If we want to get strictly technical, “Charm’s” recent victory in the Oscar’s Best Animated Feature category belongs to its producers (Clark Spencer and Yvett Merino) and its directors (Jared Bush and Byron Howard), as determined by the parameters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
But a triumph of these dimensions undoubtedly has a tremendously positive effect on all those who were involved in such a project, and this includes Mauro Castillo, the South American singer and trombonist who participated in the film in both its English and Spanish versions. which was done in Spanish, playing the role of Félix Madrigal, the cheerful uncle of the protagonist Mirabel.
And there is much more, of course. In addition to being present in the commented and spectacular live presentation on the stage of the Dolby Theater of “We Need to Talk About Bruno” (the song from “Encanto” that came to be placed in the number one position of the coveted Billboard world ranking ), Castillo thereby became the first Afro-Colombian to occupy the Oscar stage.
“A lot of special things happened that day statistically, including the fact that no salsa artist had ever stood on that stage before,” Castillo told us during a recent interview while still in Southern California. “And less to sing a chachachá, which is what ‘Bruno’ essentially is. On that side, it is also important that a rhythm like this has reached there, so that the narrative about Latin culture changes, because this has been a transnational project with a global reach due to its success.”
“Here in Los Angeles I have met very cool, very respectful journalists, who told me that they did not know that there are ‘Afros’ in Colombia, despite everything that the teacher Joe Arroyo and the Niche Group did,” added the artist, who was in fact part of the aforementioned tropical institution and recorded two albums with it. “Actually, the land that they opened has to continue to be cultivated, and this gives others the opportunity to discover aspects of you that they did not know, which results in a very cool exchange.”
the good school
As we’ve already noted, Castillo plays Felix in both the Spanish and English versions of the film, which, of course, isn’t always the case with voice actors. “I was born in Cali and studied academic music there; I am an operatic tenor”, he explained to us. “I learned English reading manuals on audio, because I am a lover of sound and the devices that have to do with it, like the ones they used in the ’60s and ’70s, which I try to use in some way on my own records” .
“I have lived in Orlando, Florida for four years, but I am a resident [de los Estados Unidos] for 16 years for something called ‘extraordinary abilities in music,’” he continued. “I did not practice English, and at home, the rule was to speak in Spanish, so that my children – I have a 16-year-old and a 9-year-old – would not lose the language. But when it came to the movie, which I accessed through an ‘open casting’, we made a ‘switch’ and I began to converse more in English”.
Beyond his talent as a singer and as a trombonist, Castillo had experience in acting, since, for example, he was one of the main performers in a television ‘biopic’ about the life of the aforementioned Joe Arroyo (“El Joe”) , for whom he composed a song years ago, and had worked in the area of dubbing, because he was the director of an animation campaign that was made for the Colombian version of the musical reality show ‘X Factor’.
“When I left Niche, I founded a company that made music for the advertising and entertainment industry, while simultaneously developing my solo career using my own songs,” the man from Cali resumed. “All the knowledge that I was acquiring along the way to be able to communicate through art ended up leading me to this.”
an unexpected version
In reality, Castillo did not only perform on the Oscar stage, but also among tables full of world celebrities, because the entire musical act – including the segment in which he had the largest participation – began that way before reaching the pallet. This must have caused him some fear, as we mentioned.
“Joe Arroyo once told me: ‘The day your nerves run out, it’s all over.’ There is always an emotion there, but when you have studied, you are constant and you have experience, you get consistency and you have no problem doing what you have to do, ”he detailed. “You know that you cannot fail, but you are calm at the same time; and the feeling you show is the one you’ve always had”.
There were up to three rehearsals before the official show, which allowed Castillo to know that the act finally shown was going to be a “special presentation” of the same theme in which, in addition to the performers present in the film (like him and Carolina Gaitán ), the Puerto Rican Luis Fonsi, the Mexican-American Becky G and the African-American Megan Thee Stallion were going to participate, whose contributions ended up being harshly questioned by many of the fans of the original song, who hoped to see a version much closer to the original.
After the gala, Castillo himself took the adverse comments with a sense of humor, sharing on his Twitter account a meme in which the well-known drawing of the horse, which is initially masterfully drawn and then with extremely imperfect strokes, was used to divide the segments sung by Colombians and those made by others.
“I understand the music I make, and the music I make is Latin,” the interpreter told us after laughing heartily at the mention we made of this post of his on social media. “But I have managed to understand that in these shows doing special versions of the songs is something habitual and very exciting. I understand that they wanted to pay homage to the transcendence that ‘Bruno’ has had throughout the world, and, from that point of view, the Fonsi thing even made sense in view of the fact that Lin-Manuel [Miranda, el compositor de la pieza] He is also of Puerto Rican origin.”
progress and setbacks
On a broader level, the Latino community of African descent was deservedly celebrated with Ariana DeBose winning Best Supporting Actress for her brilliant turn in Steven Spielberg’s version of “West Side Story.” At the podium, DeBose noted that she herself was also the first Afro-Latina ‘queer’ (non-binary) to receive an Academy Award.
“The industry is now looking for stories with particular elements that give them color and strength, because the themes that are dealt with inevitably end up being the same,” Castillo resumed. “Our folklore, which is alive and can be felt in the streets – unlike what happens in other countries – adds something different to these stories; and one can end up being there, unlike what happens, for example, with Colombian soap operas, where there are no Afros, while, when you go out on the streets of my country, you see a completely different reality.
At the post-Academy Awards celebrations, our interviewee chatted with some African-American stars, like Serena Williams, the famous tennis player who appears portrayed in “King Richard”, and Wesley Snipes, the idol of the Hollywood action genre. “Wow, there are five million Afro-Colombians? I can’t believe it!” he told me,” Castillo recalled. “All this has been a great opportunity for them to discover us and to discover them too.”
It was impossible to close the Oscar topic without mentioning Will Smith’s resounding slap in the face of comedian Chris Rock, which the vocalist/instrumentalist saw firsthand (no pun intended) while attending Dolby. “I do not justify violence in any way; neither verbal nor physical”, our interlocutor told us, after taking a few seconds to respond. “I think it is urgent that [Smith y Rock] get together and make an act of reparation and mutual reconciliation”.
“It is not good what happened there. We have normalized many things, but the world is changing, ”she specified. “I feel that I lost a lot of patience during the pandemic, despite the fact that I have always been a very patient person with my career and with people. But I have not become violent; I think that is not justified.”
Castillo considers that the violence exerted when one is a person of great influence within a certain group is particularly dangerous. “I think that in the world there are people who are more compatible with another and that it is a personal matter, because beyond race, creed or political position, you should not go over anyone, even if they think or say something different from what you think,” he assured. “It is something of the conscience, of the soul, and therefore, it has no color.”
“Right now, because of what’s happened, I can also be influential, and I’m trying to bring my culture and what I stand for everywhere,” he added. “From this perspective, respect must always be present, despite the fact that something like this is more difficult these days, because networks are much more activated by individuality, which particularly affects artists, who have to be aware of themselves all the time.”
Feet on the ground
To counteract the negative effects that popularity and fame can bring, Castillo (owner of a cheerfulness and simplicity that become completely evident when you talk to him) sometimes thinks about what his goal is in this life.
“I remember then that I studied music, that my intention is to communicate ‘bacanería’ [buena onda]generate other kinds of thoughts and make people have a good time or reflect in some way with a song or a scene [en la que participo]”, he claimed.
In that sense, he feels moved by what happened to him a few days ago at the Warner Bros. studio when he came across a girl with Down Syndrome for whom he sang and danced a fragment of “Bruno”. “The moment went viral because his father, who is a producer for a radio station in Wisconsin, uploaded it to the networks,” he recalled. “Sometimes it is not necessary to produce so much or pretend to be something that you are not to reach many people. And reaching a lot of people is also necessary, obviously, because the applause of the Oscar doesn’t feed you.”
On the same side, Castillo, who has already recorded three albums as a solo artist, is heading for the next step in his career, immediately embodied in the release of a new single, “Chacha Me”, whose name alludes precisely to the musical genre practiced in “Bruno”.
“I see that people are dancing a lot [el tema de ‘Encanto’]but he is not very clear about what it is”, the artist resumed. “It’s a slow rhythm, which makes it less difficult to dance to, especially when you compare it to Richie Rey and Bobby Cruz’s salsa. This new song, which I have recorded in both Spanish and English, says that with the cha cha chá you can shake off the ‘pods’ [cosas] that you don’t like and stick with what works for you on the road”.
This does not mean that he is going to leave aside romantic salsa and ‘de coup’, where he resorts to elements of music from the Pacific and other regional forms that give his sound a distinctive air. “I also have compositions that are more towards World Music, because I like my albums to be varied and fun”, he commented. “For its part, ‘Chacha Me’ has much more modern elements, but without falling into reggaeton, because I really don’t like that”.