Aterciopelados (Contemporary Musicians)
The Grammy Award-nominated group Aterciopelados is one of Columbia's top rock acts, "easily the best rock band to hail from Columbia ever," according to critic David Espinoza in a review at the Metroactive website. Aterciopelados, which means "the Velvety Ones" in Spanish, blend traditional Latin American music with rock 'n' roll; the group approaches mariachis, boleros, rancheras, and flamencos from a rock perspective. Although the band is very popular in South America and is accustomed to playing arena-sized venues, Aterciopelados pack more intimate venues in the United States.
Acoustic guitarist and lead singer Andrea Echeverri hails from Medellin, Colombia, where she grew up listening to the traditional boleros and rancheras her mother would sing and later discovered the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. She decided to pursue rock music after studying fine arts in college. Espinoza described Echeverri's music and style as "a cross between Perry Farrell and Ani DiFranco," with their common "raw, punk-influenced attitude that is balanced by their earthy, almost artsy, personas." At the OC Weekly website, writer Gustavo Arellano called Echeverri's voice "unconquerable, beautiful, smart." He continued: "It's better suited to the Mississippi Delta circa 1930, coming out of the mouth of a woman intimate with the everyday evils of men."
Bassist Hector Buitrago grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Yes. He played with the legendary Colombian hard-core band La Pesitilencia before meeting Echeverri. The two opened one of the few rock bars in Bogota and also played together in the group Delia Y Los Aminoacidos, a popular band in the Bogota music scene. "Hector was an essential revelation in my personal and musical life," Echeverri said in an interview at clicMusica.com. "He brought new aesthetics, unsuspected rebellion, and truckloads of music." Aterciopelados released its debut album, Con El Corazon en la Mano, in 1993. It features distorted guitars over a driven, punk-rock drumbeat. "At first what we were doing was very elementary," Echeverri told clicMusica.com, but over time, playing live and making records allowed them to develop musically, making up for their lack of formal music training.
With their second album, 1995's El Dorado, Aterciopelados had their first notable success. The record was built on the more traditional sounds of rural Colombia as well as the flamenco-bolero sound of the rock ballad "Bolero Falaz," the group's first hit single. The song was played on MTV Latino, and it made them Latin American rock stars. The band's third album, La Pipa de la Paz, was released in 1997. The group hired Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera to produce, and the album was recorded in London. The album includes the songs "Cosita Seria," "Chica Dificil," and "Baracunatana," which garnered the band even more fans. They toured the United States and Spain on the success of La Pipa de la Paz and recorded an MTV Unplugged appearance in 1997. La Pipa de la Paz was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Latin Alternative Album.
Echeverri and Buitrago are the only two permanent members of Aterciopelados, and they share the songwriting responsibilities for the group. Most of their songs are politically driven, and the band is committed to human rights and environmental causes. The group's artwork for the 1998 album Caribe Atomico features photos of trash-strewn Colombian beaches Echeverri and Buitrago saw while on vacation. OC Weekly writer Arellano called the album an "apocalyptic yet irresistibly grooving collection." The album earned the group its second Grammy Award nomination for Best Latin Alternative Album.
Echeverri and Buitrago also oppose America's imperialistic tendencies. One early song, "Colombia Conexion," includes the line "Gringo, go home!" "There are many problems in Colombia due to U.S. repression," Echeverri told Arellano. Among them, she counts deforestation of the Amazon rain forests and the relocation of indigenous peoples. She went on to suggest that the United States' efforts would be better spent on managing Americans' drug consumption rather on controlling the supply coming from Colombia.
The group appears frequently at benefit concerts and rallies, including a Bolivian concert celebrating the anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and a fund-raiser in a Mexican village to protect a local coral reef. "If we are invited to a worthy cause, we are there," Echeverri told Arellano. "Only by respecting Mother Earth and the rights of everyone can the world truly live in harmony." Echeverri and Buitrago are very concerned for Colombia, which has been torn asunder by ecological disasters and the war on drugs. "Music has medicinal powers," Echeverri told Ernesto Lechner of Interview magazine. With 2001's Gozo Poderoso, she continued, she and Buitrago wanted to make a record "to give people hope and make them feel good about our country."
To this end, Echeverri and Buitrago stayed at home to record the album and handled the production responsibilities themselves. Echeverri, who has exhibited her ceramic work in Bogota, even crafted one of the band's drums herself. They used only local musicians and hired 15 Colombian artists to create Gozo Poderoso's packaging. All of the songs on the album bear the mark of the group's Latin American musical influences. While Echeverri acknowledged loving the electronic trip-hop sound of Caribe Atomico in the Interview article, she admitted that sometimes an artist has to ignore outside influences and "focus on the music that's playing inside of you."
At any given time in their career, the music that plays inside Echeverri and Buitrago can be very different from what their fans expect. "One thing about Aterciopelados is that we haven't wanted to stay in a formula," Buitrago told clicMusica.com. "This has been complicated at times, because from record to record, we have changed drastically." Their fans adapted and their numbers grew, especially in the United States. Aterciopelados toured the United States in 2000 as part of the Watcha tour with leading Latin alternative bands Cafe Tacuba and Molotov.
Entertainment Weekly critic James Sullivan called Gozo Poderoso "endearingly scatterbrained," a mix of "Bronx beats, Soweto guitars, lazy Mediterranean melodies." A clicMusica.com critic wrote, "It's a new lounge sound for people who like their electronica with a little bit of tropical edge." Though the love songs "Rompecabezas" and "El Album" appear on Gozo Poderoso, most of the album is a "personal search for identity and the band's own postmodern spirituality," according to clicMusica.com. The tracks on the album explore such concepts as using music to unify people, forsaking selfishness and seizing all that life has to offer, and paying tribute to indigenous peoples and their sacred cultures.
Con El Corazon en la Mano, International, 1994.
El Dorado, RCA, 1995.
La Plpa de la Paz, RCA, 1997.
Caribe Atomico, RCA, 1998.
Gozo Poderoso, RCA, 2001.
Entertainment Weekly, May 18, 2001, p. 80.
Interview, April 2001, p. 72.
"Aterciopelados," clicMusica.com, http://www.clicmusica.com/biography_page.asp?artist_id=35&l... (April 16, 2002).
"Atomic Drop," Metroactive, http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/12.16.99/aterciopel... (April 16, 2002).
"Los Aterciopelados," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 16, 2002).
"Sound Bites," Backstage Pass, (April 16, 2002).
"The Velvet Voz," OC Weekly, http://www.ocweekly.com/ink/01/30/music-arellano.php (April 16, 2002).