The Pepsi-sponsored Rockinvasion! tour, which closes its seven-city run tonight at the James L. Knight Center, is doubly significant for fans of Latin rock. Rockinvasion not only assembles the most significant lineup of Latin rock talent yet seen in the U.S., but it also marks the first time that a major American corporation has backed an American tour of Latin rock artists. The Rockinvasion bill includes renowned Argentine rockers Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Colombian folk-punk band Aterciopelados, Mexican alternative outfit Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio, and the venerable Spanish group La Union. As in the other cities, a local artist -- in this case Miami's own Pepe Alva and his band Alma Raymi, who fuse rock rhythms with traditional Andean music -- will open the show.
Miami is the final stop on the tour, which has already packed arenas in San Diego, Los Angeles, El Paso, Houston, Chicago, and New York. Local Latin music boosters are pleased to see it come. "The really exciting thing about this tour, besides the music, is the corporate sponsorship," says Jesus Lara, a partner in Matt Entertainment, the local company that manages Alva and Afro-Cuban rock sensation (and Jesus's cousin) Nil Lara. "The movement is slowly gaining ground here, and it means a lot that a company like Pepsi recognizes that the movement is important and puts a lot of money into it. No single show will make things happen, but this is a step forward."
Before celebrating the step forward, it's worth taking a step backward to review the history of the Latin rock genre. While rock music has been an underground force in countries such as Mexico and Argentina since the Sixties, the Latin rock movement began to catch fire in the mid- to late-Eighties, when multinational record labels signed and promoted bands across the Spanish-speaking world. In the hands of its Latin practitioners, rock returned to its roots, reasserting itself as a defiant, energetic, radically democratic music that assimilates a number of different musical traditions. Just as American rock and roll stirred up a gumbo of blues, country, bluegrass, and gospel, Latin rock has spiced traditional rock sounds (guitar-bass-drums) with Caribbean, Andean, or Mexican elements. But Latin rock differs from its American cousin in at least one important respect: While American rock was at its heart an apolitical expression of teen angst, Latin rock artists tend to inspect the wounds of history, addressing issues of indigenous struggle, political repression, and the search for racial, cultural, and personal identity.
The Buenos Aires-based Fabulosos Cadillacs are perhaps the best-known of the Rockinvasion bands. The nine-piece outfit, which formed in 1985, drew raves from the U.S. press for its eclectic, electric fusion of rock, ska, funk, rap, samba, jazz, punk, tropical, and reggae. The band's last album, 1996's Rey Azucar, was produced by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and featured guest artists Deborah Harry, Big Youth, and Mick Jones, whose former band the Clash remains an abiding influence on Latin bands, both for its catholic tastes and hard-hitting political rhetoric. Los Cadillacs recently left Sony to sign with BMG Latino after ten gold and platinum albums; the band's forthcoming album, Fabulosos Calavera, is due out this summer and features a song with Ruben Blades.
While Los Fabulosos Cadillacs are arguably the most famous Latin rock band in the world, the other Rockinvasion acts have used this same formula -- varied music, socially conscious lyrics, and passionate playing -- to carve out niches for themselves. Here's a brief tour through the balance of the lineup:
*Mexico City's five-member Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio has been around since 1987, when they first committed their blend of funk, punk, ska, and traditional Mexican musics to wax. Known to fans as the Malditos, the band has toured the U.S. three times prior to Rockinvasion, and last year's Baile de Mascaras featured contributions by two former associates of the Artist Formerly Known as Prince (David Z produced, and Sheila E. supplied percussion).
*Bogota's Aterciopelados, led by charismatic wild woman Andrea Echeverri, has single-handedly put Colombian rock on the map. Though the band has been recording only since 1993, its irresistible mix of punk, folk, and traditional Colombian rhythms has earned a loyal following. Aterciopelados's latest album, La Pipa de la Paz, was produced by Phil Manzanero of Roxy Music fame.