The Encanto soundtrack tops the Billboard 200 this week, propelled by songs featuring Colombian stars like Carlos Vives and Sebastian Yatra. But the most recognizable song is “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” performed by Catalina Gaitan, Adassa, Rhenzy Fekix, Dianne Guerrero, Stephani Beatriz and Mauro Castillo, former singer of venerable salsa orchestra Grupo Niche.
“We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” which surprisingly shot to No. 5 on the Hot 100, has shone a spotlight on Castillo, who plays the irresistible Felix Madrigal (Mirabel’s uncle and Pepa’s husband) in the original and in the Spanish versions of the film, and who looks very much like his character.
The 43-year-old Castillo, who was born in Cali, Colombia but now lives in Miami thanks to an extraordinary ability visa, joins a surprisingly short list of Colombian acts to have reached the Hot 100 chart — artists including Shakira, Juanes, Carlos Vives, J Balvin, Maluma and Karol G.
Reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200 as part of the soundtrack is a blessing, but hitting No. 5 on the Hot 100, especially as an Afro Latino artist — which is important to you — must be special.
Mauro Castillo: I feel an immense, infinite joy for my country of Colombia. As everyone knows, Encanto is inspired in our culture and I am excited to say that “We Dont Talk About Bruno” is a song that unites Latin America thanks to the inclusion of [Cuban] elements like son montuno, cha cha cha and guajira.
So recording “Bruno” was not a strange thing for you. If the song has ‘son montuno,’ ‘Cha cha cha’ and ‘guajira’ it is then connected with your primary genre, salsa.
Yes. If you listen well you will notice that the drum set in the shape of a montuno is very present in “Bruno.” And the drum is part of our local music. It is a brilliant heritage in Colombia. We could say the song pays homage to that instrument and the role it has played in our culture. But “Bruno” goes further. It has a lot of R&B, Pop, and urban music. Adassa raps in the song and then this wonderful universe comes together in a Latin diversity that thrills you.
Salsa is your life …
Absolutely. During my career I have composed for Oscar D ‘Leon, Joe Arroyo and I was part of Grupo Niche. For me as an Afro Latino they have been references and I feel that it is my responsibility to bring our music in search for new horizons.
How did you get to Encanto?
We were in the middle of the pandemic, a very complex situation and I had just released my album Idilios, and thanks to the fact that I was actively working they called me for the casting, I passed the filter and then I had an interview with some of the [filmmakers], including [director/co-writer] Jared Bush.
The same co-director/co-writer of Zootopia and screenwriter of Moana …
Yes. And in the interview via Zoom something very funny happened. While the conference was being organized I picked up my trombone. I was anxious and began to play long notes. Then something unexpected and funny happened. One of the [filmmakers] told me: “I see that we have something in common.” It was Jared. He bends down and pulls out a trombone. So we connected immediately. Jared is an excellent trombonist.
You enchanted them! [Laughter] How did your passion for the trombone come about?
My fondness for the trombone was born when I was in school, and from my love for salsa, although I confess that I had not seen a trombone. It was to impress my friends that I said I wanted to be a trombonist. Later I discovered the instrument and fell in love with it when I studied music at Universidad del Valle [in Cali] where I also graduated as an operatic tenor.
Tell us about Felix. You are from the west coast of Colombia, from Cali, but where is Felix from? It seems that he is from the Caribbean coast of the country.
He is from the Caribbean coast. But I took the liberty of adding to the character some little things from my Pacific coast. In fact, the scene in Antonio’s room where he rides on the Jaguar called Parce, is a scene recreated from the Chocó region in the Pacific coast, where I am from. The birds, the species that are seen there are from Chocó.
How was the Hollywood premiere? Do the journalists of the planet know about Colombia?
[Laughs] Something also funny happened. In Hollywood a journalist who spoke very little Spanish was surprised because she did not know that there were Afros in Colombia. Many people know, for example, that in the Colombian soccer team most of the players are Afro, but there is another part of the world that has no idea about what our country is like. That surprised me a lot. In Colombia there are five million people that self-identify as Afro, and perhaps more. Cali, for example, is the city outside Brazil with the largest African population in Latin America.
Afro artists you admire?
The late maestro Jairo Varela, leader of Niche. I like and am inspired by James Brown, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Lenny Kravitz.