(photo: Jerry Rangel)

Growing up first-generation Chicanx gave me access to multiple worlds, but mostly one where there weren’t many people like me in the media. Even when it came to Latinx and Spanish media, the people I looked up to were really just white Latinx. This is why Selena was important to me and so many others growing up, and still is. For many Latinx people, she was the first one we saw on TV that looked similar to us, and had a similar experience to us. Now the love for Selena is cult, but she has paved ways for other Latinx who don’t fit into any single boxes.

Cuco is the alias of 19-year-old Omar Banos, from Hawthorne, California. Like me and many other Chicanx, he had an emo phase but grew up with Las Romanticas (like Los Panchos and Los Dandys) and hip-hop (from Immortal Technique to Soulja Boy). “I’m really into like jazz music and stuff too, you know, like Coltrane and Louis Armstrong are big influences for me. I really just find a lot of inspiration in different kinds of music. It’s not really one genre that I really aim myself for,” Banos told me during a phone call, a week before his sold-out show this Friday at Rickshaw Stop. A show that sold out in less than 24 hours. For me to see a Chicano creating soft dream-pop and selling out one of my favorite venues leaves me proud for not just a boy I’ve never met, but one that shares similar experiences to me — more similar than most people I’ve seen play at Rickshaw. His story is not one that is estranged to me, it is one I’ve grown up around, and one I feel connected to. What is rare about his story is that he is a 19-year-old Chicano selling out my favorite venue and being a brown Latinx succeeding at indie.

Growing up within a world where only your grandparents speak Spanish to you, and your younger relatives mostly speak English, affects how you see language. The worlds blend, and they create Spanglish, and with it new ways to create. This is apparent in the music of Cuco. “It’s kind of comes naturally, you know, whenever I make Spanish songs, like ‘Lo Que Penso.’ It didn’t come to me like, ‘Oh I’m gonna make this Spanish song ’cause it’s the cool thing to do.’ It really just came like that and I flowed with it. It wasn’t to be on the trend, it is really what I was doing.” Banos told me, we both agreed that it comes naturally. It’s how we exist everyday — many Latinx don’t think about it until someone points it out.

I had to get him to tell me about his parents, because I know, as a first-generation Chicanx, a lot of what we do is because of them. “My dad is a photographer so he kind of gave me the whole creative aspect. The whole hard-working aspect, too, from both parents because like you know coming here as an immigrant is hard. My mom was especially hard-working. I would always go with her to work and kind of watch her go through like all this different struggle growing up. So it just kind of like made me wanna grow and like really do something for my parents. I knew they wanted me to go to school and stuff like that. But I personally really sucked at keeping myself on track. I really do a lot of the music and all my work for my parents because if I can help them out, that’s really everything.” I think Omar Banos can get an easy pass on school, because he’s already more successful than everyone I knew at 19, and really in such a short amount of time. A lot of his fame was accumulated via Twitter and his online presence in the last two years. To be able to produce an amazing album (Songs4u) all by yourself is equal to getting a bachelor’s degree. (Hey kids, this doesn’t mean you should drop out of college, but if you ever sell out Rickshaw in less than 24 hours, then maybe.)

Cuco’s music aims for hyperrealism, the magical realm inside your head where everything just feels right. It’s Dream Pop 2.0. “I mean like my music, it’s like painting a picture you know — like actually I don’t paint, I suck at painting. It’s just like imagining and envisioning like a whole bunch of things for what I want to create. I like imagining things to be like super ethereal and nostalgic and euphoric.”

Cuco is a proud romantic fighting machismo with his music and existence. “It’s just so common in the Latino community. And like overall how you grow up in just oh you know, ‘Tienes que ser hombre’ — you gotta be a man, you gotta be like this, you can’t be like that. At the end of day, we’re all fucking people, we feel things. Initially a lot of my fans were just like a lot of girls, because I guess it was still weird for guys to be expressive about stuff, because of internalized machismo. It’s cool to see a lot more dudes listening to my music and be like ‘Wow, I really feel this.’ It’s dope because we’re fucking people, feel what you want to feel, express what you want to express. Don’t let the older generation of people tell you you’re this and that.”

Cuco’s whole vibe is this quote: “I know, I’m representation, I’m representing, like, a very unrepresented group of people already. And that’s in itself is already a form of resistance. We’re not supposed to make it.”

He’s making it and playing Sacramento, Oakland, and the already sold-out San Francisco show this week.

Goldfield Trading Post (Sacramento)
August 23, 2017
7pm, $12

Cuco, SHIDÜ, Jasper Bones
The New Parish (Oakland)
Aug 24, 2017
8pm, $15

Cuco, LPX, plus DJ Aaron Axelsen (popscene)
Rickshaw Stop (San Francisco)
August 25, 2017
8pm, $15