The Next Wave
Fulano de tal stands on a portable stage in the Hard Rock Cafe at Bayside, framed by a stained glass portrait of Jim Morrison. "Who's here tonight?" he barks.
"Colombia!" "Argentina!" "Venezuela!" "Peru!" shouts the crowd.
"No speak English?" goads the singer with an exaggerated Spanish accent. "Yo tampoco, porque yo no soy gringo!"
Sporting a porkpie hat and stubbly goatee, the lower-case-monikered fulano struts with the microphone as his band launches into the hectic riffs of "Yo no soy gringo" ("I'm Not a Gringo"), an energetic rock anthem that, like many of the singer's songs, speaks defiantly of the Latin immigrant experience. Members of the college-age crowd sing along as they bob to the music, their shiny waist-length hair flailing here and there, in one case brushing against the glass case at the back of the room that holds Michael Jackson's leather jacket.
Fulano de tal, whose stage name means "so-and-so," is a 27-year-old Cuban American who was born Elsten Torres. Growing up bilingual in New York City, Torres got into music at age thirteen, taking a familiar rock-and-roll route: writing songs in English and playing with different neighborhood bands. Then he discovered the music scene in Mexico City, where he ended up recording an independent album in Spanish as part of a duo called Rebeldes sin Causa (Rebels Without a Cause). After this exploration of his Latin roots on the other side of the border, Torres adopted his common cognomen and came to Miami two years ago, intent on singing rock en espanol.
Florida Launch vs. Atlanta Blaze
TicketsSat., Jun. 17, 7:00pm
NPC Southern States Bikini, Figure, Men's Physique
TicketsFri., Jul. 7, 6:00pm
NPC Southern States Bodybuilding Championships vs. NPC Southern States Fitness & Figure Championships
TicketsSat., Jul. 8, 6:00pm
Florida Launch vs. Chesapeake Bayhawks
TicketsSat., Jul. 15, 7:00pm
The band's set ends, giving way to a succession of past and present Top 40 singles sung in Spanish, broadcast from the restaurant's DJ booth. Soda Stereo's "Persiana Americana" and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs' "Matador" replace "Shake, Rattle, and Roll," "YMCA," and the other Hard Rock standards. A collective scream from the dance floor greets the first bars of "La Macarena," a traditional ode to the Virgin of Seville that scored a novelty hit when the Spanish band Los del Rio thumped up its beat for a house version of the song. A group of teenage girls in miniskirts initiate the Saturday Night Fever-style line dance that accompanies "La Macarena," excitedly re-creating the steps that were all the rage in Latin American clubs last year.
On this Thursday night in late June, approximately 400 people -- Latin radio personnel, music promoters, press, and young bilingual fans -- have turned out at the Hard Rock to honor the six-month anniversary of Super Q Internacional, South Florida's first six-nights-a-week radio show devoted to rock and pop in Spanish, heard on Super Q (WQBA-FM 107.5).
In a VIP area cordoned off by velvet ropes, Super Q staffers and invitees eat tiny Cuban sandwiches and caesar salads while fueling up at an open bar. The small contingent of suits in this predominately male group is swallowed up in a sea of clean jeans and hiking boots, like those worn by Jose Carlos Ortiz, Super Q Internacional's program director and weekend on-air personality, who moves manically around the room, greeting guests. Over on the dance floor, Manny Mora, a promoter for Pas Productions, passes out flyers touting the July 21 concert by Mexican pop supergroup Mana at the James L. Knight Center.
At the top of the stairs next to the VIP bar, Kike Posada stands smiling as he looks around the restaurant. Posada, a 27-year-old disc jockey and journalist from Colombia, is the host of Boom, a weekly Latin rock show on Radio Ritmo that paved the way for Super Q Internacional. Posada's Boom began broadcasting in 1993 and was the first commercial radio show of its kind in Miami. "A lot of people say I'm the father of all this," Posada beams.
The DJ's pleased paternalism is shared by Gustavo Menendez, an Argentine who moved to Miami twelve years ago to attend FIU. The 30-year-old Menendez and his partner, Rodolfo Castillo, recently started a new independent record label, Radio Vox, whose first release was a long-play CD single of fulano de tal's "Revoluci centsn," a song about current events in Cuba recorded in both rhythmic Afro-Cuban and club-mix versions. Along with releasing work by some salsa acts, Menendez and Castillo plan to record fulano's upcoming debut album, as well as music by other Latin rock and pop groups from Miami and Puerto Rico. "I feel like a proud papa," Menendez had allowed earlier, as he watched the audience sing along with fulano's band.
In fact the entire party is marked by a similar air of celebratory pride by those who consider themselves pioneers in this new Miami movida (scene). Suddenly Spanish-language rock is hot in Miami, and for the music's Latin American fans, the Super Q Internacional anniversary is an encouraging sign that local Hispanic radio can offer more than a synthesized beat and repeated refrains of "Ay, mami rica!"
"The typical image of Miami is all salsa and tropical music," notes Eduardo G centsmez, a twenty-year-old from Ecuador who this year formed Revoluci centsn Musical en espa*ol, a sort of fan club to promote Latin rock music in Miami. "Miami's a very conservative place, and the radio stations want to keep their old Cuban people happy. Rock is a little revolutionary, a little more out there A they're kind of scared of that. This is a different image, it's rocking Miami. We're trying to make some history here."
Although Latin rock parties have been taking place on Key Biscayne for several years, they've recently spread to South Beach (Saturday at Nick's Miami Beach, Thursday at both Bar 609 and at the Euro-disco Pacha, and Sunday at the new Loco Mia club at the Seville Hotel on Collins Avenue), Northwest Dade (Sunday at La Covacha), and Kendall (Sunday at Marsbar). At all of these venues, a substantial crowd shows up to dance to the music.
For these Latin Generation Xers who have come to Miami from South and Central America, rock recorded in Spanish by bands from their native countries is as much a part of their shared musical history as Madonna. Rock groups have existed in countries such as Argentina and Mexico -- and even in revolutionary Cuba -- since the Sixties. In the Eighties, encouraged by a more democratic climate in some nations in the region, virtually every multinational label opened divisions in Latin America to support the so-called rock nacional. Not merely the sound of a generation, rock and pop in Spanish has become an enormous commercial enterprise -- and it has started to spread northward.
Currently Latin rock's most lucrative U.S. market is Los Angeles, where a number of clubs host local Spanish-speaking bands and all manner of touring Mexican rock and pop groups. To a lesser extent, Chicago, Boston, and New York have become stops for bands from Argentina and Spain, playing both to those cities' Hispanic populations and a college radio audience. The latest place for Latin rock to hit hard is Puerto Rico, where, reportedly, a vital underground scene and concerts by popular South American and Mexican groups are supported by local radio. But despite some inroads being made by Spanish-language rock here, Latin Miami remains a stronghold of salsa, merengue, and romantic ballads.
"If Miami is going to be a gateway to Latin America, it makes sense we should be listening to Latin rock here," says Radio Vox's Gustavo Menendez. "There should be at least one big concert here a month; there should be a regular venue for this music, and there has to be radio support for it."
When MTV Latino began broadcasting from its studios on Lincoln Road in 1993 (the Spanish-language channel now reaches 5,000,000 homes, 500,000 of them in the United States), it created a consciousness of Latin rock among local radio and record executives. The existence of a rock and pop music video channel for young Latins paved the way for Kike Posada's program, Boom, which started its weekend broadcast on Radio Ritmo shortly after MTV Latino signed on the air.
Another milestone came when Menendez brought in the Argentine megaband Los Fabulosos Cadillacs for a concert at the now-defunct Club One on Fifth Street last year. The ska-samba-rock group has been on the charts in Argentina and other Latin American countries for about a decade, but the Cadillacs really created an international buzz when they won the MTV Latin Video of the Year award in 1994. Recently the group was featured in Rolling Stone.
"Last year the sales people at Sony thought Los Fabulosos Cadillacs were some Tejano act," recalls Menendez. "This year, months prior to their new album's release, the same people were dying to get their hands on it."
At companies such as Sony Discos, which, like other major-label Latin divisions, is headquartered in Miami, Latin rock traditionally has been considered a poor relation of their big-selling tropical and ballad acts. Bands that sell hundreds of thousands of records in Latin America have been underpromoted in favor of a cookie-cutter production line of young, Latin-lover-type salsa singers.
"We're just beginning to tap into a market that's been lying dormant for years," acknowledges Tony Sabornin, director of promotions for Sony Discos International (SDI), a recently created Sony division dedicated to what Sabornin calls "alternative Latin sounds."
No matter how much they've downplayed the existence of the genre in the past, however, it now seems clear that Sony and other companies have identified Latin rock as the next big thing for the American bilingual market. Even Rudy Sarzo, former bassist for the popular Eighties hair band Whitesnake, is getting in on the act. His new record label (modestly called Sarzo) will feature recordings by Latin rock bands.
"All of the record companies are getting into this now," says Luana Pagani, who as SDI's marketing director for Latin America has witnessed the growth of Latin rock in that region. "They'd be stupid not to."
Record company representatives admit they've been slow to target an obvious market of young Latins in South Florida and other areas of the U.S., and they unanimously blame radio for their collective foot-dragging. "It's like you have to be from Jurassic Park to get played on Latin radio here," complains Sabornin.
"It's taken a long, long time to convince the radio stations that there's youth out there that we're losing," adds Mari Mondelo, promotions manager for WEA Latina, the record company that most strongly has supported Latin rock in the U.S. (the label has sold 400,000 units in the U.S. of an album by Mana). "Those kids are not going to listen to Julio Iglesias." WEA Latina moved its offices from L.A. to Miami earlier this year to, as Mondelo puts it, "be closer to everything. I think something's going to be happening now here," she predicts. "And it's exciting to be in the middle of it."
Encouraged by the turnout for Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and other bands that have trickled into town over the past year, local promoters also have seen the potential of Latin rock. One of those is the Arie Kaduri Agency, which brought the Mexican band Caifanes to the Cameo Theatre in May. The concert attracted 1400 people. Of course that doesn't compare to the 60,000 who packed Mexico City's Palacio de Deportes when Caifanes opened for the Rolling Stones earlier this year. But it was last month's Mana concert that confirmed the existence of a large audience for Latin rock and pop bands in Miami -- an audience made up of young people willing to shell out $35 a ticket. At Mana's sold-out show at the James L. Knight Center, nearly 5000 ecstatic fans screamed the words to every song.
"Before, nobody wanted to take the risk with Latin rock because they thought all that would sell here was salsa and tropical music," comments Fabio Vallebona. An Argentine DJ who hosted a show called Rock del sur on community radio station WDNA as far back as 1984 -- the program went off the air in 1992 when the station lost its antenna during Hurricane Andrew -- Vallebona has a cautious attitude toward the sudden blossoming of rock in Spanish in Miami. "Now with MTV and these new radio programs, the record companies have seen that it works," he points out. "Rock en espa*ol is really trendy all of a sudden, and everyone wants to get into it. Everyone wants to make money. The thing is, rock en espa*ol is not a trend, it's another culture."
A tall chicken-wire Christmas tree hung with pictures of Guantanamo refugees greets visitors in the expansive lobby of Heftel Broadcasting's headquarters on Coral Way. Just after lunchtime, several record promoters walk in from the humid summer heat and sit expectantly in the waiting area, gripping packages stuffed with new releases.
Nearby, out of their view, in a small office lined with shelves of old vinyl and equipped with various sound equipment and two computers, Super Q Internacional program director Jose Carlos Ortiz looks through a stack of recently released CDs. These include new albums by Colombian techno band Estados Alterados and pouty, bottle-blonde Spanish pop singer Marta Sanchez, who Ortiz interviewed for his radio show during her recent promo trip to Miami. But most of the CDs in the stack are by bands from Argentina, formerly the undisputed capital of Latin rock, a title it now must share with Mexico and Spain.
Ortiz flips past a just-out album by Argentine reggae group King Africa, a CD by Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas (a new rap group featuring the teenage son of classic Argentine rocker Luis Alberto Spinetta. Perhaps the n was lost in translation A Illya Kuryakin was the name of a character on the 1960s U.S. TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and Mana's latest, the Prince-esque-titled Cuando angeles lloran (When Angels Cry). Several offerings are compilations of techno-house music -- known as bacalao (cod) in Spanish -- that sample traditional folkloric songs, Seventies folk ballads, or classic Latin rock tunes such as legendary Argentine rocker Charly Garcia's mid-Eighties hit "Rap de las hormigas."
Ortiz, a soft-spoken 29-year-old with squared-off sideburns sprouting from his blunt-cut jet-black hair, cues up a mix that samples a political ballad by Argentine folksinger Leon Gieco, written in the reigning leftist rhetoric of opponents of that country's military regime:
"Solo le pido a dios que en la guerra no me sea indiferente.
Es un monstruo y pisa fuerte
Toda la pobre inocencia de la gente."
("All I ask of God
Is that he's not indifferent to me in war.
It's a monster and tramples harshly
all of the poor innocence of the people.")
Ortiz cranks up the volume, dancing in place, then starts reviewing a list of Top 40 hits in Latin American countries that came to him via the Associated Press's Spanish wire. On a pad on the desk in front of him are the names of 200 local listeners, culled from phone calls and at parties sponsored by the station: Edgardo Torres, twenty, Honduras; Mariano Moreno, eighteen, Mexico; Mario Espinoza, thirty, Colombia; Johanna Garcia, seventeen, Ecuador. . .
"We basically have three types of audience," Ortiz explains. "Easiest to attract is the young Latin American with a university education who's been here for three or four years -- they already come with a knowledge of Latin rock. Second are kids who've grown up here but who've continuously gone back to their family's native countries for summer vacations. And third are bilingual Miami natives who know nothing about Latin rock. We have to show them what it is and teach them about the groups."
Super Q Internacional, an hour show broadcast Monday through Friday at 8:00 p.m., and on Sundays at 10:00 a.m., strays from what American listeners probably would define as rock. Dance music and pop ballads often find their way onto the playlist, as does vallenato, a Colombian country genre currently enjoying mainstream popularity, thanks largely to Carlos Vives, a singer and sometime soap-opera star.
"The definition of rock is pretty open," Ortiz admits. "We have to ease into this. People can be threatened by the term 'Latin rock.' They think it's going to be really harsh. So we have to mix it in with other sounds to get them used to it."
Ortiz immigrated to Miami four years ago from Peru, where he had worked in radio. Shortly after his arrival here, he took the job of assistant program director at what was then called Exitosa, where he plugged in salsa and merengue all day. In those days, about the only chance he had to play Latin rock was when he put on a tape in his car during his lunch hour. Then last December, Heftel, which also controls Radio Ritmo (98.3 FM) and Radio Mambi (WAQI-AM 710), bought the ailing tropical station and turned it into Super Q, with the idea of targeting a younger Latin audience. At that point, program director Leo Vela gave Ortiz a shot at running a new Latin rock show, Super Q Internacional.
"The important thing is that we're giving an hour a day to this type of music," Ortiz contends. But perhaps even more important, he stresses, is that singles by Marta Sanchez and Los Fabuloso Cadillacs now are in the station's regular rotation. "This is not just a program," he insists. "It's a concept for a radio station."
Down the hall from the programming office, Vela is on the phone in the Super Q studio. Speaking Spanish with an American accent, his voice booms over an afternoon mix of salsa and disco music. Vela, a well-known local radio personality and Miami native whose heritage is Cuban and Puerto Rican, came aboard as Super Q's program director last November. He made the switch from dance-oriented Power 96 to create what he envisions as a Top 40 variety station for bilingual Latin listeners.
"In the last fourteen years of radio in South Florida, we have only provided to the Hispanic audience -- regardless of who they are -- either salsa, merengue, or ballads," notes Vela, a hefty 40-year-old with a wild grin. "Those are the only musical formats that have existed, and everybody's doing the same thing. These people offered me the opportunity to bring to Hispanic radio the same professionalism, the same standards that were before only known in mainstream Top 40 radio.
"This station represents a lifestyle," he continues. "I'm literally programming to myself and to all the other bilingual people in South Florida, whatever their origin. There are more people here who speak both languages than either just Spanish or English, and yet no one has ever broadcast to them." But Super Q still relies heavily on tropical dance music and -- even worse for committed rockers -- monotonous techno versions of generic disco tracks. Young Latin Americans may think salsa and disco suck, but Vela remains confident that his formula will lure them in as listeners. And the latest ratings show that someone is listening -- the station's spring numbers indicated a one-point increase (a significant rise) over the previous quarter.
"On Super Q you can hear from Celia Cruz to Mana to El Gran Combo to Calo A sort of an Ace of Base in Spanish A to Rey Ruiz to the Barrio Boys," Vela emphasizes. "That's the kind of variety our young people want. Before, to find their sound, they always had to go to Anglo radio -- they don't want to listen to Hispanic radio. But they'll tolerate Willy Chirino if they know they're going to hear Sound Factory next."
On a Sunday in early July, late-model cars fill the parking lot of La Covacha, extending far off into the darkness as they line the grassy shoulder of NW 25th Street. La Covacha, a Cuban-style roadhouse that usually plays salsa music while it serves up barbecue, becomes La Carcel ("The Jail") each Sunday, presenting a weekly Latin rock party.
While a postmodern Santeria ritual is carried out on several monitors in a video by the Spanish band Radio Futura, La Covacha owner Aurelio Rodriguez makes his way through the clean-cut crowd of twentysomethings, who drink Polar beers and dance between the tables.
"I call this a Latin disco inferno," jokes Rodriguez, a beefy former model who once appeared in a Cuban-American pin-up calendar. The restaurant owner is a newcomer to Latin rock and club music, but an enthusiastic one. "I don't even play American house music any more," he says. "I just play Argentine house."
Eduardo G centsmez, one of the organizers of La Carcel (with other supporters of his Latin rock fan club, Revoluci centsn Musical en espa*ol), stands in the back corner of La Covacha, where DJ Alfredo Vegnia, by day a producer at Univisi centsn, is playing Latin rock classics. "I love this, it's like a family," bubbles G centsmez, who before arriving in Miami five months ago lived in Los Angeles for eight years. Once here he was surprised to find there was little support for Latin rock in South Florida. "I was like, 'God what's going on here?'"
G centsmez promptly set about going to clubs and collecting signatures from people who said they'd like to hear more rock en espanol. He quickly had 400 names. "About ten percent are born in the U.S.," he says of the fans on his list. "The rest are immigrants." He invites them to these Sunday night parties and keeps them informed about upcoming concerts. It was G centsmez, whose sister, Isabel, works for the Arie Kaduri Agency, who suggested that promoters book Caifanes into the Cameo. "Miami should be the capital of Latin rock instead of L.A.," he asserts.
As he speaks, a shard of electric reverb emanates from the corner stage, where the group Suende has started to play. Suende uses indigenous Peruvian instruments to make music that sometimes resembles Gregorian chants. Tonight, owing to a faulty sound system, they sound like a noise band. The group is featured on a raw twenty-song compilation CD put out by Space Cadette, a local independent label. Five tracks on the disc are by bands who sing in Spanish, including Suende. Brothers Al and Rafael Galvez -- Rafael performs with Suende -- produced the CD in their recording studio on SW 45th Street.
The Galvezes grew up in Miami and Peru. Al Galvez went on to attend art school in San Francisco but returned to Miami, which he figured was a logical place to create a multiethnic alternative label. Backed by a four-piece band, he performs locally under his own name, singing in Spanish and English. "The problem with Miami is that it's very segregated," notes Al Galvez, standing at the door of La Covacha, where he collects a six-dollar cover charge for La Carcel. "In San Francisco people were more open-minded about music. Language and genres shouldn't limit anybody doing music any more."
Probably Miami's best-known bilingual singer, Nil Lara, does not call his fusion of Latin rhythms and electric guitar rock en espa*ol. "Hey, rock is rock, man, it doesn't matter where it comes from," Lara observes, dismissing the bothersome subject of musical categories. Other area bands whose members are Hispanic, such as Orgasmic Bliss, sing in English. "We don't sing in Spanish, but that's better for us," explains the group's guitarist, Christian Escuti. "[Latin American audiences] want to hear English-speaking bands."
Pepe Alva has always sung rock in Spanish. In fact the 23-year-old singer from Peru says his first Miami group, UREP (PERU backward), was once the only local Latin rock band. Alva came to Miami with his family five years ago because his father wanted him and his brothers to study in the United States. He has another band now, Alma Raymi, which means "celebration of the soul" in Quechua, the language of the Incas.
UREP, which Alva put together with his brother, Carlos, and Peruvian friends from their neighborhood in Kendall, played hard rock. With Alma Raymi, the singer decided to get back to his roots, playing Andean folk melodies on native instruments such as the tiny, guitarlike charango, along with conventional rock instrumentation. The band just finished recording an independent CD.
"Latin rock that just copies rock in English doesn't do it any more," Alva insists. He's sitting at the soundboard at Tapeworm Studios (located near Miami International Airport), where he listens to a final mix of his song "Mi cholita," about love between two Peruvian peasants. "What's important is to bring out something original using different styles."
Alva, who's opened for most of the Latin American rock acts that have made it to Miami -- Cafe Tacuba, Argentine reggae band Los Pericos, and even Los Fabulosos Cadillacs -- believes that Latin rock will become more than just a flavor-of-the-month trend in South Florida. "It's absolutely real," he contends. "The Latin market is really getting fierce in Miami. South Americans have started coming here, and more people have grown up listening to rock in Spanish. In a year or two you're going to hear as much rock in Spanish on the radio as you hear salsa and merengue. The good thing about this is that even gringos have told me that they like this sound."
"Seis de la tarde un viernes
Autopista al Dorado
Vuelo charter a Miami
Todo el mundo esta yendo."
(Six o'clock on a Friday afternoon
Expressway to El Dorado Airport
Charter flight to Miami
From 1989's "Orden publico alterado," by Colombian band Hora Local Kike Posada cues up a CD by a Guatemalan band and leans into the microphone. "For all you radioactives," he intones in Spanish with the upbeat, conversational inflection of a college DJ, "that was King Chang cents, ska, in the style of the youth of Latin America. And this is Boom, where we bring you rock from the Hispanic brotherhood. Boom -- in Miami." At a little after six on Sunday evening, Posada is on the air in a studio at Radio Ritmo, located in a small, dilapidated building just down the street from Super Q's Coral Way headquarters.
An hour show with an odd time slot -- sandwiched between the station's regular diet of romantic ballads -- Boom marked a milestone for local Latin radio when it began broadcasting almost two years ago. Posada came to Miami in 1992 from Bogota, Colombia, where he was a college DJ, and later worked for PolyGram Records and on commercial radio. (Posada's father has lived in Miami for fifteen years and arranged for his son's resident visa.) Here, Kike Posada snagged a job with the EMI Latin record label, and later moved to Vedisco, a small Colombian label.
Meanwhile he quickly noted the vacuum for Latin rock on local radio. "I was just not finding the music I wanted to listen to," he recalls. Posada put together a proposal for a weekly Latin rock radio program, then teamed up with fellow rock fan Fabio Vallebona. The pair approached several Hispanic stations, but met with repeated rejections -- the idea of broadcasting rock music was just too radical, Posada remembers. Finally, Betty Pino, the program director at Radio Ritmo -- who has a reputation as a Latin radio trendsetter -- gave them a chance. The show, which premiered in November 1993, immediately found an audience. (Vallebona left the show about six months ago because of differences with Posada.)
"It was like people started crawling out of the ground," Posada says laughing. "They were screaming, 'Rock en espa*ol!' Kids were calling the show who came from Peru, from Argentina, from Colombia. It was like, 'At last somebody's giving us the music we want to hear.'"
Posada puts on his headphones to read his version of the news: A band is censored in Brazil; an Argentine group has a new album; Estatica, a slick magazine covering Latin rock has started publishing in Miami.
"Not only has Miami changed," Posada explains, taking off the headphones, "but the musical tastes have changed here, too. These kids come here to study or, if they're younger, they come with their parents. A lot of people who live in Latin America have a house in Miami. They come here to go shopping and they come here to escape from the chaos over there. And the kids who come here want to feel like they're living in Latin America. That's why they choose Miami."
From the beginning, Posada organized weekend parties for Boom listeners, first on Sunday at a Key Biscayne restaurant-club called Sundays on the Bay, and more recently at a restaurant in Sunrise called El Imperio, which caters to young Colombians who live in Broward. The DJ also writes about rock for the local Spanish-language weekly Viva semanal, and serves as a correspondent for Banda Elastica, a Latin rock fanzine published in L.A.
"Boom, your favorite radio program, that for one year and nine months has brought you your music -- rock in espanol," the DJ says into the microphone. Then he cues up "Mal bicho," the latest single by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.
"As time has passed," he explains as the song plays, "I've realized that this has gone from being a simple hobby of someone who wanted to listen to rock to becoming a cultural cause, and in some ways even a political one. With rock en espanol, you're reaffirming your language, with the rhythm that you like and the messages in the lyrics that have to do with you. Rock has never been about public relations. Rock is about calling things by their name. If in Mexico there's a critical economic situation, that's what they're going to express in the music. And if there are problems in Colombia, that's what they're going to express. The fact that you're young means that you complain and you shout."
Indeed, over the past 30 years, the history of rock in Latin America has reflected the region's strife-ridden economic and political situations. The folk-rock musicians of the Seventies rallied together through songs against repression; hard rock and punk bands took a stand against censorship in the Eighties. While Mexican rock continued as a largely underground phenomenon during the latter period, democracy and a free market in Spain and Argentina gave groups in those countries more access to music and videos by American and British bands. Ten years ago, Latin bands often resembled Spanish-language clones of U2, the B-52's, or the Cure, although their lyrics told stories of their own culture. Today fusion-rock reigns -- a sound that mixes traditional folkloric music and instruments with rock rhythms. And if in the past the general rule has been that what played in Argentina would not hit in Spain, that too has changed.
In the Nineties, an increasing number of groups exhibit a pan-Latin appeal. Mana has been one such success, with songs that meld a variety of folkloric and Caribbean rhythms with light rock, adding lyrics about their indigenous roots and the destruction of the rain forests in South America. (Incidentally, Nil Lara's cousin, Alex Gonzales, who left Miami for the Mexican rock scene several years ago, plays drums with Mana.)
Ten or twelve years ago, the goal of a lot of successful groups was to record an album in English and cross over to the U.S. market, a concept that since has become passe. "That doesn't seem necessary any more," says Alejandro Marcovich, guitarist for Mexico's Caifanes. "The ideas should be presented as they are, with their natural expression and the inflection they were meant to have."
Besides, the bands' Spanish-language audience is here.
Posada speaks into the mike, and his voice suddenly goes deep and syrupy: "It's a rhythmic night here at at 98.3, where we mix a little of something new with the classics -- Rafael, a love song...."
Boom is over for another week, and for the rest of the night Posada must play romantic ballads from a pre-set playlist.
When Heftel bought Super Q in December, it was decided that the station would function as the company's flagship for young people. Posada got stuck at Heftel's Radio Ritmo, which switched from a tropical format to an all-romantic music format. But so far the rock DJ has been allowed to continue with Boom. Posada recently sealed a deal to do a second show, in addition to Boom: a syndicated weekly Latin rock countdown for the USA Latino Network that will reach Hispanic listeners in twenty cities around the country, including Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, and Houston.
"It's clear to me that my role in this is to act as a bridge to the new generation of immigrants," asserts Posada. "And with the economic and political situation in Latin America as it is, the fact that people are going to keep coming is something that can't be avoided. One of the things that most surprises me about this whole thing is that we're in the United States, the country with the most cultural impact around the world, and you're in a little safe house speaking your language and listening to rock in espa*ol. The musical genre that the Americans invented, made in Spanish being played in the U.S. It's really one of the most bizarre things. Ever since the days of the Conquest, the Latins have sucked up everything we've been given, and this is the moment that we're starting to throw up everything that we've taken in, everything that we've processed. At this point in time it's starting to come out."
Two weeks after the Super Q Internacional anniversary party at the Hard Rock Cafe, Latin rock returns to the club. This time Super Q is hosting a dinner for the Colombian band Estados Alterados, who live in Medellin. On one side of a long table, four winners of a "Have Dinner with Estados Alterados" contest talk with the members of the band, who've deposited into a neighboring booth a mountain of bags filled with new clothes and souvenirs they've purchased during a day's shopping spree. Their manager, their video producer, and several representatives of their U.S. label, Vedisco, sit at the other end of the table with Super Q's Jose Carlos Oritz. At a table across the room, Kike Posada, producer Gustavo Menendez, and concert promoter Manny Garcia sit discussing Posada and Menendez's plans to open a venue for live Latin rock bands.
Estados Alterados' singer, Elvis, who has bleached hair and wears thick Elvis Costello-style glasses, digs into a steak, as the group's new CD plays in the background. He enthusiastically describes the growing rock scene in Colombia, especially in his hometown of Medellin. "The growth of rock music in Spanish is incredible," he says, "but we've still got a lot of territory to conquer."
Last year the band came to Miami to do some radio promotion, and they also performed at the Stephen Talkhouse. According to Elvis, they attracted a pretty big crowd at the club, because people in Miami had seen their videos on MTV Latino. Suddenly a scream rings out behind Elvis, and a flood of teenagers races to the other side of the room -- it's time to start dancing to "La Macarena" again.
Melissa Franco, a recent graduate of Coral Gables High, sits next to Elvis. She confesses to listening to Super Q Internacional every night. "It's the only station that gives regular play to rock groups in Spanish," she says. "For me it's the only way to keep up with what my friends are listening to back in Peru. And a lot of the songs I already know. I hear something and I remember where I was when it came out. It's like a way of remembering my country."
Franco's friend Salome Gavidia agrees. Even though she's just arrived from Peru to attend Miami-Dade Community College with Franco, she's already discovered Super Q. According to Franco, all of her South American friends know to tune in at 8:00 for the show. But not her Cuban-American classmates. "They haven't heard about it," she notes. "They still think Super Q is just salsa."
As Elvis and the other band members start autographing Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts for the restaurant's excited Spanish-speaking staff, and Super Q's Ortiz hands out Estados Alterados CDs, it seems as if the scene could be taking place in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, or Madrid. But as the diners head for the exit, the illusion quickly disappears. A frilly guaracha dress worn by salsa queen Celia Cruz hangs by the stairs in the corner, a white stretch lace sacrilege in this temple of rock, an inescapable reminder that, after all, this is still Miami.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.