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For Your Dancing (And Thinking) Pleasure: M.A.K.U. Soundsystem

Certain artists make you dance, and also make you think. M.A.K.U. Soundsystem on New Haven Green as part of @a

Certain artists — James Brown, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Talking Heads, Public Enemy, Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, on and on — make you dance, and also make you think. Your body responds to the grooves. Your voice rises and falls with the cadences of the lyrics. You feel sweaty and spiritually galvanized.

M.A.K.U. Soundsystem, an eight-piece band from New York that plays a free show on the New Haven Green on Saturday, June 18, falls within that dancing/thinking tradition. ("To think and dance" appears at the bottom of its Bandcamp page.)

The ground-level sediment is traditional Colombian music, ramped up into fast, one- or two-chord vamps, with occasional, dramatic shifts into new tempos or feels. Horns, indigenous percussion instruments and flutes augment the rhythm section of guitar, bass, synths and drums. Stretched-out jams scramble up Afrobeat, psychedelic rock, Latin jazz and '70s funk, with interjections of choruses and vocal harmonies, sung mostly in Spanish.

"There's something interesting about the dancing," says drummer Andres Jimenez. "All of us in the band are drummers. We all play percussion. And I think we need to connect with the audience in a rhythmic way. It's very important."

Singer and percussionist Liliana Conde's lyrics, meanwhile, represent the everyday journeys of immigrants living in New York, relationships among family members and friendship groups, what's happening in the neighborhood and the rest of the city, how to assimilate while remaining true to one's native culture.

"We don't think about political causes or certain issues when we're writing music," says keyboardist Felipe Quiroz. "But our lyrics and what we talk about, it's pretty honest and it's pretty much just things that really affect us. … We're struggling artists living in New York City, which is increasingly hard to do. We're immigrants. We're a large collective of people. We try to be inclusive and kind with everyone."

M.A.K.U. — the name comes from Nukak Maku, a Colombian tribe that reportedly avoided contact with the outside world until the 1980s — formed in Queens in 2010.

Jimenez and guitarist Camilo Rodriguez met at a workshop for traditional music from the northern coast of Colombia.

"I was playing traditional music with Camilo for a long time, maybe three or four years, before [M.A.K.U.] actually played," Jimenez says. "Camilo said, 'Hey man, you should play your drums, and I should play my guitar.' I was like, 'Yeah, whatever.' I didn't really think he was that good."

Eventually, the two men discovered a mutual love for Afrobeat — groove-heavy, politically charged sounds popularized in West Africa in the 1970s.

"Once we discovered Fela [Kuti], it was another bond," Jimenez says. "Funk from New Orleans made a great impression on me, and that was another way of coming together."

Early on, Quiroz says, "there was definitely that element of using traditional Colombian percussion drums from the Atlantic Coast. That was the glue — incorporating traditional Colombian rhythms into living in New York City."

Four years ago, saxophonist Isaiah Richardson Jr. replaced a band member who moved to Egypt. But other than that, M.A.K.U.'s lineup — Rodriguez, Jimenez, Quiroz, Conde, Richardson, bassist and singer Juan Ospina (also known as "Prodigio Arribetiao"), trombonist Robert Stringer and percussionist Moris Cañate — has remained consistent over the years. For a large band, that's tough to pull off.

"The band started always wanting to make music, but it sort of turned into a special friendship," Jimenez says. "That's really what's kept us together. It has grown and flourished into just an honest friendship and relationship."

M.A.K.U. released two independent albums (2010's "Vamos Bien" and "Makumbala," from 2011) and a four-song EP ("M.N.D.", which stands for "music never dies"). Last month, Glitterbeat Records released "Mezcla" ("mixture"), a new album that started life as a home recording.

"We recorded the whole album ourselves a year ago, and we were all convinced that that was going to be the record," says Quiroz. "By the time we finished it, we already had been playing the songs, and the songs sounded so much better after we had done the record."

"It was a good experience," Jimenez says. "Camilo had a tape machine, and we had done a couple songs, but we were not satisfied with the sound. We decided to record it one more time, and we're a lot happier now."

Like other members of M.A.K.U., Quiroz was born and raised in Colombia.

"It's physically, now, half of my life in Bogota and half of my life in New York City," he says. "It doesn't make less of a New Yorker, less of a Colombian now, it's who I am."

The concept of "Mezcla," Quiroz says, is the "blending things together so it becomes homogenous, mixing different things but making each part of that mix equally valuable to create a bigger thing … the sum of all of us that makes something greater than just ourselves individually. It all just speaks to our immigrant experience, the idea that most of us were born and grew up in Colombia but have been living in New York City for a long time."

The new album, Jimenez adds, contains "songs that can make you move and some that can hopefully make you think about certain things. It's all necessary. You don't want just music that makes you move — you could, but when you have something extra, it's valuable."

M.A.K.U. SOUNDSYSTEM performs a free show on the New Haven Green on Saturday, June 18, at 7 p.m., as part of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas. 47SOUL, also scheduled to appear, canceled due to visa issues. Information: artidea.org.

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