American Routes Shortcuts: Raul Malo
Raul Malo was born in Miami to Cuban parents. In 1989 he started The Mavericks. Named for going against the grain, the Mavericks began in the punk and alternative scene and eventually found great success in country music, incorporating Latin, rockabilly, and pop sounds. By 2000, the group parted ways and Raul Malo pursued a solo career in LA. He joined Los Super Seven with Joe Ely, Freddy Fender, members of Los Lobos, Max Baca, Doug Sahm, and others. In 2012, Malo reunited with the Mavericks, releasing several albums and touring widely. In 2020, they released En Español, an album entirely in Spanish. Making a record like this took Raul many years of listening within and outside his family.
Raul Malo: I wanted this record to be a celebration of the diversity of all the Latin cultures that we have in this country that I grew up listening to, and that’s why the Mavericks were the perfect vehicle for this because I knew that it was not going to be a mariachi record or a cumbia record or a salsa record. All we are is a bunch of musicians that like playing music and like exploring different styles and are versatile enough and willing enough to–if we don’t know it, we’re going to learn it, and we’re going to dive deep into it and do our damnedest to sound as honest in our approach as possible.
Nick Spitzer: “Poder Vivir,” “to live,” I hear a ranchera. Where is the source? You’re a writer on that one.
RM: The inspiration directly comes from rancheras. I wanted those lyrics and that melody, and then the Mavericks put it to a ska beat, and somehow it all works.
NS: So you got from the norteño sound across the Caribbean to the influence of the Jamaican ska crowd, I like that!
RM: It’s the hodgepodge that is the Mavericks.
NS: You’re able on this collection it seems to me to present love as very much of a human force.
RM: To me, even though this record has no political messages whatsoever, the fact that, you know, here, the Mavericks, a band who has had success in the English-speaking marketplace, at this day and age and at this point in time, with everything that has been said about immigrants and done against immigrants, it’s hard not to take that personally. You know, I am the son of immigrants, and so the things that have been said against the Latin community in particular and against immigrants in general, I am in no way in agreeance with that. So the irony of this moment is not lost on us, and you know music has a way of healing divides, of breaking down barriers, and maybe it’ll inspire somebody to think a little differently and maybe think twice about their stance on immigration and on immigrants and what really that means for us as a country.
NS: It does feel like everything you’re doing on En Español really is sort of a summation of your life, both the Latin cultures that you grew up in, your freedom in the states to experiment and try something new, and it’s great to hear of you going down the road.
RM: Well thank you for saying that man, you know, it feels like that, and that’s why I say it’s like I knew that early on this record we were gonna treat it differently, and low and behold, everything about it has been different from its inception to its release.
To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.