Flamenco with a Dash of Metal ; Mexican Guitarists Return Home with Unique Sound after Huge Success Abroad

By Archibold, Randal C | International Herald Tribune, January 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

Flamenco with a Dash of Metal ; Mexican Guitarists Return Home with Unique Sound after Huge Success Abroad


Archibold, Randal C, International Herald Tribune


Rodrigo y Gabriela, the acoustic guitarists from Mexico City, have spent years abroad honing a style known as much for its eclecticism as for the frantic full sound they wrench from just two guitars.

The two acoustic guitarists onstage here sounded at times as if the Gypsy Kings had taken possession of Jimmy Page. Intricate melodies -- and solos challenging the laws of nylon -- rode over crashing, furious percussion as they raced from heavy-metal riffs to jazz to something vaguely Turkish.

Pretty much anything but Mexican.

But by the end of their set one evening last month Rodrigo y Gabriela, the acoustic guitarists from Mexico City who spent years abroad honing a style known as much for its eclecticism as for the frantic full sound they wrench from just two guitars, soaked in cries for more from the hometown crowd at the 1,600-seat theater, El Plaza Condesa.

They welcomed the adoration, especially after a tumultuous year of touring and working on their third album, "Area 52," which came out on Tuesday. But Mexico City carries bittersweet memories of their time in a metal band and the escape to find their muse. "It was special; we have to speak in Spanish, and our families are there," Gabriela said of the show. "The Mexico time with a metal band. It was like we were just some sort of joke musicians. I felt I was not a proper musician."

They've come a long way, literally and figuratively. "No verb exists for what they do with their instruments," Luis Del Valle, music editor for Chilango, a popular Mexico City magazine, wrote in a review of the December shows. In an interview he lamented that fans here tend to value homegrown acts only after they find success abroad.

But when it comes to Rodrigo y Gabriela the pride and appreciation nevertheless run deep, and their following is surging here. "They are two Mexican guitar players who ended up headlining festivals in Scotland next to Kanye West and the Chemical Brothers," Mr. Del Valle said. "They're the only Mexican act that has managed to do so."

While any number of Latin American guitarists play flamenco style, he added, "they are the only ones that add this metal-rock spice that makes them so different."

It is not just here that they are catching on. In the spring they will tour 18 cities in North America to promote "Area 52," on which they reinterpret many of their songs, backed for the first time by a 13-piece Cuban orchestra.

They will also play one of the most prominent stages at this spring's New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, whose producer, Quint Davis, booked them for their eclectic music and their following of young fans.

The tour follows a year in which their music gained wider exposure through contributions to two Hollywood hits, the latest installment of "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the animated adventure "Puss in Boots." Henry Jackman, the composer for "Puss in Boots," put their guitar playing into his score and included two of the duo's fan favorites, "Diablo Rojo" and "Hanuman."

Relaxing on throw pillows in their condo-studio in the Pacific beach town of Ixtapa, Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero reflected on their trajectory. After quitting a failed heavy-metal band and busking, first at this resort and then on the frigid streets of Dublin, came a debut studio album ("Rodrigo y Gabriela" in 2006) and its follow-up ("11:11" in 2009), both well received by critics. They said that while they felt most comfortable performing in Mexico, they felt little regret in finding success only after leaving home. …

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