Monday, November 28, 2011

Interview with Jose Luis 'Caplis" Chacin of Venezuela's Ska Super Stars Desorden Publico

Everyone I have ever met who is a truly devoted and passionate fan of 2-Tone and ska music tends to have followed a similar path no matter where in the world they are from. Like alien abductees, we all remember in great clarity and detail that singular moment when we heard The Specials first album for the very first time. And almost to a person, I have noted that the lightning bolt 'religious' experience of hearing that record has stayed with us and shaped our lives. For me it was when a friend at school played me The Specials first album in late 1979 (I sat opened mouth and was actually a bit afraid!). I rushed out and bought my own copy and that started a regular routine every Friday after school when I haunted the local record store near my house. I pestered and annoyed the clerks there so much about The Specials that when they saw me coming they would suggest new records for me to buy. This was the start of my ska and 2-Tone education and it lead me to where I am today.

José Luis "Caplís" Chacín is a fellow traveler and 2-Tone devotee. He is best known as the bassist and one of the founding member of Venezuela ska band Desorden Público (Public Disorder). Though we lived thousands of miles part, our love of 2-Tone and the impact it has had on us throughout our lives is striking. Chacín's first exposure to The Specials sent him and his band mates on a path that has made them purveyors of a an amazing hybrid of ska and Latin music and as both entertainers and political commentators in Venezuela.

Chacín's love of ska and 2 Tone started in Caracas in the early 80's, when as a heavy metal loving teen he was given The Specials first album. It set him and his band mates along the path to starting the one of the very first South American ska bands. Now after 25 years of popularity and success in Latin America, including eight studio albums, several greatest hit releases and live performance in over 30 countries, Desorden Público have reached superstar status throughout South America. Taking their name from Venezuelan military police trucks that had 'Orden Publico' [Public Order] written on the side, the band's name is political, but it is more tongue-in-cheek and humorous about advocating any serious form of public disorder.

With Desorden Publico a musical institution and celebrating their 25th anniversary, I thought it was high time I connected with Chacin to learn more about the beginnings of the band, their influences and what it was like growing up in Caracas, Venezuela as a Rude Boy in the 80's! For the uninitiated, imagine if Madness or The Specials had emerged in Venezuela. And while the band emerged just as 2-Tone peaked, they had trouble imitating the 2-Tone sound too closely.  It just didn't work for musicians steeped in local Latin rhythms, culture and beats. The music of Desorden Publico has continued to evolve, thanks to near relentless playing and recording during the past two decades. The band has a dozen or so releases to their name and have had platinum sales, #1 and top 10 hits. They have tours that have taken them all over Latin America, North America and Europe.

Without further ado, I present José Luis "Caplís" Chacín:

What was it like growing up in Caracas, Venezuela in the early 80's?
It was great!  I was born in 1964 and it means that I really had the eighties as my very influential years. Thank God it wasn't the 70´s!

Finding music in Venezuela in the 80's wasn't an easy task, so we had to beg every friend, every father or mother or relatives, who were travelling outside, to buy the new releases, and when you buy 2 or 3 LP´s and try to transport them in a luggage it´s kind of a nightmare.

Well, the thing is that here in our country many good and bad things came as an avalanche: Heavy metal, Punk Rock, New Wave, Hard Core, New Cool, Post Punk, Ska, Reggae. And before becoming musicians we were DJ´s of our own Sound System called ASEO URBANO.  It was the only one in Caracas that specialized in New Wave, Punk and of course Ska, so we were the natural Sound System at the gigs of many new acts of the underground Punk scene of Caracas.

How did that experience effect you socially, politically and musically?
Being a teenager, here in Caracas in the 80´s was incredible. In a certain way Venezuela was for many years (in the decade of the 70´s) a country drunk on Petrodollars (money from the sales of oil), so we had an incredible “Bonanza” where the most of our government leaders were super corrupted.  But suddenly, a serious crisis brought a hard fall of the prices of oil and our economy began to feel the consequences of many years of bad guidance. So suddenly we started to know a different country with a cost of living that was more and more expensive every day.

This was a perfect time for many young people to realize that too many things were going wrong in our country, and some of us started to open our eyes and do our own criteria of the society. Now we also had the lyrics of people like The Clash, Dead Kennedy's, Sex Pistols, The Specials, and also Latin American artists like Ruben Blades, Ali Primera, Soledad Bravo to help start to make sense of our own lives and Venezuelan society. We became critics and non-conformists with our reality.  And we started this band!

Most people I've spoken to who are into ska remember the exact moment when they fell in love with it. How did it happen for you?
I remember I was a kid loved Disco Music to Heavy Metal. (I loved the first era of Van Halen, and still like it).  But after 3 or 4 years of hard rock, I started to listen New Wave music: Devo, The B-52´s, Oingo Boingo, Wall of Voodoo, XTC, Joe Jackson, The Jam. One day I was working as a DJ at our Sound System and a good friend gave me a very badly recorded cassette of the first LP of The Specials.  The first song 'A Message To You Rudy' was immediately the biggest revelation of lure lives. We didn´t understand what kind of music this was. I remember I had listened to the first two Madness albums but I could not engage with their version of ska. But The Specials definitely was the BOMB! An ATOMIC Bomb in our minds.

What was your first ska album you bought?
After I listened to that tape, I immediately order that first album by The Specials and when a good friend gave it to me, I just couldn´t believe how good the whole album was. Even today I still feel that sensation of how GREAT and how good that first album is.

How did you go from being introduced to ska music to starting Desorden Publico in 1985?
We were tired of waiting for the start of a ska band in our city. We finally decided to form our own band and we sold many of the equipments of our Sound System in order to save money to buy our first used instruments.

When did you decide to become a bass player? Did you play the bass before you were into ska?
At the same moment we decided to form DESORDEN PÚBLICO...

Can you explain what your band name means for readers who don't speak Spanish? Does it have a social or political connotation?
DESORDEN PUBLICO = PUBLIC DISORDER. It was a joke against the military trucks with the name of PUBLIC ORDER on the side.  There are a very repressive institution here in our city

Fashion was such a huge part of the ska scenes here in in the U.S. in the 80's. Can you describe the importance of fashion in the Venezuelan and South American ska scene?
Here in Venezuela, especially in Caracas in the 80's, you could see Punks, Rockers, Rastas and of course Trendy's. There was not an Ska scene, so when we started to use our suits, we were like strange birds in this jungle! We didn´t look like Punks, Rockers nor Rastas and we had to explain that we were Rude Boys, hahahahahaha!

Your band tours the world regularly. Can you share any unusual stories about any live shows the band played that were particularly memorable?
Wow! There are many, many good and bad experiences, but talking about good ones, the fact of being in a same stage with people like Prince Buster, Jerry Dammers, Ray Barreto, Ruben Blades, The B-52´s, The Selecter, Ranking Roger and his version of The Beat. To be backstage with all the guys from Madness, thanks to the courtesy of my very good friend Coolie Ranx and all the guys from The Pilfers, that was magic!

I remember meeting Paul Weller in New York City.  He was a very nice guy to me and my wife. Another magical moment in my life was the time I found the one and only Andy Summers of The Police totally lost in the corridors of the radio station where we have our radio show.

Last year, I was walking on the streets of Berlin visiting the best record stores, and to my surprise, I saw a very tall man walking just in front of me.  It was none other than one of my all time musical heroes: Joe Jackson!  This was great!

There are many anecdotes and good situations.

What was it like for the band to tour the U.S. in 2004? What kind of reception did you get from American ska audiences?
We were helped by our good friend Bucket from The Toasters and that was a good introduction for us to the North American ska audiences. It also helped that we had many good friends in New York and Boston, and many of them were at our first gigs.  This helped provide the impression that the audience knew who were were! Hahahaha!

In those early tours, we also had the chance to do things for the Latin American market in the USA and also for the American public into the Ska scene.  Surprisingly, I must say the reception we received from Ska audiences was 1000 times better than the reception we had from Spanish speakers! During that time most of the people from Latin America in New York were Mexicans, Puerto Ricans or Dominicans and those audiences were a bit hostile with bands from other Latin countries.

The band is celebrating 25 years this year! What has kept you all together and what plans do you have for 2011?
Well, here we are in 2011 and we have a new album called 'Los Contrarios', and we gave been promoting it all year long through national and international tours. The release party in Venezuela was on April 7th and we did a press conference in front of more than 3,000 people in one of the most popular shopping centers of our city (the owners were expecting 500!) In less than a month our first edition of 2,500 copies was totally sold out.

We also had a couple of good shows celebrating 25 years of playing music along with our good old friends from Argentina: Los Pericos, and that same night we traveled 2 hours for a second gig in Valencia here in Venezuela with King Chango.  This summer we also played a great concert here in Caracas with our good friends The Busters from Germany. In June we travelled to Europe to do our 9th European tour and we did a Venezuelan tour in August.  Hopefully we´ll return to USA with this new album! We are in conversation with an agency from Los Angeles.

Below is video of the band paying homage to their 2-Tone heros on a London double decker bus and performing Derrick Harriott's 'Monkey Ska' while on tour in London in 2005. The song appears appears on their 2007 album "Estrellas del Caos".

Below the band performs their distinctive mix of Latin and ska with the song 'Valle De Balas' live in Venezuela in 2010.

Finally, here is 'El Poder Emborracha (Power Drunk) from the band's new album 'Los Contrarios'.

1 comment:

Steve from Moon said...

Fantastic interview, Marco! I remember seeing Desorden Publico at SOB's back in 94--they put on a great show!