When Citizen Mundi was given the 1am closing slot on The Venue's stage at DFest last summer, it was something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, the band was honored to be awarded such prime spot, but at the same time, they approached it with a bit of apprehension.
Their concern? After two nights of shows by roughly 100 bands in the heat of early July, would the band be playing to a capacity crowd or an empty room? Would people be receptive to the group and its eclectic musical blend or would they be too tired to care?
Determined to make an impression, the "Mundis" canvassed the conference and festival with handbills and not only took the stage to a full house, but put up a set that hit the ball out of the park. I can attest, The Venue was packed out with the crowd not so much dancing as bouncing and swaying en mass.
Catching a Buzz
When Citizen Mundi wrapped up their set at 1:45am, they left the crowd so frenzied that it wouldn't leave and finally had to be herded out in order to close the doors for the night. The party then spilled out into the street for at least another half hour. Blame it on the heat, blame it on the beer, or blame it on the Mundis; whatever the case, Citizen Mundi made a statement that night and firmly established their identity as a true buzz band on the Tulsa music scene.
Drummer Erick "Canuto" Donis admits that, "DFest was like an epiphany for us." The rest of the band agrees that DFest was point where the group realized what it had created and got a glimpse of what it could do.
Guitarist and lead vocalist Jean-Michel Balaguer estimates that the band increased it fan base by roughly 80 percent that night as the band caught lightening in a bottle and entranced the crowd for an all too brief, electrifying 45-minute set. That energy proved to be no fluke as Mundi's following continued to grow over the winter, and the band dominated the Cain's Ballroom stage at the recent "Wakarusa Winter Jam" to earn a spot at this summer's Wakarusa festival in Lawrence, Kansas.
Anyone who has seen the band before or since can attest to the fact that a Citizen Mundi show is about something more than music. It's about an atmosphere, an experience, a nearly inexplicable energy that pervades the room. Even though you may not understand the words (Mundi's lyrics are written and sung in four different languages, sometimes all in the same song), the music itself speaks to you and carries the evening.
The members of Citizen Mundi come from diverse backgrounds: Jean-Michel is a native of France, keyboard player and vocalist Wilfredo Nanita hails from the Dominican Republic, Canuto and percussionist Sergio D'Alonza are from Venezuela and bassist Eric Bass, trombonist Michael Drummond and sax player Ryan Tedder were all born and raised stateside. Despite their different histories, they all share a kindred spirit and came together right here in Tulsa.
The story of the band's origins is of interest in itself, but is secondary to the band's vision, which is of a more global scope. Indeed, the name alone should be indicative of the group's more lofty ideals. Citizen Mundi (translated "citizens of the world") was created and operates around the motto or mission statement that can be found on everything from the band's website to its CDs: "Let music bring peace to the world."
So exactly how does the band intend on reaching that goal?
What is the message the band is trying to convey in its songs?
"To be honest with you," says Jean-Michel, "the lyrics I have brought in have been from experiences, just like anyone else, but my experiences have been mostly in undeveloped countries. Of course we sing songs about love, relationships and whatnot, but I think the most important songs that we have are the ones about the world in general. We're trying to promote such things as tolerance and peace and love."
"Most of the lyrics, if you were to understand all four languages," continues Balaguer, "usually are talking about a society, but never really point fingers towards any political government or party or anything like that. It's a very neutral point of view, just an observation of what is being seen and what's happening."
"We are actually reminding everyone around that we've got problems around the world," says Canuto, who is described as the visionary of the band. "We have to stand out and be together and have fun and create a better life for everyone - not only for ourselves, but for everybody around."
"That's why we have such a great energy every time we play," Donis continues. "That's why, I think, people just feel it whenever we're there - because we're doing it in a really humble way or a simple way. It's like 'we're just one person, but it's one world, it's one community.' That's how to get by. This is what we're doing: we're not trying to point fingers or and blame anybody. It's about love and music and respect and going forward."
"It's like one of our slogans," interjects Wilfredo, "and I think it's pretty true to us. If there's any way we want to change the world, it's through our music. To let-"
"Let music bring peace into the world," continues Balaguer, as the two share the same thought.
"I first came up with that saying, I think I was maybe 18," says Jean Michel. "You know all of these huge bands produce tours to benefit world hunger and stuff like that? Well, I want to do a 'Let Music Bring Peace to the World' Tour -- 2010, or whatever."
"To me, music has always been the international language," Balaguer continues. "You don't have to know or understand what a person is talking about or saying - you can feel it through music."
"We don't have language barriers," says Wilfredo, when discussing the group's multi-lingual approach to songwriting. "We really don't think that singing in the languages that we sing takes anything away."
As such, the band members feel free to write in whatever language a song may come to them, with no concern for translating.
"I don't think people even care that they don't understand. There are people that learn all the words and they don't even know what they're singing, I guarantee you," he says, chuckling. "I've heard them sing it to us."
Jean-Michel confirms this, stating, "I see people singing all the time. When we're on stage singing and playing and their mouths are moving, trying to emulate what the words are."
At this point the entire band is laughing, as they have all witnessed the same thing - happily buzzed frat boys and sorority girls or good old white-bread Tulsans like myself trying to sing along and butchering the lyrics as we go.
Now, with a new CD titled No Translation ready for release this weekend, that won't be a problem much longer. All of the lyrics will be printed in the jacket, which will make it much easier for audience members to memorize the words and sing along, although they still might not understand everything.
True to form and true to the title, none of the lyrics are translated, but printed as they are sung -- some in English, some in French, others in Spanish and Portuguese.
"The only thing that's translated," says Wilfredo, "and it's probably an oxymoron if you see it that way, is the title of the CD. There's a little part of it that we sing in Spanish and in English and in French and in Portuguese."
"And it will say (on the cover)," continues Jean-Michel, "No Translation: Sin HYPERLINK "http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=216893"; Traducción, Sans Traduction, Sem Tradução -- in very, very small lines, so you can see it."
Of course, printing the title of the CD in multiple languages is not merely on a whim. The hope is that it will make it easier to take the disc to markets outside the US, especially to South America.
"We're definitely interested in taking this CD to other countries," says Wilfredo. "Our primary goal is to take it to those markets. The ultimate goal is to get our music out to the world."
The CD, which was written, recorded and mixed by the band, will be released this weekend on ZenZen Records, a label started by the group to get the proverbial ball rolling. Thanks to the connections of a friend and mutual acquaintance, the band was able to get the disc mastered in New York by Drew Levine, who has worked on albums by artists as big as Sting, Dave Matthews Band and Santana. As result, the CD has a big, open sound that brings out nuances that even Wilfredo didn't originally hear when mixing it.
A CD release party will be held this Saturday night, March 3, at Liquidz, which is more than appropriate as the building served as the band's original home base and practice facility as it got started. Thanks to the cooperation and help of Donnie Gendron and the staff at Liquidz, the band will not only be able to return to their home stage, but it will also be a free show with close friends Sam and the Stylees opening the evening.
If you haven't experienced a Citizen Mundi show yet, now is the time. Spirits will definitely be running high and the energy in the room should be unmatchable. You can not only feel it the crowd, but also see it on stage as the band falls into synch, heads bobbing to the omnipotent groove. It's a phenomenon that the band swears isn't rehearsed, but happens naturally when they all fall into the same groove. If nothing else, it's significant of the group's unified spirit and vision.
Taking Tulsa Worldwide
Can world peace really start in Oklahoma? Only time will tell, but the Mundis think it's possible and they are proud to say they're from Tulsa.
"We've been very lucky to have the people here in Tulsa really help us out by enjoying our music," says Jean-Michel. "They've never turned their backs on us and that's really important considering our music is different and we sing in a different language. Who would have thought that Tulsa would embrace such a band? We're blessed to have that kind of communication with out community."
"We all come from different places," says Wilfredo, "but this is where we united. This is where we got together and for the record, it will always be 'This band is from Tulsa'. I can say it proudly - we represent the world from Tulsa, Oklahoma."
Make sure and join the movement this weekend as Citizen Mundi celebrates the release of No Translation. Doors will open at 8:30pm and Sam and the Stylees will play from 9:30 to 10:45. Citizen Mundi will then take the stage at 11pm and play until 1am, then hang out with the fans afterwards.
CD's are only $10 and admission is free, so you've got no excuse to miss the show. Be sure to join the movement as a citizen of the world and help "let music bring peace to the world."
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