Alt- America

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That language comes in part from the Latin-American context Santaolalla described. “There have been difficult moments for Colombia for as long as I remember,” observed the guitarist-cum-producer. “Lots of artists are trying to get out of the country. We feel like we belong here in a certain way, that they need us here. All day we're filled up with bad news. Music becomes a refuge.” The singer agreed: “Here we're important and there's a lot of press, so that people know what we do. They see that a person who has the possibility of going is staying. They see that we're here in the thick of the fight.”

Ironically Aterciopelado's international success heightens the band's importance at home. “There have been a number of magical moments for us,” Buitrago remembers. “The days after we were nominated for the Grammy [in 1998], we were coming back from New York. It was incredible. The people stopped their cars and shouted, “Bravo. Do it! Let's win it for Colombia!' After playing a lot of dates outside, you forget how much affection people feel just having you there. Then when the group is about to leave, there's kind of an energy loss. It makes your hair stand on end.”

Finishing with the cumbia-inflected “El Estuche” (“The Carrying Case”), from the 1998 Caribe Atomico, that warns listeners to “look at the essence, not the appearance,” Aterciopelados wove through the close-set tables at Nell's and the cramped knees of photographers sitting on the floor. The three young men from La Ley took up their instruments, three Chilean men adding to the night's national mix of Argentines, Mexicans, and Colombians -- a mix typical of Latin alternative shows.

Speaking from Buenos Aires on the upcoming Watcha Tour, Marciano Cantero, of the earnest Argentine pop-rock trio Enanitos Verdes (Green Dwarfs) said that playing in the United States always presents “a mixture of nationalities. It's like Latin America is united in the United States. We're all part of one cultural place, with the same myths and the same sorrows.”

If the crossover dreams of the LAMC ever do come true, it will not be because Latin publicists in Miami learned the phone numbers of Anglo journalists in Cleveland. It will not even be because MTV starts playing Molotov. It will be because the nation's young rockers, hip-hoppers, and electronicistas -- Latino, Asian, African, and Anglo -- have finally learned that the United States shares the myths and sorrows of the Americas. And that we in the North are all part of the same cultural place, too.

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Celeste Fraser Delgado