The Next Wave

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

G centsmez promptly set about going to clubs and collecting signatures from people who said they'd like to hear more rock en espanol. He quickly had 400 names. "About ten percent are born in the U.S.," he says of the fans on his list. "The rest are immigrants." He invites them to these Sunday night parties and keeps them informed about upcoming concerts. It was G centsmez, whose sister, Isabel, works for the Arie Kaduri Agency, who suggested that promoters book Caifanes into the Cameo. "Miami should be the capital of Latin rock instead of L.A.," he asserts.

As he speaks, a shard of electric reverb emanates from the corner stage, where the group Suende has started to play. Suende uses indigenous Peruvian instruments to make music that sometimes resembles Gregorian chants. Tonight, owing to a faulty sound system, they sound like a noise band. The group is featured on a raw twenty-song compilation CD put out by Space Cadette, a local independent label. Five tracks on the disc are by bands who sing in Spanish, including Suende. Brothers Al and Rafael Galvez -- Rafael performs with Suende -- produced the CD in their recording studio on SW 45th Street.

The Galvezes grew up in Miami and Peru. Al Galvez went on to attend art school in San Francisco but returned to Miami, which he figured was a logical place to create a multiethnic alternative label. Backed by a four-piece band, he performs locally under his own name, singing in Spanish and English. "The problem with Miami is that it's very segregated," notes Al Galvez, standing at the door of La Covacha, where he collects a six-dollar cover charge for La Carcel. "In San Francisco people were more open-minded about music. Language and genres shouldn't limit anybody doing music any more."

Probably Miami's best-known bilingual singer, Nil Lara, does not call his fusion of Latin rhythms and electric guitar rock en espa*ol. "Hey, rock is rock, man, it doesn't matter where it comes from," Lara observes, dismissing the bothersome subject of musical categories. Other area bands whose members are Hispanic, such as Orgasmic Bliss, sing in English. "We don't sing in Spanish, but that's better for us," explains the group's guitarist, Christian Escuti. "[Latin American audiences] want to hear English-speaking bands."

Pepe Alva has always sung rock in Spanish. In fact the 23-year-old singer from Peru says his first Miami group, UREP (PERU backward), was once the only local Latin rock band. Alva came to Miami with his family five years ago because his father wanted him and his brothers to study in the United States. He has another band now, Alma Raymi, which means "celebration of the soul" in Quechua, the language of the Incas.

UREP, which Alva put together with his brother, Carlos, and Peruvian friends from their neighborhood in Kendall, played hard rock. With Alma Raymi, the singer decided to get back to his roots, playing Andean folk melodies on native instruments such as the tiny, guitarlike charango, along with conventional rock instrumentation. The band just finished recording an independent CD.

"Latin rock that just copies rock in English doesn't do it any more," Alva insists. He's sitting at the soundboard at Tapeworm Studios (located near Miami International Airport), where he listens to a final mix of his song "Mi cholita," about love between two Peruvian peasants. "What's important is to bring out something original using different styles."

Alva, who's opened for most of the Latin American rock acts that have made it to Miami -- Cafe Tacuba, Argentine reggae band Los Pericos, and even Los Fabulosos Cadillacs -- believes that Latin rock will become more than just a flavor-of-the-month trend in South Florida. "It's absolutely real," he contends. "The Latin market is really getting fierce in Miami. South Americans have started coming here, and more people have grown up listening to rock in Spanish. In a year or two you're going to hear as much rock in Spanish on the radio as you hear salsa and merengue. The good thing about this is that even gringos have told me that they like this sound."

"Seis de la tarde un viernes
Autopista al Dorado
Vuelo charter a Miami
Todo el mundo esta yendo."
(Six o'clock on a Friday afternoon
Expressway to El Dorado Airport
Charter flight to Miami
Everybody's leaving.)

From 1989's "Orden publico alterado," by Colombian band Hora Local Kike Posada cues up a CD by a Guatemalan band and leans into the microphone. "For all you radioactives," he intones in Spanish with the upbeat, conversational inflection of a college DJ, "that was King Chang cents, ska, in the style of the youth of Latin America. And this is Boom, where we bring you rock from the Hispanic brotherhood. Boom -- in Miami." At a little after six on Sunday evening, Posada is on the air in a studio at Radio Ritmo, located in a small, dilapidated building just down the street from Super Q's Coral Way headquarters.

An hour show with an odd time slot -- sandwiched between the station's regular diet of romantic ballads -- Boom marked a milestone for local Latin radio when it began broadcasting almost two years ago. Posada came to Miami in 1992 from Bogota, Colombia, where he was a college DJ, and later worked for PolyGram Records and on commercial radio. (Posada's father has lived in Miami for fifteen years and arranged for his son's resident visa.) Here, Kike Posada snagged a job with the EMI Latin record label, and later moved to Vedisco, a small Colombian label.

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