At a time when most bands were either grunge, punk, or nu-metal, Los Amigos Invisibles took a different route — danceable Latin funk — and it was a path that led them to become the premier party band in Venezuela.
Over the past 20 years, these chamos musicales have definitively proved that Latin dance music is more than salsa and that the guitar can do more than rock.
Last week, New Times spoke with guitarist Jose Luis Pardo (AKA Cheo) ahead of Los Amigos Invisibles' show at Grand Central this Saturday. He talked about everything, from the time Amigos won their first Latin Grammy (but never made it onto the stage) to the band's first bilingual album, Repeat After Me, and Venezuela's political future.
New Times: Your music has been described as dance, funk, acid dance, gozadera, electroparranda, disco. What exactly is it?
Jose Luis Pardo: We've always been a party band. Everyone who sees us perform goes to a party, not a concert. We've done it all — salsa, merengue, funk — but all of our music is danceable.
What would you consider your big break?
We're still not that famous. But David Byrne, the ex-vocalist of Talking Heads, discovered us. From there, we became an indie, underground Venezuelan band and [eventually] transitioned more to mainstream.
You guys have worked with Louie Vega. You've been nominated for several Latin Grammys. And in 2009, you won a Latin Grammy for your album Commercial. What has been your most memorable experience?
We've had very memorable experiences. Almost all of our performances are memorable. But without a doubt, the Grammys was a lot of fun because when we received the award, there was an issue with the door and we couldn't make it onto the stage to accept it. [laughs] We were at the door but couldn't go in. We were among the last winners, and we waited like 45 minutes. When we finally made it onstage, everyone was gone. I was mad and happy at the same time. So we just had a drink and made a toast. It was everything but glamorous. It was a losing and a winning moment.
In the presidential race following Hugo Chávez's death, Nicolas Maduro was elected president of Venezuela, but there was talk that the votes were rigged. What do you think happened? And what do you think the people of Venezuela need to do to evoke democratic change?
That's a very tough question. We'll never know if they were fixed or not. But without a doubt, it's very hard for everyone to believe. It was very suspicious. I think Venezuela is a very rich and beautiful country, but Venezuela needs to start working together. We have to wait and see.
Do you think Maduro will be able to successfully follow in Chávez's footsteps?
It's something we can't ignore: Chávez was a very important figure in Latin America, whether good or bad. I think it's gonna be hard for [Maduro] to be on the same level as Chávez due to his charisma and everything.
What do you think about Venezuela's political future?
I don't know what to think. One of the first things we need to fix is insecurity. People live in fear, and I think that's the fist thing that needs to be tackled, as well as education. That should be the main concern. What needs to happen now is [for the government] to improve schools and [control] arms. It's very sad that people walk through the streets in fear. I think it's unhealthy for people to live with that fear.
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You just released a new album, Repeat After Me. How is it different from your other albums?
It's our eighth album, and the main difference is that there are more English songs. It's our first attempt to make an album in English, which is why we named it Repeat After Me, because that's the first phrase you learn when learning English. It's kind of like the joke behind the album.
Are you excited about coming to Miami?
There are a lot of Hispanics and they've treated us very well, and we're looking forward to playing at Grand Central. We want to leave the crowd sweating from so much dancing.