The Next Wave

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

Meanwhile he quickly noted the vacuum for Latin rock on local radio. "I was just not finding the music I wanted to listen to," he recalls. Posada put together a proposal for a weekly Latin rock radio program, then teamed up with fellow rock fan Fabio Vallebona. The pair approached several Hispanic stations, but met with repeated rejections -- the idea of broadcasting rock music was just too radical, Posada remembers. Finally, Betty Pino, the program director at Radio Ritmo -- who has a reputation as a Latin radio trendsetter -- gave them a chance. The show, which premiered in November 1993, immediately found an audience. (Vallebona left the show about six months ago because of differences with Posada.)

"It was like people started crawling out of the ground," Posada says laughing. "They were screaming, 'Rock en espa*ol!' Kids were calling the show who came from Peru, from Argentina, from Colombia. It was like, 'At last somebody's giving us the music we want to hear.'"

Posada puts on his headphones to read his version of the news: A band is censored in Brazil; an Argentine group has a new album; Estatica, a slick magazine covering Latin rock has started publishing in Miami.

"Not only has Miami changed," Posada explains, taking off the headphones, "but the musical tastes have changed here, too. These kids come here to study or, if they're younger, they come with their parents. A lot of people who live in Latin America have a house in Miami. They come here to go shopping and they come here to escape from the chaos over there. And the kids who come here want to feel like they're living in Latin America. That's why they choose Miami."

From the beginning, Posada organized weekend parties for Boom listeners, first on Sunday at a Key Biscayne restaurant-club called Sundays on the Bay, and more recently at a restaurant in Sunrise called El Imperio, which caters to young Colombians who live in Broward. The DJ also writes about rock for the local Spanish-language weekly Viva semanal, and serves as a correspondent for Banda Elastica, a Latin rock fanzine published in L.A.

"Boom, your favorite radio program, that for one year and nine months has brought you your music -- rock in espanol," the DJ says into the microphone. Then he cues up "Mal bicho," the latest single by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.

"As time has passed," he explains as the song plays, "I've realized that this has gone from being a simple hobby of someone who wanted to listen to rock to becoming a cultural cause, and in some ways even a political one. With rock en espanol, you're reaffirming your language, with the rhythm that you like and the messages in the lyrics that have to do with you. Rock has never been about public relations. Rock is about calling things by their name. If in Mexico there's a critical economic situation, that's what they're going to express in the music. And if there are problems in Colombia, that's what they're going to express. The fact that you're young means that you complain and you shout."

Indeed, over the past 30 years, the history of rock in Latin America has reflected the region's strife-ridden economic and political situations. The folk-rock musicians of the Seventies rallied together through songs against repression; hard rock and punk bands took a stand against censorship in the Eighties. While Mexican rock continued as a largely underground phenomenon during the latter period, democracy and a free market in Spain and Argentina gave groups in those countries more access to music and videos by American and British bands. Ten years ago, Latin bands often resembled Spanish-language clones of U2, the B-52's, or the Cure, although their lyrics told stories of their own culture. Today fusion-rock reigns -- a sound that mixes traditional folkloric music and instruments with rock rhythms. And if in the past the general rule has been that what played in Argentina would not hit in Spain, that too has changed.

In the Nineties, an increasing number of groups exhibit a pan-Latin appeal. Mana has been one such success, with songs that meld a variety of folkloric and Caribbean rhythms with light rock, adding lyrics about their indigenous roots and the destruction of the rain forests in South America. (Incidentally, Nil Lara's cousin, Alex Gonzales, who left Miami for the Mexican rock scene several years ago, plays drums with Mana.)

Ten or twelve years ago, the goal of a lot of successful groups was to record an album in English and cross over to the U.S. market, a concept that since has become passe. "That doesn't seem necessary any more," says Alejandro Marcovich, guitarist for Mexico's Caifanes. "The ideas should be presented as they are, with their natural expression and the inflection they were meant to have."

Besides, the bands' Spanish-language audience is here.
Posada speaks into the mike, and his voice suddenly goes deep and syrupy: "It's a rhythmic night here at at 98.3, where we mix a little of something new with the classics -- Rafael, a love song...."

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