Joy Undivided

Divididos muses on Zen and the art of rock and roll maintenance

As odd as it may sound, the leader of Argentine rock band Divididos (the Divided) now believes that dividing everything makes no sense. Ricardo Mollo, singer and guitarist in the hottest power trio of the Nineties, has been reading Indian Zen master Osho on the creation of a "new man" who lives in harmony with himself and his environment, free from all divisive ideologies and beliefs.

Mollo feels like a new man himself, saying Divididos is undergoing "an internal and musical renovation." Formed in 1989 from the ruins of legendary Eighties reggae-rock band Sumo, Divididos developed a funk-rock-Argentine-folk flavor that at its peak sold more than 300,000 copies of the group's 1993 La Era de la Boludez(The Age of Stupidity), a heck of a lot for the national market. In the past two years, Divididos has ditched the Faith-No-More-meets-the-Chili-Peppers-along-the-Rio-Plata drive, which earned the band the nickname "steam roller," for a retro-experimentalism more along the lines of Massive Attack or Radiohead. Mollo, bassist Diego Arnedo, and relative newcomer (with seven years in the band) drummer Jorge Araujo have refreshed not just their musical style but their rock and roll lifestyle as well. That's why seven albums into Divididos's thirteen-year career, the band's latest release, Vengo del Placard de Otro(I'm Coming Out of Someone Else's Closet), still feels new.

"I always feel like it's the first day of this band," explains Mollo. "I can feel that in every rehearsal, and that's why I have the same passion I had the first time I played with Diego 22 years ago."

Reveling in The Age of Stupidity: Jorge Araujo (left), Diego Arnedo, and Ricardo Mollo
Reveling in The Age of Stupidity: Jorge Araujo (left), Diego Arnedo, and Ricardo Mollo

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Mollo himself has suffered "a few reincarnations as singer," mutating from "screamer" to real vocalist thanks not only to singing lessons, but also to "the philosophical and organic change that promoted a healthy brain and clean pipes." He laughs at the comparison of his vocals on Divididos's first single "Che, Qué Esperás?" ("Dude, What are You Waiting For?") with the songs on Closet, giving his friend Arnedo credit for helping him see that singing rock and roll doesn't always require nearly bursting the jugular.

But maybe Mollo came on so strong at first because he was afraid of the mike. With Sumo he only used his lips to play guitar licks, paying tribute to his idol Jimi Hendrix with his famous mouth guitar solos. Besides, the young guitarist had what he calls "a wooden shield" -- Sumo's late singer Luca Prodan, an Italian visionary who moved to Argentina in 1980 to escape a heroin habit he'd overindulged in London. Prodan started a musical revolution in Argentina by introducing reggae vibes to loosen the jazzy, instrumental virtuoso-rock that was being played throughout most of the last military dictatorship, which bloodied the country between 1976 and 1983.

When Prodan died in 1987, Mollo recalls, "It was like opening a switchblade and coming out swinging. We hugged each other and decided to face whatever came next." But what started as a necessity began to come naturally.

"Now I can see myself as a singer instead of someone who had to sing to survive," says Mollo. "It was either that or get used to the idea of being an ex-Sumo forever."

Recently fans have had to get used to a more spiritual, if still hard-rocking, Divididos. After Arnedo suffered a physical collapse in 1999, the trio went on a soul search that led them to Abbey Road, where they actually slept in the Beatles' onetime beds while recording the album Narigón del Siglo (Honker of the Century). Back in Buenos Aires to record Closet, the band relied more generally on the Beatles' spirit. Under a reduced budget from BMG Argentina that brought band and label to the verge of conflict, Mollo jokes that the recording got by "with more than a little help from all our friends."

As the music mellows, the lyrics get more accessible. Almost gone are the in-jokes that the band itself probably didn't totally understand. Some verses seem to be directed at the gossip rags and TV shows that only take notice of Mollo as the brand-new husband of Uruguayan soap-opera star and pop singer Natalia Oreiro. Combining the tabloid concerns with trimming fat and keeping track of celebrity romance, Mollo sings about bedside tables that get divorced, gaining weight on a diet of new ideas, and falling in love and ending up with a fatter heart. Ah, then there's the album's title. Mollo swears he's not mocking the starstruck media on purpose. "My policy about all the media hoopla is [to pretend] that it doesn't exist," he says. "That's my only way to live peacefully. When I see them outside our house I understand they're working, but I'm not going to let them in just because that's their job."

Other songs speak of the persistence of less happy memories. Mollo believes that now, more than ever, he's writing the sad Argentine social reality into Divididos's lyrics. "There are a lot of phrases from the past that apply to Argentine reality because those problems are not over," remarks Mollo. "In one of the new songs we insist that this is The Age of Stupidity [quoting the 1993 album] because we realize [that age] is not over yet."

 
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