By Rebecca Bulnes
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Rebellious, provocative, revolting, or simply honest are words that have been used to describe Bersuit, the Argentine rock band partial to naming discs Asqueroza Alegria (Disgusting Delight), Libertinaje(Licentiousness), and, most recently, Hijos del Culo (Sons of the Shit Hole). Sometimes distracted by the noise of his raucous bandmates while he talks to New Times during a break on tour, frontman Gustavo Cordera philosophizes about what Bersuit means for rock in both the Latin and the Anglo world: the unpredictable.
In July 1988 a group of guys who shared a zest for breaking the biggest taboos in Latin America entered a televised competition to win recording sessions for a CD, performing a song they called "Hociquito Raton" ("Mouse Snout"), a hymn to woman's nipple. "After winning the preliminary competition, we showed up for the TV contest, but the jury thought it was sinister to sing about the nipple, and they took us out of the show," remembers Cordera. "That was the beginning of the band."
For their own name, the band members chose a nonsense word: bersuit. "When we created the name, we wanted freedom, so we looked for a word that had no content at all," explains Cordera, "Because bersuit does not mean anything, we're free to do whatever we want with our band."
When recording its third disc, however, Bersuit learned that nonsense is no excuse for the law. Strapped for cash, Cordera claims the group sought out an illicit finance company that provides loans to people with false documentation. The deal was thwarted when, two days before the money was disbursed, investigators busted the corrupt bankers using a hidden camera. Unable to pay the recording costs Bersuit had already incurred in a local studio, the band members finally prevailed upon the studio owner to support the group and work out a deal with an independent Argentine label.
Since then Bersuit's financial dealings have been on the up and up, but the lyrics remain outrageous, even as the band delivers Hijos del Culo, musically its most mature work to date.
The word culo -- a crude reference to the buttocks or the rectum -- has a wide variety of applications in Argentina that Cordera is happy to run down. "Argentina is the shit hole of the world," he observes, "so that when we have good luck, we say, “I have culo'; when we have bad luck, we say, “It blew out of my culo'; when we are betrayed, we say, “They shit on me'; and when someone is trying to abuse us, we say, “They're breaking my culo.'"
Bersuit's confessed scatological fascination might explain the wide diversity of genres the group packs into Hijos del Culo. The disc's fifteen tracks veer from punk, rap, and ska to traditional Argentine tango, milongas, candombe and extends to other Latin-American genres, including rumba flamenca, murga uruguaya, bossa nova, cumbia, pop, and rap. "We're big sponges," says Cordero, "and we absorb all the things we live, the music, the places we visited. Add to that all of the composers we have inside the band, and you are in for a trip to anywhere."
If Bersuit did not aim to be something more than simply shocking, this would be just another Latin rock band among many making a stab at originality and authenticity. Instead Cordera believes Bersuit is part of a shift in history through which the shocks sustained in Latin America are infiltrating U.S. culture. Not surprisingly he describes the growing presence of Latin rock in the United States as the backing up of a toilet -- after a long century during which Latin America, he says, has been the "latrine" of the United States. "For me it is a process of counterculture," Cordera argues. "What's happening now is the same thing that happened in the last century, when [Latin American] people were interested in learning English to understand what was going on with the U.S. rock and British pop," the singer observes. "I think that today American music is all recycled. The interesting, believable, and musically powerful stuff is coming from Latin America. I think [Americans] will learn to speak Spanish."