Destination Miami

Babasonicos just wants to make a decent wage -- and some really weird music

The poses Babasonicos has approximated have worked, even if they haven't amounted to record sales. For the last two years Babasonicos has been one of the few active bands in the Argentine market, and the loyal 2000 soldiers of the early alternative years have become surrounded by a bigger wave of fans. And for the first time the band members are being treated as artists with things to say, even though they still hear people calling them "new Argentinean rock" just like it was 1992.

Babasonicos sold out a 10,000-seat arena last November 1 in Buenos Aires, right after an encouraging double set of shows in Los Angeles and Anaheim as headliners of the Rock en Ñ fest on October 18 and 19. The U.S. Latino audience has developed a relationship with the band that owes more to its albums and cult status than to infrequent U.S. shows -- reflecting perhaps the same doubts Babasonicos generated in Argentina, where it was often passed over as weird or snobbish. The band toured Miami and New York in the East and some cities on the West Coast in the mid-Nineties, then disappeared off the U.S. radar. "It was cold, we were too new for the audience, but the good thing was that our fans were not necessarily Argentines; actually most of them were Mexican," remembers Rodriguez.

"Our coming to the U.S. now is not related to the situation in Argentina. It has to do with the maturity of the band. We're ready for other conversations, for other people mixing with our songs, to be picked in different catalogs, to do other kinds of shows," enumerates the singer. "Today in Argentina money doesn't solve anything, and the state will hold it if you made some. I don't want money -- I want to do better albums, better shows, that's all."

Babasonicos put out the best album in Argentina's worst year
Babasonicos put out the best album in Argentina's worst year

The band members won't forget some nice surprises experienced last August, after their first Central Park SummerStage show at the Latin Alternative Music Conference. They couldn't understand why American fans had driven from Philadelphia to New York just to see them play.

In L.A., CBS News followed the band for six hours to cover the backstage action of the show at 1650 Club, which basically attracted all the Latin alternative cameras and radio stations in town. "The fact that we couldn't afford to come here in the last five years has created a myth around the band," laughs the singer.

But what would make them appealing to trained American ears? "We are not contaminated by mainstream music," says Rodriguez. "We have managed to maintain the idea that rock is chaos, and from that chaos, Babasonicos can offer a different landscape." The singer likes to be deep. Concluding the idea, he says, "Babasonicos offers what people want from a rock show: a cathartic effect, the same thing that Indians looked for in shamanism, or what was pursued in the Greek theater."

Such catharsis can be found in the last three albums the band released with Sony in the United States: Dopadromo (1996), Babasonica (1997), and Miami (1999). The concepts swerve from Nineties hip-hop to Seventies bossa nova, and from Italian balladry to dark and gloomy heavy metal. Frantic lovers of kitsch and junk culture, the musicians started speaking a more accessible language -- even adding strings to the mix -- with the release of Miami, an album where they mocked the love-hate relationship people in Argentina have with the United States.

The album's cover rotates Argentina's map horizontally to resemble a U.S. map. "Miami divides the Argentine bourgeoisie into two groups: those who have been in Miami and those who haven't," says Rodriguez of the irony on the album, such as in the dark song "La Roncha": Everything's on sale here/Life don't cost a thing. "For some middle-class Argentines, Miami has been a paradise where people used to be able to buy all kinds of things. For us, it was our way to anticipate the end of the Menemismo [President Carlos Menem ruled from 1989-1999]."

Rodriguez doesn't look down on those who dream of Miami; in fact he almost ended up living here himself. His father, Hugo Rodriguez, had an opportunity to sell the family store in Lanus -- a city located just a few kilometers from downtown Buenos Aires --and move to Miami in 1979.

His father didn't want to sell, complains Rodriguez, pointing out that as a double-language student, he was ready to move up north 23 years ago. He knows that he would have had a better future here, and more important, a better present. Beck's multimillion-selling debut album proves Rodriguez's theory; he thinks hitting big just once in the States is enough for a musician to forget his worries for the rest of his life, with money in the bank and time to do all kinds of musical experiments.

"I would have been a Florida rocker, like Marilyn Manson," Rodriguez jokes, "but my father rejected all plans for only one simple reason: Lanus -- the soccer team of that city -- only plays there!"

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