To many, the roots that ground us are associated with a specific place and time — a heritage or culture that permeates every aspect of life, tying us to who we are and where we came from. For Danny Pauta and Brandon Unpingco, their roots are spread wide and deep. But the duo that makes up The Mañanas have bound themselves to a force that drives them every day: music.
Their project began when the world came to a halt due in 2020, although Pauta and Unpingco met a few years prior. The duo, coincidentally, met as Pauta was wrapping up a photo shoot with 303 Magazine for an article on Neoma, another musical project that Pauta is involved with. The two, already sharing some mutual friends, bonded over their passion for creating music. “We kind of just hit it off. We became very close friends right away,” Pauta said.
Since its start, the Mañanas has been a fully-fledged DIY project, with Unpingco writing the majority of the songs as well as singing and playing guitar on them, and Pauta playing drums in addition to producing and mixing all of the songs. The group has expanded in the last year, adding a bassist and rhythm guitarist, but has since returned to its roots as a duo.
“As hard as it may be, you can feel the change in energy immediately,” Pauta explained of the transition. “Decision making is easier, I feel like our focus as the Mañanas is keeping everything fun because we do play lighthearted music, we do like to give that energy, but you can’t fake that it has to be authentic, it has to be real. So I feel like as a duo the vibe is much more concentrated.”
Along with returning to their roots in terms of the band’s lineup, Pauta and Unpingco are constantly rooted in their culture through the work they do as the Mañanas. Born in Ecuador, Pauta has ties there as Unpingco has family from both Guam and Spain, where he was born. Although their music doesn’t outwardly reflect Latinx culture with its sonic elements, Pauta described how the Mañanas connect with their Latinix culture by simply occupying a space where voices like theirs are not often acknowledged as they should be.
“I feel like there’s an identity crisis going on with people who maybe aren’t first-generation brown people. There’s a lot of people trying to reconnect with their roots and therefore they’re experimenting with, for example on our end of the spectrum, more Latin-sounding genres like salsa, merengue — actual tropical stuff. I feel like our music doesn’t really reflect that but it’s just us existing as brown people that are doing this [that] is enough and that’s very real,” Pauta said.
The Mañanas are a piece in the puzzle for a vision that Unpingco and Pauta have for a thriving Latinx community in the Denver music scene where marginalized voices have an outlet. Pauta’s label, Soundbreaker Records, which The Mañanas, as well as Neoma, are on, is one way the duo is working to make their vision a reality. “I feel like the label exists out of the necessity that we all are musicians, we all do art and we all need a community… So it’s just trying to do what we can for Latinx people of color,” Pauta said.
From the artists on their label to the tight-knit friendship that drives the group, the community that surrounds their music is a source of motivation for Pauta and Unpingco.“There’s something super special going on with the Mañanas and we see it at a lot of shows, and we see it with how people react to it. It just feels like something is happening whatever it is and we are both no-questions-asked and down to keep going,” Unpingco said.
The Mañanas are currently working on their second album that is set to come out next year. Their next single, “Sooner Than I Thought,” comes out September 23, with a video to accompany it directed by Carlos Armijos, starring Bruna Ulloa to support and showcase a few Ecuadorian artists.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas