Señor Loop Part I


Señor Loop’s Multisensorial Panamanian Music and Art

Feature photo: Señor Loop is a Panamanian band that enjoys experimenting with different music genres and styles. Courtesy of Señor Loop.

PART I: How Panamanian Band Señor Loop Came to Life Through Experimentation

Señor Loop is a Panamanian band known for experimenting with different music genres. The band was created in the 1990s by  Lilo Sánchez and  Iñaki Iriberri. Their story is one characterized by pure chance and a series of events they never expected to happen. It’s one where they had no infrastructure, record label, or promotion in Panama to start out, but they made it happen anyway because of their desire to create music and make a difference in society.

“Los Rabanes were the most iconic group at the time [in Panama], and anything that was not like Los Rabaes was crazy. Very weird music. We weren’t like Los Rabanes, and we didn’t play U.S. rock, which was common in Panama,” Sánchez said. “So, I think Señor Loop was born from that love for us in Panama, which was a surprise. It was the reaffirmation that the weirder we were, the better it would be for us.”

Being weird and rare meant having no musical limits. It meant experimenting with their musical abilities and exploring their varied musical palette. Sánchez has been immersed in music since his adolescence. He also constantly worked with cover groups.

“In Panama there was a moment in which night bars were full with U.S. soldiers. That was before 2000. For example, the nineties were the time in which I played covers every day,” Sánchez said. “Three or four times a night in different places because it was a hotbed of drunken soldiers on Fridays and Saturdays. There was a lot of market for that.”

Then, after Sánchez spent a long time playing classic U.S. rock repertoire, he explored his desire to write his own songs. He found there was no music scene for that in Panama. Only two groups played rock, and the rest of the Panamanians were interested in tropical music, reggae, and Jamaican music.

“I grew up in a neighborhood in Panama called Parque Lefevre. It’s a popular middle-class neighborhood and there, I learned to listen to reggae, salsa, and merengue. That’s the area’s soundtrack. My family’s parties always included salsa, salsa herradura, and all of that,” Sánchez said.

With that musical background, Sánchez kept exploring his interests and would move through different places to meet new people. He started visiting video game places and met various people creating original music. One of those artists was Iriberri, who at the time had his band, Xantos Jorge. Iriberri was working on Xantos Jorge’s last album, “En Otro Sol,” at the time.

Taking Señor Loop’s Orders

That last album for Xantos Jorge ties to the beginnings of Señor Loop, and Sánchez was starting to learn about the recording process and what it meant working with a group.

“That’s where my connection with Iñaki started. That’s when Señor Loop began. At that time, Iñaki and a business partner were creating an audio company for commercials and that type of stuff, but they didn’t have clients,” Sánchez recalled. “So, we spent all day long in the studio, and we started composing stuff.”

Those were the beginnings of recording experimentation for Iriberri and times of playing around with the music for Sánchez while they were finding their voice and style. With that experimentation came the responsibility of naming the group. Señor Loop, which translates to Mr. Loop, started as a joke. They’d say their imaginary boss was Señor Loop because the audio company was called Loop Audio. So, Señor Loop was the boss who made them work.

“I’d tell you that between the desire of experimenting, creating music, and the need of making a difference in society, was what started the spark,” Sánchez said. “But, in the end, we totally depend on people. The people still keep growing and I think that’s what pushes a group to keep playing.”

But now, fast-forward to the present to understand where they’re at as a band and who make up Señor Loop. According to Sánchez, the group functions as a dysfunctional combo where everyone gets along well in a family setting.

“I’m going to define each one of these characters because I really like that it’s talked about everyone,” Sánchez said before sharing a wholesome descriptive list of the members.

The Happy Dysfunctional Combo

He first identified Iriberri as the brain of the group. The one who’s a very chaotic man but with an impressive brain. He plays the keyboard and guitar. Iriberri also recorded and mixed three or four of their five albums. He’s also the brain behind the composition of many of Señor Loop’s songs. Songs that make Sánchez cry while singing them in the studio really hit deeply.

Iñaki.jpeg. Iñaki Iriberri. Courtesy of Señor Loop.
Iñaki Iriberri. Courtesy of Señor Loop.

Then comes  Carlos Ucar. He plays the bass and Sánchez defined him as the safe. The father who controls the group’s expenses. He’s the one who doesn’t allow any unjustified dollar to be spent. Sánchez described him as a very important member of the band because he’s the one who’s prevented the group from going broke. Aside from his “father” responsibilities, he’s also very well-versed and educated in art.

Carlos.jpeg. Carlos Ucar. Courtesy of Señor Loop.
Carlos Ucar. Courtesy of Señor Loop.

Following Ucar, Sánchez mentioned  Chale Icaza. He’s the band’s drummer who joined them for their fourth album, “Vikorg.” Icaza is a serious and quiet guy who has a superior school as a drummer in the group. He studied jazz performance at the New School University in New York and is considered one of Panama’s most important drummers. Sánchez described him as a musician who’s more sophisticated and polished in the drums than any of them, making him impressively reliable and stable when playing and recording.

Chale.jpeg. Chale Icaza. Courtesy of Señor Loop.
Chale Icaza. Courtesy of Señor Loop.

Then, you’ll get to know  Abdiel Morales, better known as Toni. He’s the band’s percussionist, who has a beautiful voice and sings an impressive chorus, according to Sánchez. He’s the person that everyone loves and always asks about. Toni is the love of the group who brings everyone together and keeps the peace by preventing fights from happening during rehearsal time. He’s the peace and also plays the drums on tour with his famous reggaeton artist brother Sech.

Toni.jpeg. Toni Morales. Courtesy of Señor Loop.
Toni Morales. Courtesy of Señor Loop.

After Toni, you need to meet  Andrés Cervilla. He’s a Costa Rican trombonist who plays the winds and keyboards with Señor Loop. As Sánchez described him, Cervilla is the band’s connection with the real world, always telling them about new groups. He’s a very hip man. An intellectual. They call him Professor Andrés.

Andrés.jpeg. Andrés Cervilla. Courtesy of Señor Loop.
Andrés Cervilla. Courtesy of Señor Loop.

Then there’s Poti García, their manager, who’s also a musician and joins the band onstage, playing the acoustic guitar. And lastly, there’s Sánchez, the vocalist who plays the guitar. He described himself as the group’s seller. The person who people talk to, the one who smiles, does the interviews, and is in charge of the “sales department.”

Lilo.jpeg. Lilo Sánchez. Courtesy of Señor Loop.
Lilo Sánchez. Courtesy of Señor Loop.

The Great Guacho and Gallopinto of Experimentation

Together, they’ve created Señor Loop, a band whose music genre and style are difficult and complicated to define because of their constant experimentation. According to Sánchez, some call them electro-domestic rock—whatever that means—and others perceive them as chilly.

“It’s definitely rock, but not. It’s complicated. And each album has a different color. There are some songs that have a more ballad intention. Much more like soul. Others have more rock intentions. Others have more salsa intentions,” Sánchez said. “We’re more of a salsa group than rock. A thousand times more. The electric guitars are there, but in a salsa song.”

You can listen to that different and unique sound throughout their five albums “Volumen 1” (2001), “Madretambor” (2004), “MCMLXXXII” (2008), “Vikorg” (2013), and “La Leña Que Prende Madera” (2019). Each album has its own personality, color, and voice. And each one has been created in better conditions because of the band’s love of sounds, recording, and quality.

“The first albums were mixed by Iñaki. Iñaki is great, but we then started looking into the possibility of finding someone bigger. Vikorg, for example, was mixed by Terry Brown. Terry Brown was Rush’s producer in the seventies. Rush is like a superhero for many in Señor Loop,” Sánchez said. “So, we thought: why don’t we call him? We reached out. Boom.”

Boom.  Terry Brown replied, saying he loved their music.

“Woah. That a person of that caliber tells you that your music is beautiful and that he wants to work with you. It was like: wow,” Sánchez said.

Afterward, they worked on their last album, “La Leña Que Prende Madera,” which was mixed by  Mick Guzauski. Guzauski is a multi-platinum and Grammy award-winning U.S. mixing and sound engineer. He’s worked with artists such as Daft Punk, Prince, Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind & Fire, Eric Clapton, Jamiroquai, Britney Spears, Madonna, and many more.

Just imagine what that meant for Señor Loop.

“That doesn’t mean anything for the audience, but in our world – the nerds’ world – that’s the biggest thing ever,” Sánchez said. “Señor Loop has been a vessel to express ourselves and to get to things that no one was supposed to do. That was not written in the plan and in the end, it’s the people who lead us to do that vaina [thing].”

It’s their experimentation and the people’s love that led them to create the best colorful sound and music. People even call them a “cult band,” which Sánchez stated that the love and energy from their listeners is impressive and real.

“The last album, for example, is where you can feel a group playing. Different energies and colors are felt. In the end, that’s what fulfills us the most. That satisfaction of creating great quality music that you like,” Sánchez said.

And that music with high-quality standards is synonymous with the band’s confusing musical palette. It’s a palette where their upbringing of mixed cultures in Panama is quite evident. It’s a palette highly influenced by Jamaican reggae, meneo, perreo, Panamanian folklore, and U.S. rock.

But you might be wondering why Señor Loop has such an interesting cultural mix and sazón (seasoning) in its music. It’s all related to Panama's history and its Jamaican and U.S. influences. During the construction of the Panama Canal, there was a large influx of Jamaican workers migrating to Panama.

Senor Loop 2
Señor Loop concert. Courtesy of Señor Loop.

That migration also meant that the Jamaicans were bringing their own culture to Panama, which later on birthed reggae en español and Panama’s role in reggaeton history. Besides a strong Jamaican influence, the U.S. also had a strong political action in Panama during 1989 and 1990.

According to  Britannica, from December 1989 to January 1990, Operation Just Cause, also known as the United States Invasion of Panama, was a “U.S. military action that centered on the invasion of Panama for the purposes of removing Gen. Manuel Noriega, the country’s dictatorial de facto ruler, from power and extraditing him to the U.S. to face charges of drug trafficking and money laundering.”

Given that historical background, many U.S. soldiers grew up around the area where Sánchez and the rest of the Panamanian members grew up. These soldiers influenced them musically. When Sánchez was a teenager, his neighbors were U.S. soldiers, and because of them, he learned about U.S. rock. Then, unconsciously, the cultural mixture presented itself in the band's confusing musical palette.

SeñorLoop3.jpeg. Señor Loop during one of their concerts. Courtesy of Señor Loop.
Señor Loop during one of their concerts. Courtesy of Señor Loop.

Sánchez described his upbringing as important when living in Río Abajo,a very big Jamaican community in Panama. Those influences merged with his familiar connection with Panamanian folklore and U.S. rock. This cultural mixture is what you hear in Señor Loop: a great guacho (traditional Panamanian dish) or a gallopinto (traditional Costa Rican dish).

“That’s what we are: the great guacho. That gallopinto with a lot of ingredients that are not supposed to be together,” Sánchez said.

Ingredients that are not supposed to be together. But their mixture makes sense because they’re synonymous with the experimentation that creates Señor Loop’s Panamanian colorful, multisensorial music and art.

To learn more about Señor Loop, follow them on Instagram at  @senorloop, on Spotify at  Señor Loop, or visit their  website.

Stay tuned for PART II. There, you’ll explore how Señor Loop creates colorful music that honors nature.

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