Talk about “cross-cultural”: a musician from Nicaragua living in France and singing a fusion of Jamaican reggae and Latin salsa in English and Spanish.
Born as Carlos Wiltshire, the name he goes by comes not only from his country of origin, but in honor of the great Indian chief Nicarao Cai, considered to be the founder of Nicaragua. Interestingly, the Atlantic coast of the country, where Carlos is originally from, is a mecca for reggae music. However, as mentioned, his sound transcends the traditional boundaries of the genre and incorporates elements of salsa and Latin music with rock. This is no surprise as he names Santana as one of his biggest influences, along with Jimi Hendrix, and of course, Bob Marley.
These just happen to be three of my biggest influences as well, so this album piqued my interest, and certainly didn’t disappoint. The title of the album, “Militante” is rallying cry for the power of music and the freedom it brings. According to Carlos, “Militante” is a feeling in his heart and soul that he pours out to his audience: “it expresses the pain and problems of the world, but in the most joyous form possible”. It is inspired by the struggle for justice, solidarity, peace, and love in the world, a theme that is prevalent in reggae and Rastafarian culture.
He sees music as a common denominator: “music will make dance the dictator, the rich, the poor, the Pope included. It is the language we need to understand each other.” Music is indeed a universal medium. Although I don’t speak Spanish well enough to understand all the lyrics on “Militante”, the groove communicates in ways that need no translation. Carlos’ voice, which is rich and resonant, conveys a soulful quality you can feel, and as Bob Marley said, “who feels it, knows it.” But let us not forget, as reflected by the name of the group, that this is indeed a family affair. Fifteen musicians make up the “Familia”, including bass, drums, percussion, keyboards, guitar, flute, vocals, and a full horn section, which provides the spice so necessary for salsa and world flavors.
Although they may not be a family genetically, they are a family nonetheless, with many of them having toured together extensively throughout Europe over the years. I thoroughly enjoyed this music, with its’ melting pot of rich cultural influences. One impressive aspect was Carlos’ use of a particular reggae style where the vocals are spoken in a way that is somewhat similar to rap, yet more melodic.
There is such power and conviction in his voice that one cannot help be moved by it even if the language is unfamiliar. Carlos metaphorically compares his music to a volcano: “first it sleeps, then wakes up, and finally explodes.”
It’s hard to sit still while listening to the grooves on “Militante” and I can only imagine how much harder it would be while hearing at a live performance. It is gratifying to know that in a time where much music that is currently popular has so little depth or substance, that people like Carlos De Nicaragua y Famila are out there shining their musical light to illuminate powerful messages of world peace, unity, and justice for all.