On a chilly Wednesday in November in New York City, Catalina García and Santiago Prieto were mulling their future. The pair helped found Monsieur Perine, a group whose wide-ranging taste and delicate, hand-played songs have attracted a devoted following in Colombia and among the members of the Latin Recording Academy (5 nominations and a win). But there was still more to do.
“We need to grow, and it’s not the same to grow in Latin America as it is [to grow] in Europe and the U.S.,” García explained. “We want success in terms of mainstream shit, but we want to do a very craft music — music that is well done, which has imagination, magic, life.”
“We’ve been trying to do more modern sounds without losing the human playing,” Prieto added. “We’re trying to find a new horizon, different landscapes, different rhythms.”
The first taste of that new horizon arrived on Thursday: “Mundo Paralelo,” a jaunty, percussive, reggae-tinged track about “the simple things in life,” García said recently. Those things include, but are not limited to, “walking on the grass barefoot, feeling the rain, and having fun with your dog.” “Mundo Paralelo” also features a husky verse from Pedro Capó, fresh off his billion-views-plus global hit “Calma.”
García and Prieto spoke again last week from Colombia, where both are locked down. “I’m suffering a lot; I have cried a lot,” García says. “We cannot get used to it. This is a need we have to connect through people, and not through [the phone]. I love to be on stage.”
Monsieur Perine’s current stasis is directly at odds with the past decade, during which they gigged their way around the world. “We are building our name like the ancient bands,” Prieto said in November. “Playing, playing, playing, and playing.” “Sweating and bleeding!” García added happily.
This is how the band started: performing at “baptisms, birthdays, weddings, corporate things” around Colombia, Prieto said. They somehow fused their varied upbringings. Prieto grew up hearing “Cuban music from the 1940s and 1950s” through his mom, “Pink Floyd, U2, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers” from his brother, and rock en español from the radio; García absorbed operas and Spanish gypsy music from her grandfather, salsa from the streets, and later, Música Popular Brasileira, which she explained, “was the best way to study Portuguese.”
While Monsieur Perine were mashing these disparate styles together, many Colombian musicians had their attention elsewhere. “Everyone at that time was doing cumbia with electronics,” García said. “The first big contest that we won, all the bands were drums and electric guitars and sequencers. We had a double bass and were super acoustic. We were weird.”
But not unappealing — “Suin Romanticón,” their lead single, which sounds like it might soundtrack a dance scene in a 1920s period drama, was heavily played on Colombian public radio. Soon the group left weddings behind completely and toured Europe. “We were playing weird music with weird customs,” Prieto recalled. “People in Europe loved it.”
After Monsieur Perine recorded their second album with help from Eduardo “Visitante” Cabra, known for his work in Calle 13, Sony Colombia signed the group. Soon after, Monsieur Perine won Best New Artist at the 2015 Latin Grammys. Their next album, Encanto Tropical, again recorded with Visitante, spawned their most popular song, the pulse-quickening “Bailar Contigo.”
But at a time when reggaeton dominates Spanish-language pop, the industry appears to enforce a ceiling on groups that try anything else. An international presence is ultimately important for long-term commercial health — “we cannot live only by playing in Colombia,” García said. “You have to look for other markets.” If most non-reggaeton singles won’t zip around the globe on their own, then the group has to do the legwork instead. Last year, Monsieur Perine embarked on their biggest U.S. tour to date, along with making multiple trips to Spain, Argentina, Chile, and Peru.
They also connected with a new producer: “Mundo Paralelo” was made with help from George Noriega, who recently co-wrote and co-produced “Calma;” his long credit list also includes work with Shakira, Ricky Martin, and Draco Rosa, especially the Mad Love album, which is one of García’s favorites. She says of Noriega, “we were trying to find someone who could understand all the rhythms of the Latin world but also understand what is going on with pop music right now.”
The beat in “Mundo Paralelo” is meaty enough for the radio, and the hand-played bass was strengthened with a doubling synth bass line, but “the main material was still acoustic,” according to Prieto. Strings and a French horn add unexpected flourishes.
“When we were mixing, George said something I liked a lot: ‘This song has a vibe from the Sixties or Seventies, kind of Beach Boys or Beatles,” Prieto added. “That’s what we’re striving for. Pop music, but also art music.”