There was a time when a young man with a dream in his heart and a guitar in his hand had to go to the City of Angels to make it as a rock and roll star. That was then. This is now. In the past decade, the Latin divisions of nearly every major recording label have migrated east. For Latin rockers like Roc'n Son, the road to stardom runs through Miami.
The Cuban-born band members studied music together in the early Nineties in Havana's rigorous schools for the arts. After graduation keyboard player Raul del Sol ended up in Argentina; his kid brother, percussionist Joel del Sol, found himself in France; drummer Leo Garcia landed in Uruguay; singer Eduardo Rodriguez in Mexico; bass player Eduardo Madareaje in Venezuela; and guitarist Ahmet Barroso in the United States. Just over four months ago, the friends reunited in South Florida to form a band.
"We're not political immigrants," explains Raul del Sol, Roc'n Son's leader. "We're not even economic immigrants. We came to Miami to pursue our profession." The rockers went about that task diligently, drawing on the discipline of their early training. Their first rehearsals took place in the cramped confines of a mobile recording studio. The musicians and their instruments barely fit in the borrowed truck's four square feet, but they still made room to practice several hours a day, four days a week.
By the time the group moved into more spacious digs, Roc'n Son had fused the diverse musical influences soaked up by each member in third countries. The foundation of their sound, however, is summed up in the band's name. "Roc," the international noise of youth, was invented in the United States but is played with passion from Havana to Patagonia. Son is the traditional Cuban dance music, blending European harmonies and instrumentation with African rhythms.
Rather than strictly adhere to rock and roll's typical straight-ahead beat, Roc'n Son riffs around the syncopated suspensions that characterize son and salsa. "It's not just the arrangements," notes Rodriguez, the lead singer, who danced at Havana's famed cabaret the Tropicana and with a host of pop stars before giving his vocal chords a try. "The melodies might be rock, but the timbre of the voice is always son."
Better known as Chino, Rodriguez sets the Roc'n Son tone not only with his throat, but with his sinuous movements and often-outrageous attire. In Chino's dance Roc'n Son's musical mix can be seen, not just heard, as aggressive poses familiar from rock punctuate the subtle Afro-Cuban undulations of his torso and pelvis. His fashion sense is just as eccentric. He's been known to don bug-eyed sunglasses and red rubber pants, West African skirts, and Chinese pajamas.
The musicians who back the novice singer have been in the business long enough to know that image sells sound. "Listen, Chino's voice is good," Raul del Sol concedes, "but more than that, he gives us style; he gives us a look." The long-haired dancer can carry a tune well enough by U.S. rock standards, but his high cheekbones and chiseled torso certainly help the melody along. A gaggle of giddy female fans swoons and sings at every show, presaging the teen appeal the band hopes to have.
Del Sol makes no effort to hide Roc'n Son's commercial aspirations. He eschews the provocative stance taken by the veteran rockers he knew while living in Buenos Aires. "Argentine rock tends to be very political," he observes. "We had enough of that growing up in Cuba." Instead del Sol writes songs about love, dance, and having a good time. "But that doesn't mean they're superficial," he contends. "What's more profound than love?"
"For us pop is a way to translate the music we grew up with into a language anyone can understand," Roc'n Son's songwriter explains. Here on the home turf of Gloria Estefan and Ricky Martin, more and more recent arrivals strive to translate their own music into a language everyone will buy.