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Juárez-El Paso based band The Chamanas nominated for a Latin Grammy

Courtesy of The Chamanas Facebook page

Every member of The Chamanas has been in the local music scene for more than 10 years, but the band is only three years old. During those years, every member of The Chamanas was scattered. They all knew each other some way or another, and it wasn’t until their paths converged that something exceptional was born. Now they have garnered a Latin Grammy nomination for best new artist. 

The Chamanas, comprised of bassist Manuel Calderon, vocalist Paulina Reza, guitarist Hector Carreón, drummer Alejandro Bustillos and keyboardist Fernando Fonseca, released their debut album, “Once, Once,” in August 2015, and the nomination came a couple of weeks after the album turned a year old. The Chamanas managed to catch the attention of the Latin Grammy committee quickly because of their distinct sound. Their music is a collection of the beats and spiciness, the strings and keys that are the color and soul of the border. To understand The Chamanas is to understand the boundary between two countries—the line where cultures mix and play.

Alejandro Bustillos, The Chamanas’ drummer, woke up to a phone call from the band’s manager informing him of the nomination. He disregarded it. It wasn’t until he was fully awake and a second source confirmed the news that he became excited.

“The nomination itself feels like a reward. It has been a lot of work. We’ve done a lot of press in Mexico and the U.S. plus the acoustic sets,” Bustillo said. “So you think that all the year’s work has been rewarded, but you still want more. If we win, ‘chingon,’ if we don’t then we’re still grateful.”

It has been a lot of work throughout the year. On top of the multiple interviews throughout the week, there is also the performing that a band must do–whether it is practice, acoustic sets or actual shows that must be done on both sides of the border. The fact that a band has to do the same or more amount of press work than playing music may not seem logical, but if a band wants to be known it needs to get its name out there and that is what The Chamanas have been doing.

Still, even if putting their name out there may seem like a top priority, The Chamanas put their money where their mouths are. At the end of the day, it is their well-composed music that was nominated. Ivan Vicencio, a fan of the band who had a chance to see them play at the Juárez Fest this past April, was completely mesmerized.

“It was an underestimated performance,” Vicencio said. “They didn’t get a lot of time, but they blew the roof off. They really lit up the show.”

A listener who doesn’t know The Chamanas may not know at first if the album is pop or folkloric, but it turns out that it’s both and more.

“No song is like the other. Track number two has nothing in common with track 14 or 15,” Bustillos said.

And it’s true, one song may carry hints of cumbia, another may feature a synthesizer.

The Chamanas’ sound is a mixture of the old and new. For example their cover of the song, “Te Juro Que Te Amo” by Los Terricolas, a Venezuelan pop music group of the ‘70s, or their song “Alas De Hierro,” which has hints of “Jose Jose.” The band pays tribute to the music their parents listened to and use the best of this epoch’s sound to fuse those sounds, but they don’t stay in the past, not completely.

Before the Latin Grammy nomination came, the last time The Chamanas received a great outpouring from fans was when they released their cover for Portugal. the Man’s song, “Purple, Yellow, Red and Blue.” Not only did they translate the song into Spanish, but they fused the song with the distinct Chamanas’ style.

If the border breeds this kind of music, it is because it raised these types of musicians. Every member of The Chamanas has a distinct contribution: Manuel not only plays bass, but he also produces the songs, Paulina and Hector write them, Fernando, who is the most musically educated member of the band, deals with the harmony and Bustillos comes up with the beat and plays the drums. Still, any decision concerning the songs is made together.

“We consult with each other what it is that we want or what we feel sounds better,” Bustillos said. “And sure we may clash, but once the song is being produced then things are more agreeable.”

Although The Chamanas’ name and faces will be televised at the Latin Grammys on Nov. 17, and although they’ve been playing together for three years, Bustillos feels that they are still new.

“No one knows us,” Bustillos said. “Hopefully that will change because a band this original, with a sound that feels like colors, deserves to have the attention of everyone, if not at least of the whole border they so eloquently represent.”

Andres Gallegos may be reached at [email protected].

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Juárez-El Paso based band The Chamanas nominated for a Latin Grammy