Music

Chico Mann: Plastic Keys, Blinking Lights And Burbling Beats

NPR | June 27, 2013 2:34 a.m. | Updated: June 28, 2013 1:24 p.m.

Contributed By:

Oliver Wang

On his new album, Magical Thinking, Chico Mann uses a host of electronic playthings to craft West African, Latin and 1980s "boogie" rhythms.

On his new album, Magical Thinking, Chico Mann uses a host of electronic playthings to craft West African, Latin and 1980s "boogie" rhythms.

Courtesy of the artist

Marcos Garcia took his alter-ego Chico Mann not from the 1970s TV series Chico and the Man, but from a bit of dialogue in the early-‘80s hip-hop film Wild Style. For years, Garcia was best known as one of the members of the New York afrobeat ensemble Antibalas. But one day, he began tinkering with his daughter’s Casio keyboard, and since then he’s only built on his arsenal of electronic playthings.

Though Chico Mann’s songs are obviously built for today’s dance floors, his influences are clearly vintage. On his latest album, Magical Thinking, he’s leapt back to the early 1980s style known as boogie. This is not the boogie of the rock ‘n’ roll pneumonia and boogie-woogie flu days; it’s a retroactively named genre that arose from the ashes of post-disco and funk music. Boogie is known for its big bubblegum bass lines and sticky stacks of synthesizers and Chico Mann digs deep into both here.

While boogie’s bounce is front and center on Magical Thinking, Chico Mann still preserves a connection to Garcia’s other musical loves, including the distinctive, twitchy rhythms of Nigerian afrobeat and the rapid pulse of Dominican merengue.

For an album that so broadly draws on styles across time and place, Magical Thinkingcould be right at home in practically any sweaty basement club around the world. There’s a sense of sonic frolic, as if Mann was rapidly throwing ideas at the studio wall, with most of them sticking. That playfulness seems fitting for an artist who began with a toy store keyboard. Three albums later, he sounds like he’s having just as much fun, banging away amid plastic keys, blinking lights and burbling beats.

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