"We are...peace warriors. We use peace as a weapon," says Camilo Arguita one of the seven members of the West-African-music-influenced band "Orixango." I had the unique opportunity to sit in at an improv practice session with three of their members, Camilo Arguita, Claudio Riguelme, and Nicolas Severin.
Photo courtesy Bernardita Freire
An all-Chilean group, Orixango had a fittingly organic beginning. "We started as 3 friends, 10 years ago. But we grew in number with those we met at music festivals with the same love for Afrobeat. We eventually became 22 members, but as we matured we all split, and are now left with 7," say Camilo.
It’s impossible to say which member plays what instrument because they are always interchanging. But the majority is Africa-originated percussions such as the djembe (goblet shaped hand drum), the balaphone (wooden xylophone) and the chequere (gourd covered with beads).
Though their instruments mainly come from Africa, don’t call them purely Afrobeat. "We are actually not only African-influenced," Camilo, the most outspoken of the bunch, said. "We are a mix of Chilean, Brazilian, Australian aborigine, and other music. We are dedicated to traditional and indigenous cultures." Though most of them have never been to Africa, they have done their best to soak every aspect of its traditional culture.
The name "Orixango" derives from the West African language words "ori" meaning the head or chief, and "xango" meaning saint from the Santeria religion. Some of them practice this age-old belief occasionally, but all of them manifest it during their performances. This tidbit they share with me is just one of many – obviously far from insipid.
But this group of guys likes to have their fun too. When I asked them what they liked to do besides playing music, their response was, "Yoga, weed, and making love to every woman in the universe." We all had a good laugh.
The scene at their show at Bellavista’s hip El Clan bar was nothing less than expected. Fans were indulging completely in the songs, abandoning all caution and self-awareness and dancing with their souls more than the beat. Their songs, usually more than 10 minutes long, had somewhat muddled and disorganized beats that seemed as though they were improvised, but at the same time the precision and skill the band members had during their performance left me with a lot of respect for the musicians.
When I asked them if they had any last words for our readers, Camilo predictably jumped at the chance, “Ecology, indigenous and traditional culture, and spirituality – that is what we are about.”