer current of Macaco features musical pearls such as:
“Blue (Diminuto Planeta Azul)“: A musical delicacy introduced by a reading from the legendary Joan Manuel Serrat: “This is our little stage.” Lovely string arrangements accompany this duet between Macaco and the physician-turned-award-winning singer and songwriter Jorge Drexler, as they sing together in a small space to declare their love for the “diminutive.” Another gem of a line: “The stars would say we’re the ones who are falling.”
“Lenguas de Signos“: Another song with modest ambitions, it delights us with arpeggiated guitar licks influenced by flamenco and rumba. Macaco gives a personal performance that melds with the vocal caresses of Monsieur Periné’s vocalist Catalina García and the plucked ronroco melodies of the group’s guitarist Santiago Prieto, while offering up poetic and passionate lyrics.
“Quédate“: We are greeted by the welcoming, expressive voice of Silvia Pérez Cruz, who always fills “any empty space” with feeling and emotion. Soft reggae is cloaked in layers of mandolas that take us to Italy and Greece. Macaco has achieved something great with his and Silvia’s vocals, letting the microphone do the work as they drop to a near whisper while subtly elevating the song in perfect harmony. The lyrical line “Stay here with me,” is a perfect metaphor for what they are trying to accomplish with their voices. An exquisite keepsake of a song.
Last but not least, the Macaco who everyone knows and loves:
“Somos la Fiesta“: The title comes from a scene in the music documentary Jaco, produced by Macaco’s friend, Metallica bass player Robert Trujillo. At one point, the legendary jazz musician Jaco Pastorius is asked, “Where’s the party?” to which he answers, “We are the party.” This becomes the jumping-off point to invite a big, fun group of friends to paint the town. Oscar Jaenada speaks the evocative title in the intro, which sounds like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack for a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. Then, a sprightly rumba gives Juanito Makandé, Antonio Carmona, Estopa, El Kanka, El Canijo de Jerez and Mr Kilombo a chance to exuberantly invite us to this celebration. And we can have fun trying to pick out which musician is performing each part of the lyrics.
Civilizado Como Los Animales also includes such future fan favorites as “Lo Quiero Todo“, a refreshing reggae about accepting love and not settling; “No Nos Pararán“, an ode to movement that prods us to keep turning in every way possible; “Bailo la Pena“, about staying energetic into the wee hours; and “Valientes“, which all of us are or can be, even if we don’t realize it. Overall, it is an album with a trove of beautiful secrets to reveal, along with meanings to ponder.
As Macaco sings in one of his most emblematic lines: “The point of view comes from you.”