The highest aspiration of Latin pop songs has always been to make listeners want to dance. Now, the chart-topping songwriting brothers Mau y Ricky prove that songs can provoke thought in addition to dance.
After writing songs for Ricky Martin, including the dance-beat sensation “Vente Pa’ Ca,” Mau y Ricky emerge from the studio and onto the stage, and they are on fire. Writing songs since they were 15, they push themselves to continue training.
“The artists that I admire most are the ones that are constantly still studying and trying to improve,” said Mau, who plays drums and sings vocals, in an interview with me.
“You never stop learning,” said Ricky, who plays guitar and also sings vocals.
Coming from a family of musicians and songwriters, Mau y Ricky have always had pressure to live up to high expectations. In their cozy studio – filled with friends’ artwork, artisanal adornments and plush couches – they have built an inspiration haven where their sister, Ricky’s girlfriend and their brother-in-law congregate to write music together.
“We always try to say things differently,” said Mau, giving an example about a song that Ricky wrote when he was 15, which indirectly declares his love to a girl by addressing the song to the girl’s father.
As fans of poetry, the duo draws inspiration from literature and music, carefully analyzing works and always looking up definitions of unknown words.
Constantly joking and playfully shoving each other, Mau and Ricky’s personal chemistry translates onto the tracks. They write most of their songs together or with collaborators, but when one of them announces that he’s inspired, they know that means letting him go to a corner with his guitar to write an intimate ballad alone.
Mau y Ricky’s single, “Voy Que Quemo,” depicts a dinner date lit aflame by urgent passion. The sultry Latin tempo carries the insinuations implicit in the imagery and wordplay with flavorful musicality.
Just as “Voy Que Quemo” is explicit, their latest single, “Para Olvidarte” is subtle. It interweaves archaic metaphors with modern objects to create timeless poetry. It’s a work that can be broken apart and analyzed line-by-line, like a poem in English class.
With a title that means “To Forget You,” the ballad “Para Olvidarte” at first sounds like any other song about trying to forget someone. Instead, a close listen reveals that it is exactly about the opposite: the song is about finding something so special, that nothing can compare – much like listeners feel when discovering the duo’s music.
“My favorite kind of music is music that makes me think,” Ricky said.
In search of that effect, Mau y Ricky seek to talk about love using images that haven’t been used before. Each word shows either intentional choice or rebellious spontaneity; no vocal utterance goes to waste.
Even the words and vocal fillers thrown in between lines like “yeah” and “nena” infuse bad-boy nonchalance. The result? Their charged word combinations achieve a pupil-dilating effect in unexpected places.
The music manipulates as seductively as the lyrics. Their production juxtaposes beckoning hand claps, an acoustic Cajón and well-placed trumpets against the taunting beat, dropped bass and fleeting synths.
All the elements work in unison to capture the feeling Mau y Ricky want listeners to recognize. Just how the duo’s upcoming album’s title suggests, “Arte” transmits feelings as deeply as it captures them.
Mau said that “music is a powerful vehicle” and it should seek to have a positive impact. Ricky agreed.
“Singing about love and talking about women in the way that we talk about women promotes romanticism and chivalry in a world where women get constantly objectified and degraded in lyrics,” Ricky said.
Ricky hopes the duo’s music makes listeners realize “if someone was able to write that about somebody, there is somebody who can feel that kind of love for me.”
Mau y Ricky will perform live Tuesday, Feb. 7 as a part of Festival Miami. Tickets are available here.