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[whitespace] Jaguares Motley Crew: The biggest Latin music band in history, Jaguares took '80s American rockstar looks and attitude to the top of the Mexican pop charts last month with the release of their latest, 'Bajo el Azul de Tu Misterio' (or 'Under the Blue of Your Mystery').


Jaguares aren't just the biggest thing ever to hit Latin rock; they're also musical revolutionaries with big attitude and big ambitions

By David Espinoza

IN AMERICA, ROCK & ROLL was going through the big hair, flashy guitars, leather pants phase 10 years ago when a young group of Mexicanos named Caifanes scored a minor hit with "La Negra Tomasa" in their native Mexico. While the success of the song had much to do with the straight-up conjunto style in which it was played, many folks soon found out that Caifanes was anything but another Latin pop band.

Indeed, as the story goes, when the Mexico City natives held a concert shortly after the release of the hit song, the majority of attendees, unfamiliar with the band, got a little more than upset when they discovered a group of guys dressed in black and with frizzed-out hair a la Robert Smith and playing something that sounded a lot like rock & roll. While the quartet survived the incident intact, it marked the turning point for a rock & roll scene that had long been dormant.

Flash forward to the year 1995. The hugely popular Caifanes have just broken up and, looking to get things going quickly again minus guitarist Alejandro Marcovich, lead singer Saul (Saw-OOL) Hernandez reforms the band as Jaguares. Simply put, Jaguares are the hottest thing in Latin rock to date, selling millions of records worldwide. The two bands have paved the way for a whole generation of Latin rock artists--there has never been a more successful alternative rock band in the history of Latin rock. Just last month, Jaguares' second release, Bajo el Azul de Tu Misterio (or Under the Blue of Your Mystery), a two-disc set that includes live tracks from both Caifanes and Jaguares, debuted at No. 1 in Mexico and No. 15 on U.S.-based Billboard magazine's Latin chart.

"Up until now, a Latin alternative act has never debuted past 30," Jaguares publicist Josh Norek tells me. "Most of these Billboard 'Soundscan' sales have come from California alone."

On a tour scheduled months ago, Jaguares hit the United States on Sept. 15, starting off in L.A. and stopping in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Dallas--and Santa Cruz on Sept. 22.

But before they packed their bags and headed for the airport, their phenomenal debut kept them busy at home. Last week the band played a sold-out stadium of approximately 25,000 people in Mexico City.

Power Chords to the People

UNTIL CAIFANES, rock & roll in Mexico was strictly an underground phenomenon, a radical style of music that had been repressed ever since massive student protests resulted in hundreds of deaths at the hands of the government in 1968. Most of the rock groups in Mexico at the time were just American- and British-rock wannabes anyway, mimicking note-for-note the music of the Beatles and the Doors. All this began to change with the rising popularity of Caifanes.

Instead of rejecting their Aztec and Spanish ancestry, Caifanes went for a puro Americano sound. They were one of the first Latin bands to incorporate mestizo roots into their music, creating something highly spiritual and altogether unique. With a slight progressive-rock tinge, Caifanes' songs, largely written by Hernandez, were heavy with mysticism, harking back to a pre-conquistador time when the people lived in closer harmony with the earth.

But every frontman needs a partner, and guitarist Marcovich's graceful harmonics always fit in perfectly with Hernandez's soaring voice. Together, the pair were the Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Mexico. It should come as no surprise then that there was and still is a certain rock-star element to Caifanes' and Jaguares' music.

While the days of flowing long hair and classy, high-maintenance fashion have long since disappeared in the states, Caifanes and Jaguares are the epitome of rock & roll self-adulation. The difference, though, between American rock superstardom and Jaguares' superstardom is the latter tends to be less intent on proving a rebellious, balls-to-the-wall image. Indeed, playing rock & roll at all has been a sign of dissidence in many Latin American countries, and Jaguares seem much more intent on being passionate than on being badasses.

On Jaguares' new album, the music, as in past efforts, revolves around the work of Hernandez. Even with Marcovich's ingenious guitar lines missing from the picture, Jaguares' music remains a potent blend of romantic ballads and epic rock songs. Without a doubt, the majority of this has to do with the towering Hernandez, whose dreamy voice has been a staple of Latin rock for over a decade now. It's hard to find an American contemporary who accurately matches Hernandez's popularity and persona; he's a sex symbol to millions of Latinos and also a shaman--a synthesis of rock & roll godliness and sage.

For the first time, Jaguares have reproduced material from their highly lauded live shows. Recorded last year during a surprise concert in Los Angeles, the 11-song disc one is a journey into the vaults of Caifanes and Jaguares music, much of which is practically drowned out by screams and cheers from fans. There are classics like "No Dejas Que" and "Nos Vamos Juntos," both from 1992's El Silencio, as well as more recent material by Jaguares.

With their CD easily the biggest success for Latin rock ever and with a major U.S. tour under way, Hernandez and crew are on top of the world. For these guys, it's been a long time coming.


Jaguares play the Catalyst Wednesday (Sept. 22) beginning at 9pm. $25 adv/$27 door, 21+. 423-1336.

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From the September 15-22, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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