Battle of Santiago
There’s an epic soundclash taking place in the tropics of Canada. Toronto-based group the Battle of
Santiago combines classic Afro-Cuban rhythms and vocals with a distinctly Canadian post-rock spirit and
sensibility. The result is a wholly unique sound that tells a universal 21st Century story, transcending
borders while staying rooted in one city’s immigrant experience.
“There are a couple of different Battles of Santiago’s to choose from,” explains the group’s founder Michael
Owen. “There were a few in Cuba, mostly during the Spanish-American War, and there was even an
infamous World Cup match in Chile that’s been given the name, too. So you can take your pick. We liked
that ambiguity. It reflects how our music can change and take on different vibes. The name also implies
some kind of soundclash, which works for us since the band has both a Latino and non-Latino section, and
that dynamic can create a really exciting creative tension."
While Canada is well-known for its thriving indie rock and electronic scenes, with acts as diverse as Grimes
and God Speed You Black Emperor, the country is seldom thought of as a Latin music hotbed. But Toronto
hosts many thriving immigrant communities — including one of the largest Cuban expat communities in
North America — and the Battle of Santiago is strongly rooted in the city’s wealth of Cuban musical talent.
“The group has always had a strong Afro-Cuban base,” Owen explains. “In the beginning we had a much
more pan-Latin mix, with members from Chile, Venezuela and Mexico. But as the band evolved we added
more and more Cuban members until we reached a critical mass, and our sound has taken on a much
stronger Cuban flavour as a result.”
Founded in 2011, The Battle of Santiago has been marked by this restless, transnational experimentalism
since the beginning. The group has evolved from an exploration of experimental rock grounded in
drummer-less Latin percussion, to an instrumental groove machine, to the tight Afro-Cuban post-rock outfit
that it is today.
That evolution can be heard on the band’s two full-length albums, 2012’s Full Colour and 2013’s Followed
by Thousands. Now, with the addition of vocals, the Battle of Santiago is poised to break new ground in
2017 with their new full length release La Migra.
Set for a 2017 release on the band’s own Made With Pencil Crayons label, this full-length release dives
deep into Afro-Cuban waters, mixing Afro-Cuban Yoruba chants with subtle electronica (“Barasu-Ayo”) and
rumbas with post-rock experimentalism (“Asi Vengo Yo”). The sound is more than just Radiohead meets
Irakere, though: there’s cumbia tinged with dub (“Cimmaron”), anthemic Latin rock (“Pa Bailar”) and even
the smooth funk of “Se Me Complica”.
The Battle of Santiago doesn’t skimp on their live show, either. Their Revolucion Perpetua multimedia
show, developed with chilean-born artist/designer Patricio Davila, integrates digital visual art, live musical
performance and audience interaction. The result is a one-of-a-kind organic audio / visual installation not to