By Rebecca Bulnes
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In light of Los Amigos Invisibles' obvious allegiance to shaking butts and getting audiences lathered up into a licentious Latin dance frenzy via adolescent-minded songs like "Disco Anal" and "Ponte en Quatro," the thought of highbrow David Byrne taking interest in them seems comical. But as anyone who has seen the group live can attest, Byrne wasn't off-base in recognizing Los Amigos as a genre-jumping musical powerhouse. Yeah, the bandmates are all about the fun (duh) songwriter, guitarist, and mouthpiece José Luis Pardo says they don't even care whether people recognize their instrumental skills but even back in 1998, when they were making their stateside debut while still in their teens, Los Amigos showed a chameleonic, improvisation-savvy ability to merge Latin, disco, and lounge with seamless results. Since then, they've tackled similar fusions of Latin with house, soul, and acid jazz plus experimented with bridging the gap between spinning records and their original forte of all-live instrumentation.
Of course, they didn't focus on genres like lounge and disco in order to be taken seriously, but don't get the wrong idea. As Pardo made clear when he told the Chicago Sun-Times that "our cultural legacy has been totally damaged," the band's native Venezuelan musical heritage is something the band is dead-serious about, even as Los Amigos' approach at first appears to fall in line with Venezuela's lurch toward 1970s American kitsch. As Pardo explains, Los Amigos don't need you to see how studious they are about tackling different forms of music. He has a point: If you can dance to a song without having to think about what it is, that means the band has succeeded at re-creating something authentic.
"If we like a cumbia," he says, "then let's just try to do it. But it's like learning. That's the whole point of rehearsal to make it sound real and with respect. If you're going to do jazz, go deep on listening to stuff and try to figure it out."
Burner recently caught up with Pardo, who, along with the rest of Los Amigos, is now based in New York City.
What did you mean when you said it's Venezuelans' fault that people outside of Venezuela are not familiar with the musical styles from there?
Venezuela in the Sixties, you can say like Brazil or Argentina, was developing our own kind of music. And then the oil money came. The government took away all the rights of American and European oil companies and took charge of that. Venezuela became a really, really rich country. We had money to bring everybody there to play. So who the hell is going to pay ten dollars to see a local artist when you can pay ten dollars to see Michael Jackson play? Venezuelan films were really damaged too.
But that was followed by an economic collapse. There's been a recent rash of kidnappings of Venezuelan Major League Baseball players' parents.
We're not so rich, so we won't get kidnapped. [Laughs.] Baseball is a good way to land a profession where you make money. Recently we went to Kelvim Escobar's house for a party, and we were freaked out, like, "Okay, we're in the wrong business.''
How did being produced by Masters at Work DJs Little Louie Vega and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez expand your horizons?
DJs have something. They know how to work with the time people are having. Sometimes musicians are so into their performance that they're not aware of what people are thinking. A good DJ will work with the audience, try to get them jumping. We have to learn from that. That's what we're there for. Those guys are really into making it sound groovy. Other producers will tell you which guitar and amplifier you should use. It was new for us, because we were always about getting it perfect, but if the song had a mistake, these guys were like, "Man, but the vibe is there; leave it like that!" Saby Reyes-Kulkarni