From the beginning, Omar Banos’ success has been shared by his family. The singer-songwriter better known as Cuco spent his first windfall, from a 2016 merchandise drop, on a new dishwasher for his mom, Irma. Once he graduated from the L.A. house-show circuit and started touring nationally, he remodeled his family’s home in Hawthorne, California. And when he really came up, signing a jaw-dropping seven-figure deal with Interscope earlier this year, he didn’t exactly stray too far from the nest: The only child bought his own house just five doors down.
When I speak with the Banos family via FaceTime in July, Omar’s new house is still undergoing renovations, which means he’s back in his childhood bedroom. This is where he filmed the 2016 clip that first made him go viral, a cover of Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” played on slide guitar. By the time he dropped what would become his breakout hit, “Lo Que Siento,” on SoundCloud in May 2017, he’d already caught the attention of Doris Muñoz, a wunderkind manager who had him meeting with major labels just four days after seeing him play a local garage overflowing with hundreds of teens.
Cuco’s debut LP for Interscope, July’s Para Mí, picks up many of the same musical threads as his early mixtapes, 2016’s Wannabewithu and 2017’s Songs4u, including psychedelia, bedroom pop, hip-hop, pop-punk, and mariachi music. He talk-sings lovelorn lyrics in Spanish and English, sometimes falling somewhere in between the two—a reflection of his point of view as a child of Mexican immigrants, born and raised in the U.S. and coming of age on the internet. This perspective is instantly relatable to the droves of music-loving Latinx kids who are desperate to see their experiences reflected, and who have built a community around Cuco’s music. The Cuco Puffs, as they call themselves, line up outside venues for hours before doors open, hoping to score a spot on the front rail or catch a glimpse of Cuco when he arrives for soundcheck. In Peru, he got the Justin Bieber treatment, with fans chasing his tour bus and staking out his hotel.
Cuco’s musical, cultural, and commercial connections to the Latinx community are strong—he’s a perennial performer at Solidarity for Sanctuary, a series of shows organized by Muñoz to help pay undocumented immigrants’ legal fees—but it’s his bonds with his family and friends back home that loom the largest in his world. He filled out his touring band with longtime homies—bassist Esai Salas, guitarists Fernando Carabaja and Gabriel Baltazar, and drummer Julian Farias—and relishes in the fact that they’re able to share in his new life on the road. When Irma got sick last year, her son was able to step in and provide so she wouldn’t have to go back to work as a housekeeper. And his father, Adolfo, who photographed musicians around Mexico City when he was in his 20s, got a taste of the rock-star treatment himself when he and his wife were flown out and brought onstage during Cuco’s first New York show last year, like high-profile guest stars making a cameo.
Last October, that celebratory feeling was cut short when Cuco’s tour van was struck by a tractor-trailer while disabled on the side of I-40, outside of Nashville. Cuco and the van’s nine other passengers weren’t in the car at the time, but they were standing right by it. Everyone was injured and the laptop Cuco was making his album on was crushed, temporarily derailing his trajectory and wounding his spirit as well as his body. But as the injuries have healed, the accident only seems to have strengthened the bonds between Omar and his band, and given the singer-songwriter some valuable perspective on life, luck, and the importance of loved ones. This much is clear throughout our conversations this summer, starting backstage at his Brooklyn show in June and continuing over FaceTime with his parents Irma and Adolfo by his side.
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork