At the mid-April Bajofondo concert in Austin, former LA veejay Paul Saucido was particularly excited.
“Hey, man, have you heard? Emilio `Morales` and María `Madrigal` moved to Austin,” Saucido told me, referring to the legendary
editor-designer and photographer team of La Banda Elástica magazine, the symbol of the burgeoning LA rock en español scene of the late ’80s.
In the early ’90s, LBE and a handful of Latino rock writers helped turn LA into the mecca of the genre in the US. And despite the fact that rocanrol, the perennial Next Big Thing for years, never quite took off here as it did in Latin America or Spain, the idea of having LBE around was welcomed by Texas rockeros who know about Morales.
“Are you serious? Emilio is here?” said Eduardo Rodríguez, bassist for SA’s Frequencia. “I used to read the magazine in Chicago.”
If LBE wants it, the Austin-Dallas-SA-Houston-Valley circuit could become a new alternative for the genre, but this is no LA —in order to lift the SA rocanrol scene, we’ll need a lot more than LBE, especially now that the swine flu is beginning to disrupt the Mexico-USA live-music exchange.
Los Lobos, Mexico’s Marco Antonio Solís, Pepe Aguilar, Alejandra Guzmán, Alejandro Fernández, Joan Sebastian, and Finland’s the Rasmus have already canceled or postponed shows between April 24 and May, according to Ticketmaster. The scare is such that even Mexican soccer games are played without people in the stands, and at press time nobody in South America wanted the Chivas or San Luis teams (Mexico’s representatives at the continent’s main tournament) anywhere near them. But some in the SA rock en español scene don’t seem to be aware of what’s going on, judging by a phone call I received late on a weeknight.
“Man, we want to get some `local` bands to go play at the `prestigious annual Guanajuato` Cervantino Festival,” a musician friend told me.
With my usual delicacy, I told him he was out of his mind. Hadn’t he read the papers? It’s ridiculous to stop kissing or shaking hands or begin treating people like lepers, but who in his/her right mind would want to go to Mexico now? Besides, the band’s time could be better spent.
“What you should be doing is writing songs, rehearsing, and playing here,” I said. “You do that steadily and regularly for a few years, and I can assure you the local bands will sound better, and there will be enough of an impact that the invitations will come.”
But no: Most bands rush to the studio as soon as they come up with 10 or 12 songs, with predictably uneven results at best, and blame the lack of daily rehearsal on work and/or family matters.
Fresh from Bajofondo’s superb show, I remembered how its leader, Gustavo Santaolalla (long before winning two Grammys, nine Latin Grammys, a Golden Globe, and two back-to-back Oscars) repeats a mantra whenever an artist requests his production services: “If you don’t have at least 50 songs to choose from, don’t even bother.”
Santaolalla was already notorious in late ’60s and early ’70s Argentina for having the strictest, most obsessive rehearsing schedule in the country’s influential rock movement. His early bands, Arco Iris and Soluna, were tight, well-oiled machines that rehearsed from 9 to 5 because, as Santaolalla said, “when you rehearse you minimize mistakes.” And the economic and political Latin American crisis of those years was much worse than anything we can have today, as a family member of any desaparecido can attest.
“It’s not about a song or an album, man,” Santaolalla told León Gieco in the early ’70s, long before Gieco became one of the icons of Argentine popular music. “It’s about a career. You need to decide what you want to say, how you want to say it, how to evolve without selling your soul, and, most importantly, whether or not you want to pay the price.”
That price, according to Santaolalla, is writing and rehearsing as if your life depends on it, because it does.
“So just write and rehearse, man,” I told my friend while growing increasingly paranoid. “You need to forget about Mexico and get a rehearsing space in San Antonio big enough for your band and a big box of Purell hand sanitizers. The Cervantino Festival will be there when you get back.” •
DYNAMITE SOUNDTRACK ALERT: Rudo y Cursi (Rude and Corny) is the name of the new movie starring Y tu mamá también’s Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, and it is already one of the highest-grossing Mexican films in history. The flick, written and directed by Carlos Cuarón (Alfonso’s brother), opens in SA on May 15, and the soundtrack is out May 5. It’s mostly new versions of Regional Mexican standards by Juana Molina, Devendra Banhart, Saúl Hernández (Jaguares), and others, but it also features an irresistible norteña version of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” sung by García Bernal. Even the kitschy moments work, and you don’t even need to go to Mexico to get it.