It was anyone’s guess who would win Best New Artist at the Latin Grammys last week. If favoritism was to be gauged by performance on the show, there was Puerto Rican singer/songwriter Raquel Sofía, belting it out in a sexy slit skirt, as well as Mexican pop trio Matisse with a sweet, romantic sound.
The winning vote, however, went to Monsieur Periné, a Colombian group whose music is a quirky blend of swing, alt, pop and Colombian rhythms; something like a Colombian Postmodern Jukebox. Although little known in the U.S., Monsieur Periné had Latin Grammy pedigree: Their sophomore album, Caja de Música, was produced by Eduardo Cabra, one-half of Calle 13, the top-winning Latin Grammy act in history.
But prior to that, Monsieur Periné — which started as an indie and is now signed to Sony Music — had been steadily performing in Colombia and Europe, patiently building a following that appreciated their alternative sound. Videos of singles from their debut set, 2012’s Hecho a Mano, average about 5 to 6 million views, and the album would become a local hit.
The Latin Grammy comes in the wake of Caja de Música, released this year. Thanks to the buzz, in early 2016, the group will tour the East Coast with dates to be announced soon.
We spoke with singer Catalina García about Monsieur Periné’s indie rise and major label current status, their cool look, and, of course, what the heck their name means.
Your story has been one of very steady, patient growth. Tell us a little about your trajectory to this point.
Our first album was released independently. And we started that way because the kind of music we were making in Colombia was very weird and different and we built our fan base in a very organic manner. Our manager is [string player] Santiago Prieto’s brother. We’ve long worked with the same designer, the same stylist. It’s always been something very personal. Sony approached us from the onset, but we weren’t interested then. We felt very comfortable with what we were doing as an indie. But this time, they approached us with a different proposal. It was an opportunity to team up with a group of experienced people who can help us get to many more people. It’s been a good beginning.
Your music is very eclectic and hard to define. Describe it for me in two sentences:
Experimental music that plays with popular Latin music and swing. It’s like a flirtation with swing from an experimental laboratory.
How about the French touch?
On the one hand, our guitarists took the time to interpret swing in the style [French jazz guitarist] Django Reinhardt popularized. And, I studied in a French school in Colombia so I had the language. We wanted to reinterpret swing from the beginning. Although this second album is more Latin American and brings together other parts of the word. We always wanted to experiment with styles of music that didn’t appear to be so close to each other, like cumbia and swing, or Brazilian music and swing.
How did the group come about?
We met in 2007. We were all college students in Bogota; they studied music, I studied anthropology. They had a group where they played instrumental music together, and one time, I started singing with them.
Were you a serious singer?
Well, I’d sung in the school choir. My grandfather loved to sing. He loved the theater. But I never thought I’d become a musician. I was studying anthropology. I finished all my classes.
So, you’re students with a band. What was your big break?
I went into a music store and found a flyer for a Red Bull contest called “El Ensaladero” (The Salad Bowl). The idea was to play original music. And we won. Part of the prize was to play in Festival Estereo Picnic [Colombia’s rock and alternative music festival]. That was a huge challenge because we’d be playing not for friends and family but for an audience and for the industry. We decided to prepare something special. I was convinced music is totally linked to image, to the experience, to language and styling. We put together our team and recorded our first single, a song in French and Spanish called “La Muerte.” We played really early, so the place was nearly empty. But there was a lot of press, and they opened a lot of doors for us.
I’m sure someone must have told you to stop singing in French…
Of course. They said we had to change the name. That Americans didn’t like the French, that it wasn’t a Latin name. But in the end, everyone has an opinion.
So, who is Monsieur Periné?
He’s a product of our imagination. In fact, the word in Spanish… [“periné” or “perineo” means “perineum.”] We wanted to make fun of language. People think everything French is very refined but as it turns out, in Latin America there’s so much flavor and diversity and life. We also have a very particular sense of humor.