Making Movies Brings Its Unique Brand of Americana to Portland

“Our stories are so much longer than the last 100 years of humanity. Music is a way to tap into that.”

A few years ago, the Afro-Latino rock group Making Movies was on a U.S. tour that hit a hiccup in Tulsa, Okla. The venue they planned to play was dead set on not letting the band perform, insisting that they only allowed Americana music.

“But our music is Americana,” says Panamanian-born songwriter and lead singer Enrique Chi. “We’re rock ‘n’ roll and we add congas and speak Spanish sometimes, but we’re still Americana.”

The Tulsa incident was not unique. It’s been an interesting and often challenging experience for Making Movies to play in predominantly white spaces, where they are often the only band on the bill with a Latin vibe. But that has only strengthened their mission.

Countless stories are woven throughout Making Movies’ newest album, Xopa (out June 17 on Cosmica Artists). Their newest single, “Porcelina,” is a collaboration with the indie-pop band Tennis—Chi is a longtime friend of Tennis singer Alaina Moore—and it came at the perfect time.

“Alaina had always wanted to do something in Spanish, and I felt like this song was just too normal,” Chi says. “So I said, OK, what about something really far out for this bridge?”

Tennis brings a sexy, retro style to an already seductive tune, resulting in a standout track that reflects Moore’s sixth-sense wisdom and encouragement. “Alaina has always been there for me when I’m having these fork-in-the-road moments in my life,” Chi says.

Xopa also encapsulates Chi’s growth as an artist. Sophisticated and sensual, the songs come running at you—and sometimes make you laugh. Plus, “Sala de los Pecadores” embodies the dramatic and sarcastic energy of a lot of Panamanian music. “We just call it típico,” says Chi. (“Música típico” is a term usually ascribed to Panama’s contempory folkloric music.)

Making Movies’ lyrics occasionally have an over-the-top, soap-operatic quality. The main character described in “Sala de los Pecadores,” for instance, is a poor fellow who feels like he’s dying of a broken heart—and begs the doctor for any sort of remedy (a drink, a cigarette, a pill!).

Some of the songs are in English, many are in Spanish, and all urge your body to move. “We hope Portland comes ready to dance,” Chi says of their upcoming show at The Get Down, one of Portland’s newest venues.

“I want it all,” says owner Blake Boris-Schacter, whose passion for music and hatred of TicketMaster led him to open a venue with transparent, low-fee tickets and a space that was designed for dance. “I want hip-hop, blues, jazz, rock…we’re not built for seated shows. These shows are meant for dancing.”

That’s perfect for Making Movies, a band that can bring any crowd to its feet. Although the group feels most at home in multicultural cities like Los Angeles and Austin, where Latino culture is already woven into the cloth of the city, they want to play everywhere.

“It feels like part of a calling at this point…we want to create a little more empathy,” says Chi. After founding the Kansas City music education nonprofit Art as Mentorship, he sees the bigger picture that his music fits into.

“Our stories are so much longer than the last 100 years of humanity. Music is a way to tap into that,” he says. “The music we’re playing has thousands of years of history. In using these rhythms we’re grabbing something ancient, but placed in the context of something current…it’s important to reconnect through our stories.”

SEE IT: Making Movies plays The Get Down, 615 SE Alder St., Suite B, 503-847-9037, thegetdownpdx.com. 8 pm Thursday, June 16. $12-$15.