The Next Wave

A dedicated group of Latin Americans breaks the sound barrier with rock en espanol

Fulano de tal stands on a portable stage in the Hard Rock Cafe at Bayside, framed by a stained glass portrait of Jim Morrison. "Who's here tonight?" he barks.

"Colombia!" "Argentina!" "Venezuela!" "Peru!" shouts the crowd.
"No speak English?" goads the singer with an exaggerated Spanish accent. "Yo tampoco, porque yo no soy gringo!"

Sporting a porkpie hat and stubbly goatee, the lower-case-monikered fulano struts with the microphone as his band launches into the hectic riffs of "Yo no soy gringo" ("I'm Not a Gringo"), an energetic rock anthem that, like many of the singer's songs, speaks defiantly of the Latin immigrant experience. Members of the college-age crowd sing along as they bob to the music, their shiny waist-length hair flailing here and there, in one case brushing against the glass case at the back of the room that holds Michael Jackson's leather jacket.

Fulano de tal, whose stage name means "so-and-so," is a 27-year-old Cuban American who was born Elsten Torres. Growing up bilingual in New York City, Torres got into music at age thirteen, taking a familiar rock-and-roll route: writing songs in English and playing with different neighborhood bands. Then he discovered the music scene in Mexico City, where he ended up recording an independent album in Spanish as part of a duo called Rebeldes sin Causa (Rebels Without a Cause). After this exploration of his Latin roots on the other side of the border, Torres adopted his common cognomen and came to Miami two years ago, intent on singing rock en espanol.

The band's set ends, giving way to a succession of past and present Top 40 singles sung in Spanish, broadcast from the restaurant's DJ booth. Soda Stereo's "Persiana Americana" and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs' "Matador" replace "Shake, Rattle, and Roll," "YMCA," and the other Hard Rock standards. A collective scream from the dance floor greets the first bars of "La Macarena," a traditional ode to the Virgin of Seville that scored a novelty hit when the Spanish band Los del Rio thumped up its beat for a house version of the song. A group of teenage girls in miniskirts initiate the Saturday Night Fever-style line dance that accompanies "La Macarena," excitedly re-creating the steps that were all the rage in Latin American clubs last year.

On this Thursday night in late June, approximately 400 people -- Latin radio personnel, music promoters, press, and young bilingual fans -- have turned out at the Hard Rock to honor the six-month anniversary of Super Q Internacional, South Florida's first six-nights-a-week radio show devoted to rock and pop in Spanish, heard on Super Q (WQBA-FM 107.5).

In a VIP area cordoned off by velvet ropes, Super Q staffers and invitees eat tiny Cuban sandwiches and caesar salads while fueling up at an open bar. The small contingent of suits in this predominately male group is swallowed up in a sea of clean jeans and hiking boots, like those worn by Jose Carlos Ortiz, Super Q Internacional's program director and weekend on-air personality, who moves manically around the room, greeting guests. Over on the dance floor, Manny Mora, a promoter for Pas Productions, passes out flyers touting the July 21 concert by Mexican pop supergroup Mana at the James L. Knight Center.

At the top of the stairs next to the VIP bar, Kike Posada stands smiling as he looks around the restaurant. Posada, a 27-year-old disc jockey and journalist from Colombia, is the host of Boom, a weekly Latin rock show on Radio Ritmo that paved the way for Super Q Internacional. Posada's Boom began broadcasting in 1993 and was the first commercial radio show of its kind in Miami. "A lot of people say I'm the father of all this," Posada beams.

The DJ's pleased paternalism is shared by Gustavo Menendez, an Argentine who moved to Miami twelve years ago to attend FIU. The 30-year-old Menendez and his partner, Rodolfo Castillo, recently started a new independent record label, Radio Vox, whose first release was a long-play CD single of fulano de tal's "Revoluci centsn," a song about current events in Cuba recorded in both rhythmic Afro-Cuban and club-mix versions. Along with releasing work by some salsa acts, Menendez and Castillo plan to record fulano's upcoming debut album, as well as music by other Latin rock and pop groups from Miami and Puerto Rico. "I feel like a proud papa," Menendez had allowed earlier, as he watched the audience sing along with fulano's band.

In fact the entire party is marked by a similar air of celebratory pride by those who consider themselves pioneers in this new Miami movida (scene). Suddenly Spanish-language rock is hot in Miami, and for the music's Latin American fans, the Super Q Internacional anniversary is an encouraging sign that local Hispanic radio can offer more than a synthesized beat and repeated refrains of "Ay, mami rica!"

"The typical image of Miami is all salsa and tropical music," notes Eduardo G centsmez, a twenty-year-old from Ecuador who this year formed Revoluci centsn Musical en espa*ol, a sort of fan club to promote Latin rock music in Miami. "Miami's a very conservative place, and the radio stations want to keep their old Cuban people happy. Rock is a little revolutionary, a little more out there A they're kind of scared of that. This is a different image, it's rocking Miami. We're trying to make some history here."

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