By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
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Diverse in style but uniformly high in quality, the tour's lineup has Miami-area Latin rock fans itching to be invaded. Even a fan like Pepe Alva, who actually gets to play in the concert. "It's fantastic that they picked those bands," says Alva. "Their countries are the strongest markets in Latin rock, and all of the bands are great in their individual styles. I hope to warm up the crowd and pass the ball to them so that they can make a goal."
Alva and Alma Raymi may soon be headliners themselves. Earlier this year, the band won first place among 60 unsigned Latin rock acts in a national contest that culminated with a concert at Los Angeles's Universal Amphitheater, and an album, Asilo en el Cielo, is due in late July. "When we started, there was nobody, no local [Latin rock] bands, no shows, no promoters, no radio," he recalls. "No one would have thought in 1992 that five Latin rock bands would be playing at the James L. Knight Center. Now there are 35 Spanish-speaking rock bands [in Miami], and we are trying to get through to those who listen to salsa and ballads. We don't want to get rid of that, but we want them to open their ears to Spanish rock and fusion, because it's going to be strong."
How strong, of course, depends on more than just the artists; advocates of Latin rock have long felt that the key to success lies in converting reluctant media programmers. "I've always believed in Latin rock," says Kike Posada, the Colombian disc jockey and journalist who hosts Fuego Rock on WRTO-FM (98.3). (The show airs Monday through Friday, from midnight to 2:00 a.m.) "The only adversity has been in trying to convince radio and television people. I wish people like my bosses would come out to see some of these events so they can tell people everywhere -- radio, ad agencies, TV -- to make it happen." Posada, who also publishes the local Latin rock mag Boom, compares the current resistance to Latin rock to classic-rock radio stations' reluctance to play modern or alternative rock -- then referred to as college music -- in the late Eighties and early Nineties.
Latin rock boosters also point out that despite its large Caribbean and South American populations, Miami is a relatively weak market for Latin rock, at least compared to cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and El Paso, in part because of the paucity of live venues, and in part because of a more general East Coast conservatism with regard to Spanish-language rock. Los Angeles rock-music radio giant KROC has hosted Latin rock specials, and the Mexican rock band Jaguares drew a crowd of more than 4000 in L.A., as opposed to only 600 in New York. But most advocates agree that radio is the biggest problem. Angela Rodriguez, a Miami-based music consultant for Billboard magazine, has spent the last decade trying to raise the genre's visibility by organizing panel discussions and showcases related to Latin rock. She was also instrumental in creating the Best Rock Video category for the Billboard Latin Music Awards.
"There is something wrong with radio -- they feel safe playing salsa and regional Mexican," says Rodriguez. "It reminds me of many years ago when rap started breaking out. People thought it wasn't going to happen, this music about violence, drugs, people getting killed, people singing about life in the street. It started as a street thing. I think Latin rock could do the same thing, but no radio support will kill us." She also points out that the few acts in Latin rock making their way up the Latin charts are not so much rock but pop acts. "Mana has been a big success, but ask kids on the street; they'll tell you Mana is not a real rock band."
Besides zero radio play in some cities, another problem Rodriguez sees is that many Latin labels won't push Latin rock in the U.S. "Some of the labels have great products, but they don't really know what to do with rock since they don't know anything about it. The Cadillacs can sell 300,000 copies here, but they sold many times more than that in Latin America. And while Latinos are becoming the largest minority group in the U.S., they buy English-language rock albums. We are trying to figure out how we can get them to buy Latin rock."
But the last few years have brightened the corners of this otherwise dark picture. The lack of radio support has forced companies to develop innovative marketing strategies. Mega, which is promoting Rockinvasion, dispatched a fleet of pick-up trucks filled with Mountain Dew products and other giveaways. And American record labels are starting to see the light, with two significant compilations appearing in record stores in the past few months. The first, Silencio=Muerte: Red, Hot, and Latin, is the tenth installment in the Red, Hot, and ... series, which benefits AIDS research, and it features collaborations between Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Fishbone, Cuca and Youth Brigade, and Geggy Tah and King Changa, plus contributions by Aterciopelados, Laurie Anderson, Ruben Blades, Los Lobos, and David Byrne. The second is the Rhino Records release !Reconquista! The Latin Rock Invasion, which offers songs by Latin American luminaries like Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Maldita Vecindad, Tijuana No!, Cuca, Divididos, and Caifanes alongside European outfits like the French-Spanish band Mano Negra and the Basque rock combo Negu Gorriak.