Dominican Republic Hardcore/Punk band La Armada may not be Chicago natives, but they’ve made themselves at home here. “We saw this great community of like-minded individuals and bands with similar backgrounds,” says guitarist Paul Rivera. So in 2007, the band relocated to Chicago to focus on creating the incisive, socially conscious music they’re becoming known for. Our Town spoke with band members Rivera and Juan Marte about their goals, writing process and why music is a direct line to social change.
Our Town Describe your sound.
Paul Rivera and Juan Marte We found our calling in the hard driven riffs and themes that we discovered when the internet became available in the island or through whatever scarce alternative albums our dwindling record stores would carry. What we do musically is a representation of the foreign music we discovered and came to admire and aspired to make while still keeping true to the first sounds we grew up listening to-- our parents music: Merengue, Salsa, Bachata and so on. Its very important to us to bring this Latin element out in what we do. People who don't generally listen to the sub-genres we utilize consider us a "hardcore punk" or "metal" act. In reality we play Crossover music, a blend of metal, punk and so on, mixed with afro-caribbean percussion patterns and grooves. For the most part sung in spanish.
OT What went into your decision to uproot the whole band?
PR&JM As teenagers on the island, we were involved in this alternative scene, making music, putting out records, promoting shows. To put it into perspective, being part of a subculture like this in a so-called "developing" nation is no fashion statement or way to seem cool to others. There weren't and are no "Hot-topics" thrift stores, dive bars and such things. To make this music and openly express in any way that you didn't identify with the church and the "by the book" lifestyle of what is expected of you meant that you would be ridiculed and questioned daily about your motives. After a few years, we realized that it was more than a passing phase or a hobby. We genuinely cared about what we were referencing in our songs, we [wanted] more out of life than getting a job at the neighborhood bank or at one of the US outsourced call centers or free trade zone jobs. Wanting to get away from that lifestyle definitely played a huge role in our decision to move, but the heart of it was music. We lived in a small island that is divided territory with Haiti, with only one viable city to perform in. Moving out was the only way to gain access to a larger platform. So like many Dominicans, we came to the US. Now instead of just one city, we have 50 states to get lost in.
OT Why Chicago?
PR&JM Chicago came into our lives because this city has a very prominent DIY scene. We participated in various compilations albums that were directed out of Chicago and performed a few festivals where we saw this great community of like-minded individuals and bands with similar backgrounds. It was evident from that point that moving here was the smartest thing we could do. All of this sounds easier than it was when you're reading it; in reality, moving to the States and to Chicago was an overwhelming task that only today are we completing.
OT How does the group write? Together? Separately? Is one person responsible?
PR&JM Our writing process is like a production line. The rhythm section lays out what a song will be (tempo, style and length), then the guitars add more melodic elements that sometimes bring in a new perspective. Topics that are interesting to us at the moment the instrumental structure is completed will fuel the lyrical content and at that point we have our skeleton of a song.
OT How does a song move from initial idea to fully formed product?
PR&JM A song never feels complete until we play it in front of an audience. Playing a new song live is definitely a big part of our writing process. Being a very actively touring band affords us the ability to test our songs.
OT What makes music an apt avenue for social change?
PR&JM Music has the ability to bring people together and build community. Every revolutionary process in modern history has relied on the work of committed artists to be successful--The civil rights movement, the Cuban revolution, the "Nueva Cancion" movement across Latin America). Even some of the most recent digital activism of today. Whether it is hip-hop, hardcore punk or folk, the impact on society is unquestionable. The music industry, and its corporate masters are very aware of this fact. That’s why it's no surprise that popular music is at its lowest point ever. They choose to endorse artists like "Nicky Minaj", "Lil Wayne" and "Justin Bieber." In other words, artists who do not encourage critical thinking and only promote senseless consumerism, the glorification of crime culture and the objectification of women.We make protest music in a time and place where it is not trendy to do so, and we embrace that.
OT Your website says “the band takes a cynical perspective on governmental authority and phoney corporate “first world” activism. Can you elaborate?
PR&JM Like many other places in Latin America, the Dominican Republic is a polarized, third world narco-state. There are not many options to choose from in the political agenda. You are either somehow affiliated with the government in power for the past decade or you are part of the small, struggling left. Coming to Chicago, we’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with many honest, hard-working people from both the activist scene and the DIY punk community. Unfortunately, we’ve also had bad experiences with people who work for non profit organizations that operate like corporations, and do nothing to change the unequal power structure in this city. We have songs in our self-titled full length like “Acomplice” and “Organic Slavery” that talk about these things.
OT What’s your favorite Chicago venue?
PR&JM Over the past year we have been playing some of the bigger local venues such as the bottom lounge and Reggie’s Rock Joint, [but] our roots will always be in the DIY spaces. There are a lot of talented bands in the underground scene that the general public miss out on. There are also a lot of individuals dedicated to preserving these spaces in the face of the recent crack down by CPD.
OT As a band, what are your goals?
PR&JM The goal has always been to get this band in front of people. Everything we've achieved so far stems from that. We work hard on our craft and we enjoy performing. It's been a great experience touring north America and seeing people's reaction to what we do live. I think it shocks them because they're not expecting what they see.
Catch LA Armada at the 4th annual Black and Brown Fest on August 31st.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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