From Venezuela to Hillsborough, by Way of Brooklyn: Meet Mango Martinez

A report by David Menconi for Chapelboro.

An itinerant artist and musician, Orlando “Mango” Martinez has lived, toured and worked all over the world while making art and music. Nowadays he lives in Hillsborough, drawn here by a house owned by a relative. And while Martinez’s Orange County residency started out as little more than a place to ride out the coronavirus pandemic, it looks like he’ll probably be staying for a while.

“My wife and I had decided to live as nomads,” says Martinez, a 34-year-old native of Venezuela. “So I was touring through Latin America with Viniloversus, going to Mexico to record, flying to Europe, doing some deejaying. But then the pandemic started and we couldn’t be traveling. So we came here and just loved it right away. We’re super-set here. It’s a great place to be for music and art.”

Martinez first gained notice as the drummer in Viniloversus, a long-running rock band that has had some success with the Latin Grammys. But even when he was a fulltime touring musician, he still had the itch to pursue multi-media art beyond the band’s visual presentations onstage, on-record and onscreen with videos.

“I’ve been rocking and rolling half my life,” he says. “But I always considered myself an artist first, a multi-disciplinary artist. It’s just what I do all the time, you know? I’m at the beach, I’ll do a face in the sand. Always making something.”

A lot of Martinez’s roots and influences in visual art came from his father, who is also a visual artist. Martinez did a prolonged, unconventional and somewhat informal apprenticeship with his father. Their collaboration eventually became Ikorma, under which name they make multia-media art together.

“At first, I did not even realize that apprenticing under him was what I was doing,” he says. “It was just my dad and his studio where I’d go, where I grew up. Two of my grandparents were artists, too, working with wood and paint. After I was doing music, I decided I wanted to get his and my artwork out there.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic has prevented them from getting together the past two years. But Martinez’s father will be coming to Hillsborough in the spring of 2022, to resume their in-person art collaborations. In the meantime, Martinez has a number of ongoing projects at his studio in Orange County’s Eno Arts Mill, including a June 2022 exhibition and concert that will feature song covers and his artistic renderings of musicians like Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin and Elton John. He’s also branching out into songwriting under the name Tropical Man Go.

“Before moving here, I did not used to sing or songwrite much,” he says. “Now I do. I call it ‘indie coffee.’ North Carolina vibes, man! It’s been incredible to get to know this new place and new inspirations, meeting cool new people. People here are awesome.”

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