The Next Wave

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

Encouraged by the turnout for Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and other bands that have trickled into town over the past year, local promoters also have seen the potential of Latin rock. One of those is the Arie Kaduri Agency, which brought the Mexican band Caifanes to the Cameo Theatre in May. The concert attracted 1400 people. Of course that doesn't compare to the 60,000 who packed Mexico City's Palacio de Deportes when Caifanes opened for the Rolling Stones earlier this year. But it was last month's Mana concert that confirmed the existence of a large audience for Latin rock and pop bands in Miami -- an audience made up of young people willing to shell out $35 a ticket. At Mana's sold-out show at the James L. Knight Center, nearly 5000 ecstatic fans screamed the words to every song.

"Before, nobody wanted to take the risk with Latin rock because they thought all that would sell here was salsa and tropical music," comments Fabio Vallebona. An Argentine DJ who hosted a show called Rock del sur on community radio station WDNA as far back as 1984 -- the program went off the air in 1992 when the station lost its antenna during Hurricane Andrew -- Vallebona has a cautious attitude toward the sudden blossoming of rock in Spanish in Miami. "Now with MTV and these new radio programs, the record companies have seen that it works," he points out. "Rock en espa*ol is really trendy all of a sudden, and everyone wants to get into it. Everyone wants to make money. The thing is, rock en espa*ol is not a trend, it's another culture."

A tall chicken-wire Christmas tree hung with pictures of Guantanamo refugees greets visitors in the expansive lobby of Heftel Broadcasting's headquarters on Coral Way. Just after lunchtime, several record promoters walk in from the humid summer heat and sit expectantly in the waiting area, gripping packages stuffed with new releases.

Nearby, out of their view, in a small office lined with shelves of old vinyl and equipped with various sound equipment and two computers, Super Q Internacional program director Jose Carlos Ortiz looks through a stack of recently released CDs. These include new albums by Colombian techno band Estados Alterados and pouty, bottle-blonde Spanish pop singer Marta Sanchez, who Ortiz interviewed for his radio show during her recent promo trip to Miami. But most of the CDs in the stack are by bands from Argentina, formerly the undisputed capital of Latin rock, a title it now must share with Mexico and Spain.

Ortiz flips past a just-out album by Argentine reggae group King Africa, a CD by Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas (a new rap group featuring the teenage son of classic Argentine rocker Luis Alberto Spinetta. Perhaps the n was lost in translation A Illya Kuryakin was the name of a character on the 1960s U.S. TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and Mana's latest, the Prince-esque-titled Cuando angeles lloran (When Angels Cry). Several offerings are compilations of techno-house music -- known as bacalao (cod) in Spanish -- that sample traditional folkloric songs, Seventies folk ballads, or classic Latin rock tunes such as legendary Argentine rocker Charly Garcia's mid-Eighties hit "Rap de las hormigas."

Ortiz, a soft-spoken 29-year-old with squared-off sideburns sprouting from his blunt-cut jet-black hair, cues up a mix that samples a political ballad by Argentine folksinger Leon Gieco, written in the reigning leftist rhetoric of opponents of that country's military regime:

"Solo le pido a dios que en la guerra no me sea indiferente.
Es un monstruo y pisa fuerte
Toda la pobre inocencia de la gente."
("All I ask of God
Is that he's not indifferent to me in war.
It's a monster and tramples harshly
all of the poor innocence of the people.")

Ortiz cranks up the volume, dancing in place, then starts reviewing a list of Top 40 hits in Latin American countries that came to him via the Associated Press's Spanish wire. On a pad on the desk in front of him are the names of 200 local listeners, culled from phone calls and at parties sponsored by the station: Edgardo Torres, twenty, Honduras; Mariano Moreno, eighteen, Mexico; Mario Espinoza, thirty, Colombia; Johanna Garcia, seventeen, Ecuador. . .

"We basically have three types of audience," Ortiz explains. "Easiest to attract is the young Latin American with a university education who's been here for three or four years -- they already come with a knowledge of Latin rock. Second are kids who've grown up here but who've continuously gone back to their family's native countries for summer vacations. And third are bilingual Miami natives who know nothing about Latin rock. We have to show them what it is and teach them about the groups."

Super Q Internacional, an hour show broadcast Monday through Friday at 8:00 p.m., and on Sundays at 10:00 a.m., strays from what American listeners probably would define as rock. Dance music and pop ballads often find their way onto the playlist, as does vallenato, a Colombian country genre currently enjoying mainstream popularity, thanks largely to Carlos Vives, a singer and sometime soap-opera star.

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