We're opposed to the cliché about rockers, that all the songs sound the same, the poses and the lyrics; We have been inspired by all of world music, by rock, by electronica, and especially Latin American popular music, which hasn't been difficult because those were the sounds that we grew up listening to... - Hector Buitrago, Aterciopelados
Over the last several years the restless youth of Latin America (and their Latino cousins up North) have been swept up in the Latin alternative scene. They like their hiphop and alternative rock, but they don't want to give up their soulful, folkloric roots. At the forefront of this nuevo wave is Aterciopelados (the Velvety Ones), whose music would feel equally at home at a rock concert, electronica lounge, or salsa club. They can rock like Radiohead, but have the same dedication to Latin music's traditions as the Buena Vista Social Club. Their new album Gozo Poderoso (Powerful Joy), is a melodic, moody manifesto for the vibrantly eclectic Latin alternative movement. It's world music for a new world.
Essentially a collaboration between vocalist/guitarist Andrea Echeverri and bassist/arranger Hector Buitrago, Aterciopelados has recorded five albums since they originally teamed up in Bogota Colombia in the early '90s as Delia y los Aminoacidos. "Hector was an essential revelation in my personal and musical life," said Andrea. "He brought new aesthetics, unsuspected rebellion, and truckloads of music." Buitrago came from a hardcore rock background, heading up a group called La Pesitilencia, while Echeverri had been drawn into the fledgling scene through art school friends. "When I was young I listened to bugaloo by Richie Rey and later stuff like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Yes," said Hector. "The first time I bought a bass guitar, I'd never had one in my hands before. I began to write songs by ear." Hector and Andrea went on to open one of Bogota's only rock clubs, and their relationship is one Latin rock's most successful artistic partnerships. Their first album, Con El Corazón en la Mano, features crashing, distorted guitars and a punishing punk drumbeat. But beginning with their second album, El Dorado, Aterciopelados began to expand their horizons, including traditional llanera rhythms of the Colombian countryside, as well as the flamenco-bolero sound of their first big hit, "Bolero Falaz." "At first what we were doing was very elementary," said Andrea. "But since we've played out a lot, learned to compose, and made a few records, even though we haven't had a lot of formal training in music, we've just learned how to develop. We've done it in a very instinctive way, but I also think it's very valid."
"Bolero Falaz" not only had a strong rock-ballad feel, but it showcased Andrea's powerfully seductive voice, one influenced by her mother, who sang boleros, rancheras, and tangos, and the great legends of nueva canción, like Juan Manuel Serrat, Mercedes Sosa, and Pablo Milanes. The song broke the band on MTV Latino and made them stars all over Latin America. Their third album, La Pipa de la Paz, was recorded in London with legendary Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera producing. The album's signature songs, "Cosita Seria," "Chica Dificil," and "Baracunatana," were hard-driving Latin rock classics that defined Echeverri's coy, new-feminist attitude by teasing macho men. After releasing their third album, La Pipa de la Paz, Atercio was able to tour in the U.S., recording an MTV Uplugged appearance in early 1997. The following year, Caribe Atómico, which was recorded in Manhattan with guest appearances by Downtown guitarists Arto Lindsay and Marc Ribot, further expanded Aterciopelados' sound into the world of electronica.
"One thing about Aterciopelados is that we haven't wanted to stay in a formula," said Hector. "This has been complicated at times, because from record to record, we have changed drastically. And a lot of the fans always ask us, why did you change so much? Well, that's the idea!" The band proved that its new sound was a hit with its fans when in 2000, they toured the U.S. as part of the Watcha Tour, with leading Latin alternative bands like Café Tacuba and Molotov. One of the show's highlights was a dazzling electronica version of "Bolero Falaz." Gozo Poderoso is yet another change in approach for Aterciopelados, especially because they decided to take on the responsibility of producing it themselves. "Hector was in charge of all the musical arrangements and the production," said Andrea. "The melodies and the harmonies aren't like what would occur to a trained musician. They're sort of strange and mysterious." Stepping back a bit from the triphop-ish style of Caribe Atomico, the new album is both a return to the band's roots and a peek into its future. It's a new lounge sound for people who like their electronica with a little bit of tropical edge.
While songs like "Rompecabezas," an entrancing rock-bolero, and "El Album," a lilting mid-tempo folk-rock ballad, are typical Aterciopelados songs about love, most of Gozo Poderoso is personal search for identity and the band's own postmodern spirituality. "The title track, "Gozo Poderoso" talks about unity through music; "Luz Azul" talks about following your inner light; "Uno lo mio y lo tuyo" talks about living every moment with intensity, setting aside egoism and a forging a personal unity with music, which I think is the point of the whole record," said Hector. "Then there's "Chamánica," which is a homage to indigenous cultures and their rituals. It's a work that describes the spiritual moment that we're living in."
Instead of going to New York or Los Angeles to record Gozo Poderoso, Aterciopelados decided to do all the final mixing in Bogota, where they could call on an array of local musicians to play traditional flute and percussion instruments. One of the drums was actually designed by Andrea, whose ceramic work has been exhibited around town. Similarly, the packaging that Gozo Poderoso comes with is a comment on the artistic moment Colombia is living through. Included are eighteen sometimes playful, sometimes haunting paintings and sketches by contemporaries and friends of the band like Carlos Jacanamijoy, Franklyn Aguirre, and Humberto Junca. The spirit of the land, its indigenous inhabitants, and its dreamlike landscape comes through in these images, giving the Aterciopelados fan a feel for the band's creative environment.
Aterciopelados have always demonstrated an unflagging commitment to their music as art, and as an instrument of reaching people. Now that the civil war in Colombia is intensifying and more innocent victims get caught up in its devastation, the band recognizes their responsibility to celebrate their love for their traditions, while at the same time speaking to the modernizing tastes of Latin American youth. You can see it vividly, whether they're playing a show in the main square of La Paz, Bolivia to celebrate the declaration of human rights, or whether it's Andrea tossing plastic flowers into an army of Latin rockers in New York or Los Angeles. "We know that we have an audience that can't wait for our next album," said Hector. "In some way we know it has helped them in some moment in their lives, helps give them hope and energy when they're in a difficult situation."
With Gozo Poderoso, Aterciopelados wants to let everyone in on the powerful joy of rock, rumba, and a mystical groove that swings.