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 becoming the premier party band in Venezuela.
Over the last 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.
And yesterday, Crossfade spoke with guitarist Jose Luis Pardo (AKA Cheo) ahead of Los Amigos Invisibles' show at Grand Central.
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 bi-lingual album, Repeat After Me, and Venezuela's political future.
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Crossfade: Where did the name Los Amigos Invisibles come from?
Jose Luis Pardo (Cheo): It was a phrase from Arturo Uslar Pietri from the TV show Valores Humanos that they made us watch as kids. It was something generational. Everyone in our age group knew about it. And with the name, people made the connection.
You guys have been together since the early '90s. How have you kept thriving for more than two decades?
It's actually been 22 years. The secret is the music. We still like to play and make music that we really like, and we have a good time doing it. And no one [in the band] has a bad attitude.
Your music has been described as dance, funk, acid dance, gozadera, electroparranda, disco. What exactly is it?
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 you've won the 2009 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 Chavez'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 in order 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 that 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 Chavez's footsteps?
It's something that we can't ignore: Chavez was a very important figure in Latin America, whether good or bad. I think its gonna be hard for [Maduro] to be on the same level as Chavez 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 that 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.
What do you want to accomplish with your music?
First and foremost, to continue doing this for a long time, for people to keep dancing and laughing when people go to our shows. Music has been a hobby and I think there isn't a day that we don't wake up that we aren't thankful for our lives. We just have to keep on playing. Thankfully, we have been able to make music that we like and we just want the chance to continue doing it.
You've just released Repeat After Me. How is it different from your other albums?
It's our eight 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.
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There are a lot of Hispanics and they've treated us very well and we're looking forward to playing at Grand Central. I want to leave the crowd sweating from so much dancing.
Los Amigos Invisibles. With Me Vs. Murphy. Saturday, June 8, 10 p.m., at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-377-2277; grandcentralmiami.com. Tickets cost $30 plus fees via flavorus.com. Ages 21 and up.