Who is La Gran Mawon? In Conversation with the Up & Coming AfroDominican Band
La Gran Mawon is one of the up and coming groups in the popping Santo Domingo music scene. They are an embodiment of a new generation of AfroDominicans eager to connect with the past to make sense of the present. Fusing rhythms that are familiar to many of us caribeños like Palo and Reggae, with lyrics that reflect the worries of today’s youth, they seek to spread a message of love.
Last fall La Gran Mawon went on their first trip outside the country to visit New York City, hosted by the collective Kiskeya Libre, and recently they also released a music video for their song “Muchachita Framboyan”. We held a Q and A via email to catch up with them and find out about their upcoming plans. Check out their responses, and scroll through to see some amazing photos from their NYC trip taken by our very own Joan Encarnación.
1. Who is La Gran Mawon and how did the group come together?
La Gran Mawon is an AfroDominican music and performance band which have been working for around seven years in the local Santo Domingo musical scene. The band came up together back in 2011 when Mitiko, Zahir, Kndelo, Gato, and other members of the band wandered around Colonial Zona jammin’ all night long in the old city plaza, gathering crowds of enthusiastic people…back when expressing our Afro identity wasn’t that cool. Actualmente somos: Mawon Mitiko (guitarist, composer), Mawon Zahir Ajam (main vocals), Kurandero Mawon “Gato”(MC), Sirelys Airam (backing vocals), Marcos Arias (Director, Percussion), Jordano Villalona (Bass), Giordani Garcia (Drums) and Terry Sanmaray (Percussion).
2. What was it like playing in New York City for the first time last fall, Would you say you had a good reception ?
It is the first time that the band travels officially out of the country and the experience was incredible: we got inspired by the fury of the New York City crowds, impressed with their attention to the lyrics and music of the band as well with their dance moves! We felt very connected with New York City, especially with the current wave of AfroDominican and AfroLatino identities expressing themselves, a idea that we have been advocating since the beginning of the band through our music, performances, spirituality and culture.
3. Is there a message you want to convey with your music? If so what is that message?
La Gran Mawon is a maroon artistic act. We infuse our maroon philosophy, culture and traditions into modern reality. Then we talk about love. That’s our first and most important message. And then, what comes after this love would be our loving intentions. Like the respect and love of our diverse African heritage, the love of our often denigrated culture, the love for nature and the love for history. We fight with love for our rights and this is something our lyrics talk about. We talk about the love of liberty in songs like Abajo Los Muros, where we talk about the stupidity of the system of mass incarceration where poor, black and brown young men are always the prey.
4. Who are the biggest sources of inspiration for the group?
We find our biggest inspirations in the our AfroDominican traditional culture around the island like palo, gaga, Sarandunga, Congo, which are Afro-Dominican maroon music found in our country. Luis Días has been an important source of inspiration helping us understand the dynamics of our culture. The music of Haiti, specially Foula, Boukman Ekspyrience and RAM. Also we get inspired by the music of the Caribbean that we grew up surrounded by like: Ismael Rivera, Bob Marley, Tego Calderon, and many others; Fela Kuti and his Afrobeat, the Tuareg music of North Africa, the dancehall movement of the the 90s, the bachata clásica and many other artistic movements.
5. When you returned to the Dominican Republic, what was one memory from your trip to NYC that stood out?
The night at Camaradas in Harlem was unprecedented! We got there and thought it was going to be a chill concert with few people. We were even worried about some technical issues. But as the night went on, the rest was history! It was lit! Place was crowded and people were dancing, sweating like crazy! It’s been one of the best concerts of the history of the band, no doubt.
6. What is next for La Gran Mawon?
So many things are coming together that we are surprised. We are happy to announce that we are getting ready for the recording of our second album, which features many classic songs that people sing to at our live shows but are unable to listen to online. There are many things to come – La Gran Mawon feels younger than ever.