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[whitespace] Illya Todos Tus Meuertos
Photograph by Chad Pilster

A guest singer comes on with the band Illya Todos Tus Meuertos.

Rock en español bands meshed genres with ease in all-day Watcha show

By David Espinoza

IF LATIN ROCK'S ABILITY to appeal to folks living in the States has ever been called into question, Saturday's Watcha! Tour stop in San Jose put all doubts to rest. Starting off with a few hundred people early in the day, the majority Latino crowd quickly grew into the thousands, as fans poured into the San Jose Rodeo Plaza at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. For six hours, 2 to 8pm, teens and twentysomethings, sporting Ché Guevara and EZLN T-shirts, moshed their merry hearts out to a lineup of rock en español artists that was endless thanks to a two-stage setup that allowed bands to prepare their equipment while the others were on.

Illya Kuryaki
Photograph by Chad Pilster

The members of Illya Kuryaki dressed in bright outfits. The band is called the heart of Mexico by some.

To be sure, there were definitely winners and losers of the day (Argentina's Illya Kuryaki gets my vote for losers), but overall the show was a smashing success, proving that the Latin rock and hip-hop genre is only going to get better with age. Speaking of age, although Saturday's performers included a few veteranos of rock en español (most notably Café Tacuba), the majority of bands represented the next generation.

Opening up the show was Bay Area local Orixa, whose set included a cover of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff." Next up was the virtually unknown ¡Viva Malpache! from L.A., whose pop-alternative-ska sound was a hit and miss with the crowd. Extra props go to lead singer Giovanny Blanco, who, sensing that things weren't going so well, dove into the crowd with his cordless mic, sacrificing himself to a dogpile that marked the first big mosh pit of the day. Everything just got better from there.

Viva Malpache
Photograph by Chad Pilster

Viva Malpache's singer rocks the crowd at the Watcha Festival.

Of all the artists on the Watcha Tour, Monterey's hardcore Rage-meets-Chili-Peppers-style Molotov seems to have the most crossover potential. Though not as politicized as Rage Against the Machine, Molotov plays with a bad-boy rowdiness and intensity few can match. During the beat-boxing intro to their hit "Puto," the ground seemed to turn to liquid as fans began to move to the music. At the height of their set, I counted five pits, all going at the same time. Other heavy hitters of the day included Control Machete, a band from Monterrey, Mexico, whose Cypress Hill-like rapping has placed them at the top of the Latin hip-hop world.

Then there was the brilliant Café Tacuba, a band so diverse in sound that they simply put everyone to shame. Led by the enigmatic, small-framed singer Rubén Albarrán, a.k.a. Amparo Tonto Medardo In Lak'ech (and formerly known as Nru--he changes his name for every album), Café Tacuba remains the pre-eminent band not just of Latin America, but quite possibly of the world as well. Unlike the angry, in-your-face Molotov, Tacuba is more of the strange and unusual yet peaceful mentality, weird in the way of the Pixies, and lacking any boundaries in their taste. Watching the quartet perform was a slice of heaven, and provided the best example of why Latin rock is such a cutting-edge force to be reckoned with.

Cafe Tacuba
Photograph by Chad Pilster

The singer for Cafe Tacuba performs while a member of the audience rides the crowd.

While many bands have attempted to mesh different styles in hopes of discovering the next big thing, the effort often comes off as forced and awkward. Latin rock, on the other hand, tends to pull it off with ease, mixing the hardest of punk rock with traditional folk songs or samba. Perhaps it's because the Latin world has such a pluralistic cultural consciousness. Case in point, when Café Tacuba broke into its traditional mariachi song, "Ojalá Que Llueva Café," a cover of a merengue tune done in a regional Mexicano style, the audience responded by dancing folklorico, an impressive sight considering many were young folks with long hair, tattoos, piercings and headbanger T-shirts.

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From the August 19-25, 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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