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Rock y Revolucíon

[whitespace] Control Machete
Watchale, Rockeros: Control Machete joins the summer's most ambitious package tour.

Look out for the Watcha Tour, a massive Latin rock festival that translates 'alternative' into a whole other language

By David Espinoza

FOR THE AVERAGE MUSIC critic, there are few things more frustrating than anticipating a major breakthrough for a deserving group of bands, waiting for it to materialize, seeing it come excruciatingly close--and then having it not happen. Alas, such is the case in the United States for the highly acclaimed yet widely ignored Latin rock or rock en español scene. Even though major U.S. labels have just begun to pluck from independent labels those Latin bands that sound like the Beastie Boys or Blink 182, you still have a better chance of catching the latest release from the Nelson Twins than you do of hearing anything sung in Spanish (God forbid) on alternative rock radio stations.

Is it too late to throw in the towel? Well, as the saying goes, it's never over till it's over, and nothing proves that point better than the Watcha Tour, coming to the San Jose Fairgrounds this Saturday.

Billed as the "ultimate rock en español festival tour," the Watcha Tour is pretty much just that. Featuring a cream-of-the-crop list of Latin rock and hip-hop bands that includes Cafe Tacuba, Todos Tus Muertos, Molotov, ¡Viva Malpache! and Control Machete, the Watcha Tour has the best lineup I've seen since Lollapalooza '93 (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice Cube and the Jesus & Mary Chain, in case your memory is fading). And those are just the headlining bands. There's also hardcore East L.A. homies Union 13, the heavy metal/salsa of Puerto Rico's Puya, and my personal favorites, Argentina's Bersuit Vergarabat.

Todos Tus Muertos
Viva Los Muertos: Argentine reggae/punkers Todos Tus Muertos play at Saturday's concert.

Put together by a couple of bigwig promoters (some of whom produced the WARPED Tour), the Watcha Tour will be the first time in the United States--or anywhere, for that matter--that such an ambitious package tour of Latin American artists will play so many dates together. It's enough to make any fan of Latin rock or hip-hop weak in the knees.

For years now, the Latin "alternativo" scene has been building up to the point where acceptance within the U.S. seems imminent. From the now-defunct BAM magazine to the Grammys, Latin rock categories have been added to the year-end award shows. In the last three years, U.S. labels such as Capitol Records and Universal have invested in and signed Mexican artists, including Plastilina Mosh and Molotov. To date, there are at least three independent labels in the United States dedicated to Latin rock: New York's Grita!, San Francisco's Aztlan and Texas' Pinche Flojo. Collaborations between U.S. and Latin American bands have also popped up, such as 1998's AIDS fundraising compilation, Silencio=Muerte: Red Hot & Latin. But this is nothing new.

In 1994, the first major cross-cultural rock show took place in Los Angeles at the Universal Amphitheater. Aptly titled "Revolucíon '94," the concert featured U.S. bands Live and Red Kross, as well as Mexican bands Santa Sabina, La Castañeda, Maldita Vecindad and Caifanes. Since then, the one-day Revolucíon shows have included such notables as Argentina's Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, L.A.'s Fishbone and Colombia's Aterciopelados.

"Latin rock is revitalizing rock & roll," says Jay Zifkrout, owner and founder of Grita! records. Formerly the drummer for Bad Religion (1980-81), Zifkrout started Grita!, which means scream in Spanish, in 1996 after working for years at major record labels. As of this year, Grita! has released a total of 17 albums, including material from the phenomenal Argentine reggae/ punk quintet Todos Tus Muertos. "In order to stay fresh and exciting, rock & roll has always had to borrow from other styles; Latin rock is doing just that," Zifkrout notes.

Viva Malpache
Best of Both Worlds: L.A.'s ¡Viva Malpache! is part of the Watcha Tour's impressive rock en español lineup.

IF LATIN ROCK hasn't quite made a direct hit in the U.S. yet, its effect on Chicano/Latino musicians has been influential nonetheless. Taking a cue from their not-so-distant cousins south of the border, a number of U.S. rockero bands have emerged to reclaim their native tongue. In New York there's King Chango; in Miami, Volumen Cero; in the Bay Area, Orixa and Lodo y Asfalto; and in Los Angeles, too many to name.

"The beauty of being Latino in this country is we love it all, we want the best of both worlds," says Giovanny Blanco, lead singer of L.A.'s ¡Viva Malpache! Originally from the Dominican Republic, Blanco moved to New York when he was a kid. Though he actually speaks better English than he does Spanish, Blanco says he prefers to sing in Spanish, as it is more fun. "Until recently, U.S.-based rock en español had never been an autonomous thing. The music being produced was only what people brought over here," Blanco says. "Now, the bigwigs are taking notice here, and I'm lovin' it."

Some of Blanco's bandmates remain skeptical, though. "I don't think a Spanish band is ever going to be big here," guitarist Roberto Gonzalez says. "Why? Because the U.S. is very spoiled with its language. You're never gonna get a huge acceptance in a non-novelty way."

To be sure, outside the U.S., Latin rock bands do decent business. Take Molotov, from Monterrey, Mexico. This hardcore metal/rap quartet, which could whup Limp Bizkit's or Korn's behinds any day, has sold an estimated 795,000 copies of its 1998 debut, Donde Jugaran las Niñas?, throughout Mexico and the rest of Latin America (including Spain and Portugal), as compared to the 123,265 copies in the U.S.. Other bands like Jaguares or Maldita Vecindad enjoy superstar status akin to Pearl Jam or Marilyn Manson. In terms of ticket sales and contracts with big record labels like BMG Latin or WEA Latina, the Latin American rock scene is much like the U.S. rock scene, with a few at the top and a whole lot struggling at the bottom. But also as in the U.S., there is a middle ground for the bands who don't sell millions of records but still retain a respectable cult status.

Cafe Tacuba, arguably one of the most innovative and eclectic groups of our time, is one such band. The subjects of a fierce bidding war between big-time record labels since the mid '90s, Cafe Tacuba recently released its fourth album, Yo Soy, to the acclaim of such mainstream publications as The New York Times and Newsweek. While they've played a few shows in the States before, mostly in big cities like L.A., the Watcha Tour (which kicked off Aug. 1) will mark the first extensive U.S. tour for the Mexico City quartet.

So, the question remains ... will the Watcha Tour usher in a "Latin rock" invasion? For one thing, it should be noted that even in their own countries, the majority of Latin rock artists have to struggle to find niches in a music world dominated by pop singers, Caribbean-salsa-techno dance music and banda. So, while you might call it the "alternative" music of Latin America, it is definitely the true "alternative" music of the '90s.


The Watcha Tour takes place at the San Jose Fairgrounds, 344 Tully Rd., San Jose, on Saturday, Aug. 14 at 2pm (doors at 1pm). The acts include Molotov, Puya, Los Mocosos, the Royal Crown Revue and others. Tickets are $25 and are available at BASS outlets.

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From the August 12-18, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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