In a dimly-lit bar down the labyrinthine backstreets of Barcelona’s El Born neighbourhood, bilingual psych-pop prodigy Omar Banos is slouched on a black leather sofa, sipping tequila on the rocks. The 20-year-old has travelled from Los Angeles to play Primavera Sound and, with all work obligations now fulfilled, he’s negotiated the rest of the weekend off to check out the festival. Rico Nasty and Future are on the hit list for tonight. Tomorrow he’ll be up front for former tour mate Kali Uchis’ set.
Following a serious road accident last October in which their tour bus was totalled by a tractor, Banos and his band have reappraised their priorities somewhat: making time for loved ones now ranks higher than career concerns. He’s still visibly shaken when he recalls the experience – which inspired Hydrocodone, a ballad as woozy as the effects of its opioid namesake – describing it as “fucked up”. But he’s grateful, too, for the reality check it provided. “I consider everyone in my band my family,” he explains, his words tumbling out. “So spending time with them is super sick.” On this particular trip he’s accompanied by actual family, his mum and auntie looking on today from the corner of the room.
The only child of Mexican immigrants based in Hawthorne, southwest LA, Banos remembers spending his early years accompanying his mum as she cleaned houses in predominantly white neighbourhoods. He cites his middle school music programme as the reason he didn’t descend into delinquency like many of his peers, and speaks fondly of the local punk scene, which he became immersed in at high school. While playing in melodic hardcore band Chapters, his listening habits extended from psych bands Tame Impala, Mild High Club and Sunbeam Sound Machine to Latin trap by Pouya, Shakewell and Ramirez. It’s this thrilling culture clash that informs Banos’ output as Cuco.
Over the course of three years, two mixtapes and a string of singles, Banos has firmly established his own musical world in which sun-warped melodies are a vessel for unabashedly emo introspection. On recent single Bossa No Sé, lo-fi synths mingle with trap beats, while breakout track Lo Que Siento pairs hazy guitar, glockenspiel and muted brass with Banos’ insouciant Spanglish drawl.
Growing up seeing very few prominent Mexican musicians operating outside of the Latin genres, Banos acknowledges the importance of his visibility as a Chicano artist in the alt scene. “I didn’t get into music thinking, ‘I need to be an influence as a Mexican’ but once you start making progress you realise you’re the only one doing this. It’s cool because I’m able to create a platform for others.”
His forthcoming debut should expand that platform significantly. Recorded and self-produced at home, apart from two tracks set down in the studio with Whitney producer Jonathan Rado, the intelligent arrangements on Para Mi represent a further leap forward for Banos. Writing is reportedly already well underway for the follow-up, and beyond that he’s eyeing a collaboration with his pal Thundercat, and the chance to play more benefits in support of immigrants facing deportation, like last year’s Selena-themed show at New York’s Lincoln Center.
“In this political climate I think being an artist of colour – especially a Mexican artist – is already a form of activism, you know?”
“In this political climate I think being an artist of colour – especially a Mexican artist – is already a form of activism, you know?” reflects Banos as we wrap up our conversation. “It’s definitely not what our President or a lot of our politicians stand for. Being on the side of the rise up, representing and being there for Latinx artists, trying to create a platform for diversity – that’s what I really root for.”
Sounds like: A wistful holiday romance
Soundtrack for: Golden hour drives
File next to: Clairo, Homeshake
Our favourite song: Feelings
Where to find him: fineforest.bandcamp.com
Para Mi is out now via Interscope