By Jacob Katel
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By Nate "Igor" Smith
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When the two future partners finally met through their respective session work for other Sony artists like Mercurio, they discovered that their songs and singing styles were quite similar. "I heard his music and I suggested that we join forces," García remembers. And that's what happened at the end of 2000, when they took on the name Sin Bandera to show that music is international, without a flag. "Because music makes us forget that we are different, that we all lead such fragmented lives," he notes without sounding corny or cynical. "We do believe it has the power to bring people together."
Of course that's what any artist would probably say about his or her music. But there is something real about listening to Sin Bandera's ballads. Rather than the ubiquitous, coldly calculated songwriting that marks so much of today's mainstream pop, there's soul in their lyrics and harmonies. For example, "Entra En Mi Vida" ("Come Into My Life") from the duo's self-titled debut is a bluesy track, its words all about love. It could be criticized for veering dangerously close to melodrama, yet it faithfully captures the euphoria one experiences when it comes to matters of the heart. The more rhythmic "Sirena" ("Mermaid") is no less intense or beautiful, with words such as "Si e voy del planeta eres estrella Fugaz/Si en las noches yo duermo en mis sueños tú estás" ("If I leave the planet a shooting star you are/If at night I sleep in my dreams you are").
When Sin Bandera was released on March 26, 2002, in Mexico, it received a welcome push from the inclusion of "Entra En Mi Vida" in a popular Mexican soap opera, Cuando Seas Mía (When You Are Mine). "No doubt that was one of the reasons our album became well-known," remembers Schajris. "It gave us this window for people to get to know us, and what could've taken us perhaps a year and a half, we accomplished in months."
The duo believes, however, that when the album was finally released on July 23, 2002, in the U.S., some momentum had been lost. (That album did win a 2002 Latin Grammy for best pop album by a duo or group with vocal.) As a result, they released their latest album, De Viaje, in both countries this past October 14. The different marketing strategy they've employed, though, is not the only element that accounts for its early success. "We have a lot of confidence in the songs. We like them a lot," says Schajris. "When we create new songs, we try to beat the expectations out there and evolve musically. We strive to become better songwriters and singers."
They also know that if the music ain't broke, don't fix it. While the group stuck closer to a more commercial R&B-infused-with-Latin-pop sound (think Babyface, Boyz II Men, or Brian McKnight in Spanish) on their debut, the new album weaves in some bossa nova, vallenato, jazz, and even hip-hop. But it is by no means a departure from the style that has brought them success. "De Viaje still has the feeling people have come to expect from us," guarantees García.
It's the same feeling the Holiday Village audience has been eagerly waiting to experience. Finally Sin Bandera hits the stage. While other artists have performed with DAT tapes, the duo sings "Mientes Tan Bien" live while backed by two musicians. A jembé, a type of African drum that didn't appear on the recording, is used to great effect. Like everyone else, they only get to sing one song. Unlike some of their colleagues, however, they are showered with requests for an encore from an audience that is hungry for more.