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“Freedom is Free”: Chicano Batman on Their New Album, Trump, the Border Wall and Latino Artists

Web ExclusiveOctober 19, 2017
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We are joined in our Democracy Now! studio by the Los Angeles-based psychedelic soul band Chicano Batman. They describe their new album titled “Freedom is Free” as a “move to unravel our minds of fear from the powers that be and replace it with self-empowerment. Freedom must be restored to what it has always been: controlled by no person and subject only to the infinite flow of the elements. While we are here on Earth, we should rejoice in its worth.” We speak with the lead vocalist, Bardo Martinez, and bass player Eduardo Arenas.

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re joined in our Democracy Now! studio here in New York by the L.A.-based psychedelic soul band Chicano Batman. They describe their new album, Freedom is Free, as a “move to unravel our minds of fear from the powers that be and replace it with self-empowerment. FREEDOM must be restored to what it has always been: controlled by no person and subject only to the infinite flow of the elements. While we are here on Earth, we should rejoice in its worth.”

Well, for more, we are joined by the lead vocalist, Bardo Martinez, and bass player, Eduardo Arenas, who also sings.

And we welcome you both to Democracy Now!

BARDO MARTINEZ: Thank you.

EDUARDO ARENAS: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Bardo, how did you come up with the name Chicano Batman?

BARDO MARTINEZ: It was just kind of like a sketch in a notebook, you know. It was—I was going to UCLA at the time and surrounded—you know, there’s a lot of Latinos in L.A., but there’s not so many of them in college, right? And so, you know, we kind of stayed together, and sticking together. So, the name Chicano was always around me. And, you know, whether youth groups—

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you born?

BARDO MARTINEZ: In Santa Ana. I grew up in La Mirada, which is right on the border of L.A. County and Orange County. Yeah, so that’s kind of where it came from, just hanging around the university, feeling a little bit alienated and kind of like in need of a hero. So, there we go, Chicano Batman.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did you come to be a part of forming Chicano Batman, Eduardo?

EDUARDO ARENAS: Well, at the time, I was working at KPFK. We had a radio show called Soul Rebel Radio, and it’s a youth radio program once a month. And so, I would work on—

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Pacifica station in—

EDUARDO ARENAS: Exactly, in Los Angeles. And we would do a lot of events, and I would see Bardo at a lot of the fundraisers we would do. We threw a lot of parties, with bands and that kind of thing. So I just kept checking in with Bardo every time I’d see him a couple of times. But we had—we both had lived in Brazil. We had a passion for Tropicália music, which is late ’60s like revolutionary music from Brazil. And we just had a lot in common in terms of the aesthetic values that we find in music, and so we became music partners first, and then, you know, the relationship grew from there.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about this—this is your third album, Freedom is Free?

BARDO MARTINEZ: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the title song, “Freedom is Free.”

BARDO MARTINEZ: Well, the idea is that, you know, we walk around our neighborhood, our city, you know, you travel the country, you travel the world, and obviously there’s the powers that be, the status quo. And oftentimes, as we all know, it’s not there to give you freedom. It’s there to oppress you in many and all kinds of ways. And being a person of color, you walk the streets, you know, feeling the glances that people throw at you, feeling their preconceived notions of who you are—doesn’t necessarily, you know, boost your confidence. And so, you know, it’s really trying to find that confidence and to say that, you know, nobody can control how I feel, that I can manifest my own destiny through my own actions, through my own feelings. I could be happy if I want to.

AMY GOODMAN: One of your lyrics is “You got your guns up on display.”

BARDO MARTINEZ: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s just like whether it’s the police who, you know, have harassed us when we’re on the street or when we’re going home after a late night, or whether it’s like, you know, going through the security check at the airport, it’s just guns everywhere, and people feel confidence in guns. And obviously that’s related to a lot of, you know, the massacres that have been happening, all the—that happen all the time, obviously most recently in Las Vegas. And it’s really a shame that people just, you know, resort to essentially like getting a high off of that. And so, it’s like, you know, yeah, you could do that, you could continue doing that, continue killing, continue, you know, boasting, but we’re going to find our own confidence in our own soul, in our own being, you know, ability to rejoice and live life.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to “Freedom is Free.”

CHICANO BATMAN: [performing “Freedom is Free”]

Nobody wants you, nobody cares
Nobody likes you, nobody dares
To extend a greeting, a connecting glance
Life is just a jaded game to them
They won’t give it a chance

But you know and I know
That the galaxies are all around us
And life will flow on
As long as the grass grows and the water runs

And while I’m here on earth
I’ll rejoice in its worth

’Cause freedom is free
Freedom is free
And you can’t take that away from me

You got your guns up on display
But you can’t control how I feel no way

’Cause freedom is free
Freedom is free
And you can’t take that away from nobody

Because the ocean is all around us
And life will flow on
As long as there are ripples in the waves
And sun rays from the sun

And while I’m here on earth
I’ll rejoice in its worth

’Cause freedom is free
Freedom is free
And you can’t take that away from me

You got your guns up on display
But you can’t control how I feel no way

’Cause freedom is free
Freedom is free
And no amount of negativity can put a dent in me

Freedom is free, come on y’all,
Freedom is free, that’s right,
Freedom is free
Freedom is free
Freedom is free

AMY GOODMAN: That’s “Freedom is Free.” It’s the title track of the new album of Chicano Batman. Our guests are Bardo Martinez and Eduardo Arenas. Eduardo, this song, like the other songs, you actually wrote not under President Trump, but before that, right? During the Obama years.

EDUARDO ARENAS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Does it matter to you who is president?

EDUARDO ARENAS: No, it didn’t matter. It was—it’s Hillary, Obama, Mitt Romney. I mean, none of it mattered. Some of these—I think you live in the—you see, I think when we were 18, 19 years old, we kind of started coming around when the Bush administration was preparing to go to Iraq, and you kind of see all of that unfold. You know, then you see the Afghanistan War escalate. So you’re thinking deep down inside, there’s a big element of hope, you know, that a lot of youth have, that this world cannot really be as horrible as it is, if millions and millions of people all over the world are in protest for the same thing. But then when you realize that the opposite is actually happening, then you get fed up. Then you get fed up. And the cycle happens again. And then it happens again in another country, in one country to another country. And so, a lot of this music was written in response to just a decades-long of consciousness, you know, and it just so happened that Trump is now in power, which resonates even a thousand times more, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Bardo, you performed in Las Vegas—right?—for Bernie Sanders.

BARDO MARTINEZ: Yes, we did.

AMY GOODMAN: What was that like? It was a mass gathering of thousands?

BARDO MARTINEZ: Yeah, it was really inspirational. I mean, I think the feeling—there was a lot of hope at that time. All of us were really kind of like supporting his vision. And there were so many people behind Bernie Sanders, obviously. And I don’t know. I wish I could tap into that hope right now, you know, that feeling of how I felt then, because now, obviously, we’re in a completely different situation.

EDUARDO ARENAS: Yeah, for the first time, we can trust a politician, you know, someone that feels like the same ideas we’re sharing, someone that believes in free education and healthcare and that kind of—these universal things that are human rights, and that we’ve never heard politicians talk like that. So, when you get revved up around this idea, around this force, then you want to support.

AMY GOODMAN: Bardo, can you set up “The Taker Story” for us?

BARDO MARTINEZ: Sure. I read this book by the name of—the author, his name is Daniel Quinn. The book is called Ishmael. And, essentially, the whole book tries to break down the myths of Western civilization. I’ve been through school my whole life. You know, I went through the educational system. I have a master’s in Latin American studies, a B.A. in history, and so I’ve always, always been digging into history, history, history books, you know, sociology, economics, all that stuff. And this book, for me, was—basically tied everything that I had ever learned in my life and in a very like simple epistemology of saying like, you know, essentially, that there’s like a list between like one through 10 that basically—these are the myths, A through G, that, you know, Western civilization has perpetuated, not just—like not just Europe and the United States, but just like, you know, at a certain point, humanity changed their way of life from a like pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer, etc., way of being, in which humans have been living for thousands of years, you know, just basically continuing the lineage of life just like any other creature on the planet, and stepped into this notion, and then, really—and it’s really an ideology of saying, “No, we actually own the land. We own the air. This is—this fence demarcates my land. You can’t cross it. You can’t—not only can’t you cross it, but that animal can’t cross it. And if that animal can cross it, we’ll—you know, actually, what we’re going to do is annihilate that species, so that our crops can grow.” And so, anyways, that leads us to now.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s go to “The Taker Story.” This is Chicano Batman performing in the studios of Democracy Now!

CHICANO BATMAN: [performing “The Taker Story”] So, we’re about to embark on a journey. This is “The Taker Story.”

The Takers take and take and take and take and take and take and take
The Takers take and take and take and take and take and take and take

Can you name me a living creature
That kills its competitors for food?
And when they’re gone he kills the
Competitors of its food’s food too
I’m talking about the birds, the aphids
The insects, and the trees
'Cause there's innumerable extinct species among these

We’ve been enacting a story for 12,000 years
The one that says that man must follow no natural law
The one that says that man is distinctly separate
From every living thing
That man is the end result of evolution
That man is the end result of evolution

Yes you know that the clan of Cain killed the clan of Abel
So that Cain could bear the fruit of Abel’s land
So man has been killing his brother from the
Beginning of the agricultural revolution

Mass killings and mass graves, globalization of slaves
Genocide and extinction
All the functions of civilization
Mass killings and mass graves, globalization of slaves
Genocide and extinction
All the functions of civilization

Yes you know that the war will never be over
’Cause war is our bread and butter
We’ve been living a lie that says there’s no place for any other
Living creature that doesn’t think like you and me
Yes now we’re going to the root of the Taker Story:

The Takers take and take and take and take and take and take and take
You Takers take and take and take and take and take and take and take

We decide what’s good and bad for the entire universe
And if what you do don’t work for us we’ll turn you into dust
You savages are wild so naked and so free
If you don’t want to die you have to live like me

So even though you won’t believe it native people are still around
They treat the earth with respect they know it’s sacred ground
They live in remote places the takers still can’t colonize
They are the true voice of reason they have nature’s eyes

They’ve been enacting the story for 3 million years
The one that says that man must follow natural law
The one that says that human is connected to every living thing
That man is only one strand in the web of life

Take the dagger out your mind
Take the Taker out your soul
If you do you’ll find
The Taker’s lost control
The Taker’s lost control
The Taker’s lost control

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Chicano Batman performing “The Taker Story” here in our studios at Democracy Now! It’s part of their new album, Freedom is Free. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, and two of the members of that band—Bardo Martinez, lead vocalist; Eduardo Arenas, who is bass player, also sings—are here. Let’s talk about the ad that you decided to do, the Johnny Walker ad, the commercial earlier this year where you sing “This Land is Your Land.” Let’s go to a clip.

CHICANO BATMAN: [performing “This Land is Your Land”]

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me

This land is your land, this land is my land
From the California to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

No existe nadie que pueda pararme
Por el camino de libertad
No existe nadie que pueda ser me volver
Esta tierra es para ti para mi

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Johnny Walker ad. Talk about how you decided to do this ad and why they were interested in “This Land is Your Land” and the sort of radical roots of Woody Guthrie’s song, Bardo.

BARDO MARTINEZ: Sure. I think they saw Chicano Batman, and I think they’ve been seeing us, what we’re doing, as kind of like representing, obviously, Latino culture, you know, and our way of being like a modern representation of it through our—the way we’re embracing music and the way we’re putting ourselves out there. And—what do you think, Eduardo?

EDUARDO ARENAS: The Johnny Walker campaign, they wanted to do something in terms of celebrating diversity. So, Chicano Batman was—they approached us in regards to that. We have been playing for nine years. We’ve been doing a lot of different festivals. Our music is speaking for itself right now. And it was great, because there was a lot of strength and a lot of power in having us do a song like “This Land is Your Land,” which we, traditionally, growing up, we listened to as something that was synonymous with the Pledge of Allegiance or something like that, because nobody ever explains to you what fascism is, you know, when you’re in second grade, and you don’t understand it. Some people don’t understand it for the rest of their life.

So, when we woke up to the idea of it, we were actually—it was actually an empowering thing to sing “This land is your land, this land is my land,” OK? Like DACA, you know, like all this oppression, all this racism, all this prejudice, like those are the real borders. I mean, this is our land, too. It’s been our land for a very long time. You know, so there’s an empowerment in saying that to the whole country, because, you know, people like to—they want to disagree with that notion.

BARDO MARTINEZ: Yeah, I think just the mere notion of seeing our faces on the camera, you know, just our faces on the camera—right?—in the way—in the light, being dressed like this, you know, kind of like an official type of thing, like, you know, and then getting this played like, say, on the Grammys, you know, it’s a big look. It’s a big look for who we represent.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Johnny Walker played it during the Grammys.

BARDO MARTINEZ: They played it during the Grammys.

EDUARDO ARENAS: And during the Super Bowl.

BARDO MARTINEZ: I think so, as well, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was the response of the fans.

EDUARDO ARENAS: It was like 99 percent was just positive. I mean, I remember playing a show in San Antonio, and somebody was telling me that they were writing their master’s thesis on us doing that song, you know, what it meant from his Texas kind of perspective as a Latino. And you just—a lot of people are—I think a lot of people that are not so particularly liberal or political are being shaken up to that reality, like “I didn’t know that we can do this, you know? This is my first step into this other alternate reality that Latinos can be successful, that we can have a voice, that we can express our passion, that we can succeed at something.” And I think that’s what the backlash—I mean, not “backlash”—that’s the support we’re getting from all the fans. And it’s beautiful.

AMY GOODMAN: “La Jura” is the song you sing. It’s in Spanish.

EDUARDO ARENAS: Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: And you wrote it.

EDUARDO ARENAS: I wrote the music, and I co-wrote it with Bardo on the vocals.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about, first, what it means and what it’s about.

EDUARDO ARENAS: “La jura” is a term that we call police officers in Los Angeles, and they say it all over the country, too. “La jura, ” “puerco”—

AMY GOODMAN: J-U-R-A.

EDUARDO ARENAS: —”la chota.” There’s so many different phrases. “Popo,” “Five-O.” And so, for the song, in particular, it was really a response to what the Black Lives Matter movement is doing, and they’re putting a lot of attention on police brutality. And police brutality has existed for a very long time, even before Rodney King captured—the whole situation was captured on video.

And so, this is an actual story that happened a few blocks down from where I lived. And one of our neighbors got shot in the back a bunch of times by a police officer, and the body is laid on the floor for like seven hours while the alibi is being created. And we are youngsters, maybe at this point maybe 19 years old, and that we’re thinking that justice will prevail: You know, this police officer is going to get fired and this and that. Then you realize that the law protects a lot of people, you know, a lot of criminals also.

And so, it’s just like you can only take so much of this. You know, it’s happening every day. You can only take so much of it. And you just kind of feel the lack of compassion and empathy in this world. And sometimes, if politicians are not taking this on and the people are really taking it on and you’re still not being heard, all we can really do is put it into songs—

AMY GOODMAN: Can you—

EDUARDO ARENAS: —and then let it flow.

AMY GOODMAN: Bardo, can you share the words in English that we’re about to hear in Spanish?

BARDO MARTINEZ: The other night, a very terrible night, they shot a friend of mine. On a street near here, they left him abandoned, lifeless, near the corner. I don’t understand, because those that are supposed to protect do the opposite: They kill the innocent.

AMY GOODMAN: So this is “La Jura” by Chicano Batman.

CHICANO BATMAN: [performing “La Jura”]

La otra noche fue
Una noche muy terrible
Balaciaron un amigo mio

En la calle cerca de aqui
Lo dejaron abandonado
Un objecto sin vida junto a la esquina

Yo no entiendo porque
Los que deben proteger
Hacen lo opuesto
Matan inocentes

Los que deben proteger
Hacen lo opuesto
Matan inocentes

Y ahora mi amigo no vive mas
La Jura llego lo mato y se acabo
Que culpa tenia se el solo fue
Un niño felíz ay Dios ya no respirará jamas

Yo no entiendo porque
Los que deben proteger
Hacen lo opuesto
Matan inocentes

Yo no entiendo porque
Los que deben proteger
Hacen lo opuesto
Matan inocentes

Los que deben proteger
Hacen lo opuesto
Matan inocentes

AMY GOODMAN: “La Jura.” That’s Chicano Batman. We’re speaking on a week when it was sort of the last chance for people to apply for DACA, who—this is the last chance for people to apply for DACA before the program ends. That was Trump’s decision. What are your thoughts on that, Eduardo, both on DACA and also the wall that he wants to build, that he says Mexico will pay for, though he’s demanding Congress pay for it, which means the American people?

EDUARDO ARENAS: There’s so many volumes you could speak on it. It’s emotional, right? Because a lot of our families are immigrants. You know, my mom, pre-DACA, she just went her way back into the high school, went to college, you know, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, became a teacher. She’s from Michoacán, Mexico. So, here I am, you know, a beneficiary of that whole system and that whole struggle. And it’s really hard. It’s really hard to make it. And so, then, when you offer a promise to somebody to get that same chance and then you take it away, that’s a mental blow, that’s an emotional blow, not only to that person, but to the family and the unit.

So it’s—now, in this era, it’s truly tough, because, one, we have an insecure president that’s overcompensating for a lot of things. And it’s really weird, because it’s like a rampage of anything put—anything in the machine, he’ll just like tear it up and throw it out. And so—like the wall. I mean, like in California, I can only imagine the surplus of food that is on the trees and on plants, you know, because the economy is getting hit. The economy will get hit, and it will continue to get hit. But not just that. I mean, I know that’s a lot of news talk, but it’s just the families, mainly, that are getting broken up, you know, and I think that has a deep scar that lasts multiple and multiple generations. And I think that’s very, very damaging, and that has consequences that our grandchildren are going to feel.

AMY GOODMAN: Bardo, well, Eduardo mentioned the machine. Rage Against the Machine, Zack de la Rocha, what kind of meaning did this Chicano musician have for you in the roads he paved?

BARDO MARTINEZ: Well, for me, when I was a junior, you know, partially after listening to your “Killing”—”They Kill and Drill” series on Nigeria, when I was a kid, that kind of just woke me up to a lot of stuff. And I started just reading. I picked up books on Che Guevara, the Zapatista movement. And because of that, whatever—you know, listening to music and then whatever was happening on the radio, and then you hear “Zapatista” this or “Che” this, I was like, “Whoa, man, this is me right here.” I was all about it. I was super just like newly awakened to, you know—and especially being—you know, looking into my roots and who I am, you know, it all related to what I was reading and to what I was learning in Latin America. I was learning about who I am, you know, and all the struggles and all the richness that Latin America is.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did your parents come from?

BARDO MARTINEZ: My mom is from Cartagena, Colombia, and my dad is from Jalisco, Mexico. And so, Zack de la Rocha was, for me, just like—I mean, he just exemplified all that. And he was just giving it, strong and, you know, at a top-notch level. So, I mean, I think, for all of us kids in L.A., it was just like—regardless of your background, it was just really just like a light, you know? It really propelled us towards making music.

AMY GOODMAN: So, where do you guys head from here? Where does Chicano Batman go from New York?

EDUARDO ARENAS: We continue our tour across the whole country, supporting our album, Freedom is Free. And then, next year, we’re probably taking it to Europe and to a bunch of other continents. And it’s time.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you so much for joining us and performing in our studios.

EDUARDO ARENAS: You’re welcome.

AMY GOODMAN: Bardo Martinez and Eduardo Arenas with Chicano Batman. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. If you want to see this interview in Spanish, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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