My second book (and first in English) is out. It’s a collection of my personal favorite things I wrote in 1992-2021 (LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times, New Times, San Antonio Current, Dallas Observer, etc.).
“El futuro es nuestro, por prepotencia de trabajo. Crearemos nuestra literatura, no conversando continuamente de literatura, sino escribiendo en orgullosa soledad libros que encierran la violencia de un cross a la mandíbula. Sí, un libro tras otro, y ‘que los eunucos bufen’”.(Roberto Arlt, prólogo de Los lanzallamas, 1931)
Siempre está bien tener a mano esta cita de Arlt, que leí por primera vez en los créditos de Paraespantar el sueño (1978), el segundo disco de Jaime Roos. Después la usé en mi libro y ahora la estoy usando de nuevo. Se aplica a la literatura, la música o cualquier esfuerzo creativo que, con buenos o malos resultados, intenta aportar algo de belleza al mundo mientras los “eunucos” escupen sus razones sobre por qué tal o cual cosa está mal, aunque no puedan escribir su nombre en la nieve ni tararear una canción de cuna afinando al menos una nota.
En relación a Rompan Todo, la serie de Netflix sobre la historia del rock (en español) en América Latina (a estrenarse ya merito, el 16 de diciembre), antes de verla ya di mis opiniones sobre el avance de la serie aquí y aquí (les agradecería que las escucharan, así no tengo que repetir todo por acá). Pero ahora que finalmente terminé de ver la serie completa, quiero dar mi balance final (spoiler alert: me encantó).
Antes, un recorrido general sobre el contenido de cada uno de los seis capítulos (hay mucho más en cada capítulo; sólo menciono partes clave):
La rebelión: Arranca con Ritchie Valens y “La Bamba”, pasando por Los Teen Tops y los otros tres grupos pioneros del rock en español en México (Los Locos del Ritmo, Rebeldes del Rock y Los Black Jeans). Ausentes sin explicación Freddy Fender y Gloria Ríos, esta última, según el productor ejecutivo Nicolás Entel en Twitter, porque “está floja de papeles. Además de Bill [Haley], hay un derecho [pedido] de quien adaptó la canción al español. Estaba ya editada la escena y todo. Imposible de usar sin que te hagan juicio”. Buenas menciones a Los Shakers (Uruguay) y Los Saicos y Los Shain’s, representantes de la que, probablemente, sea la escena rockera más injustamente infravalorada del continente: la peruana (cero mención a Pedro Suárez Vértiz, though…). Aparecen Moris, Litto Nebbia, Tanguito, Sandro y Almendra por primera vez y se te ponen los pelos de punta. Javier Bátiz y Alex Lora fundamentales entre los muchos talking heads de la serie.
La represión: Víctor Jara (un acierto incluirlo, aunque no sea “rockero”), Los Jaivas y la situación política en Chile y Argentina. Irrumpe Charly García con Sui Generis, La Máquina de Hacer Pájaros y Serú Girán.
Música en colores: Gustavo Santaolalla (productor ejecutivo) y su cortocircuito con Serú, Tianguis del Chopo (me hubiese gustado que hablaran con Pacho, baterista de Maldita Vecindad, quien es el director del Museo), Botellita de Jerez queda bien establecida como una banda clave del rock mexicano e influencia directa de Maldita Vecindad y Café Tacuba. Terremoto en México, muerte y legado de Rockdrigo González, Soda Stereo en Chile. La guerra de las Malvinas y su impacto en el desarrollo del rock argentino en 1982.
Rock en tu idioma: Un episodio clave, con la explosión del rock en español moderno en México, de labios de su primer gran arquitecto a nivel disquera: Oscar López. Soda en Viña del Mar y México. EnanitosVerdes, Miguel Mateos, los españoles (Radio Futura, Los Toreros Muertos, Nacha Pop, Mecano) y su impacto en México. Caifanes y “La Negra Tomasa” (cero mención a Alejandro Marcovich, parte clave de la mayoría de los mejores discos de Caifanes, pero ya sabemos cómo viene esa vaina…). Fobia, la cadena López-Roco-Gus que dio lugar al nacimiento y posterior explosión de Maldita. Sombrero Verde (“uno de los cuatro que quedó afuera de ‘Rock en tu Idioma’”, según López) y su transformación en esa potencia llamada Maná. Back to Chile con Los Prisioneros y las letras de Jorge González y una imperdible imitación del acento chileno a cargo de Pil Trafa (Los Violadores). Concierto de Amnesty Internacional en Mendoza, el rotundo NO chileno al innombrable dictador. Juanes cuando era rockero y la movida colombiana con Ekhymosis y Kraken y la era pre-Aterciopelados con La Pestilencia y Delia y los Aminoácidos. El Concierto de Conciertos en Bogotá en 1988. Cuando llega el turno al segmento de El circo, el segundo de Maldita Vecindad, mi pantalla parece explotar. El papel de Maldita en el nacimiento de Café Tacuba.
Un continente: MTV Latino pone todo patas para arriba. Fito Páez, Santiago Auserón, David Byrne y otrxs se rinden ante Café Tacuba, quienes debutan en EE.UU. tocando en Lollapalooza frente a… cero personas. Los Tres mandan en Chile, un presidente innombrable vende a Argentina, nace el sello Culebra con Aterciopelados, Santa Sabina, Cuca y La Lupita. Rita Guerrero inmortalizada. Patricio Rey y sus Redonditos de Ricota (bah, Lo Redó) y el pogo más grande del mundo.
Una nueva era: Tremendo episodio. El Re de los Tacubos, EL disco. La serie rescata una realidad olvidada: al principio, nadie entendió Re (y me consta que, cuando salió, muchos de los que hoy alaban al disco me dijeron que “no es tan bueno como el primero; es muy largo”). La movida de Monterrey: Control Machete y Plastilina Mosh (¿y El Gran Silencio? ¿Pestañé y no los vi? By the way, Kinky está representado con declaraciones de Gil Cerezo). Cómo Molotov se las arregló para vender un chingo de discos pese a la censura. La Vela Puerca vuelve a poner a Uruguay en el mapa (en otra parte, habla Roberto Musso, del Cuarteto de Nos, pero me sorprendió no ver nada sobre No Te Va Gustar). La tragedia de Cromañón, Mexican Institute of Sound, Nortec Collective y cómo Napster y el mp3 cambiaron todo el partido (para mal y para bien). Bajofondo y Gustavo Cerati (“El Mareo”), Cerati solo y la muerte de un ídolo. David Byrne sobre Calle 13. “Puede rimar como los payadores”, dice Fito sobre Residente. Las mujeres en el rock (Gabriela, Hilda Lizarazu, Julieta Venegas, Juana Molina, Mon Laferte, Fabiana Cantilo, Celeste Carballo y otras). Momento imperdible: “Shakira también estaba…” dice Héctor Buitrago, mientras Andrea Echeverri mira para otro lado, después señala a Héctor y dice: “A él le gusta todo”.
Ahí tienen una idea del contenido de la serie. Antes de quejarse de que falta esto o aquello, esperen a mirar la serie, porque lo mío fue solo un resumen: hay mucho más. Y está hecho con todo, de una manera entretenida e investigada, bien editada (los momentos claves son como una explosión, hay suficiente música para emocionarnos y el tono general es inteligente pero accesible, por la sencilla razón de que el equipo detrás de Rompan Todo ya sabía de antemano de qué se trataba la cosa).
¿Que faltan nombres? Por supuesto. ¿Que faltan mujeres? Ni hablar, pero las que están son powerhouses y aparecen a lo largo de los seis episodios. ¿Y Brasil? De acuerdo: la serie debió aclarar que se trata de rock en español, y creo que Brasil merece una serie aparte. Pero también hay escupitajos dignos de eunuco: ayer alguien me comentó que alguien dijo que la serie trata sobre “las bandas de Santaolalla”. Really? Hay como 100 mencionados o entrevistados, y ¿todxs fueron producidos por Santaolalla? No mamen. Y que me explique alguien cómo miércoles se puede hacer una serie sobre rock en español sin mencionar a Arco Iris, León Gieco, G.I.T., Divididos, Julieta Venegas, Juanes, Maldita Vecindad, Caifanes, Molotov, Café Tacuba, Fobia, La Vela Puerca, Los Prisioneros, Jorge González, etc…
Santaolalla, by the way, escribió el Prólogo de mi libro (full disclosure, cabrones), sí, pero eso no me impide mencionar lo que yo sí considero carencias de la serie: los subtítulos en inglés son un desastre (“simple” en lugar de single; “Mester” en lugar de Mestre y “Ex” en lugar de X, por sólo mencionar algunos ejemplos, aunque Entel, es justo aclararlo, dijo en Twitter que todavía estaba corrigiéndolos), y prácticamente no hay nada sobre el rock en español actual. Esto es de lamentar, porque da la sensación de que el rocanrol es una cosa del pasado, cuando hoy mismo siguen existiendo bandas que continúan el legado de los que vinieron antes. Prendo velitas para que en un futuro salga una segunda temporada poniendo las cosas en su lugar, y ojalá sea el mismo equipo de Rompan Todo quienes estén detrás del proyecto.
“Hablando en serio: hay cientos adentro, miles afuera”, escribió en Twitter Nico Entel. “Si fuese al revés sería aburridísima la serie”. Y tiene razón. Podés decir lo que quieras de la serie, menos que es aburrida. Y la música es constante, un bombardeo imparable del eclecticismo del género a través de las décadas.
No, no hay ningún “experto” entrevistado, pero los “expertos” ya hemos escrito libros. Lo que quiero es escuchar a los actores principales, y son ellos y ellas quienes me contaron una historia que ya conocía y muchas, muchísimas cosas que no sabía (¿sabías que Charly García, según Roco, iba a producir a Maldita Vecindad?).
Si cada uno de nosotrxs hubiese hecho una serie similar, cada una de las series contaría una historia diferente. Por suerte, la serie que hay es Rompan Todo, que rompe todo. Abran la cabeza y los oídos y déjense llevar por este clásico instantáneo que es, hasta el momento, la historia más completa de un género que se niega a morir. Compártanla con sus amistades que no hablen español para que en esta época post-pandemia y post-piece of orange crap en Washington le demos un empujoncito al rocanrol, ya que estoy con las bolas por el piso entre tanto reggaetón (sólo se salvan Residente, WOS y buena parte de Bad Bunny, pero el resto me tiene los huevos llenos).
Disfruten, rockeros, disfruten. Y dejen que los eunucos bufen.
You may have heard “I think I’m in Love” on Grey’s Anatomy recently. Or perhaps you saw the “Gangsta” video (if you didn’t, you can watch it below). Chances are you remember the 24-year-old Cuban-American with a voice like thunder and gorgeous morenaza looks (Kat: never, ever dye your hair blonde).
The long-awaited My Garden (released January 9 by Vested in Culture/Epic) is one of my favorite albums of the year and one of the best debuts I’ve ever heard. I’ve dug her stuff ever since I saw her on video, but after speaking with her on the phone a few weeks ago, I confirmed she was for real.
Key word: Cuba. When I asked her about the recent developments in the US-Cuba relations, instead of going all Miami/Pitbull on me, she spoke like what she is: a young, second-generation Cuban who, no matter what her family may think, understands that the embargo was useless then and is useless now.
“I’m dying to go to Cuba,” she told me on the phone from New Jersey (our full conversation on the second page of this blog). The times they are a-changin’.
If you ask me where to start with Kat Dahlia, I’ll tell you to start here:
It was this song that made me want to have her full album back in 2013, but a pseudocyst in her vocal cord (and other problems) delayed her debut, which is a solid display of playfulness…
…daring choices for an album opener…
…and pure Afro Cuban explosion.
But perhaps the album’s greatest gem is an acoustic studio accident she “nailed in one take.”
According to Quintanilla, the online free radio (the only official Selena radio) was launched on November 13, but I suspect it started a little earlier than that (one website says it started on October 18). The station can also be heard through the TuneIn app.
“I haven’t done much publicity yet,” Quintanilla told Kamikaze in Spanish from his home in Corpus Christi, “but I’m glad to confirm what we always knew: that Selena still has fans all over the world.”
Since the station launched, it has received almost 12,000 visitors from as far as Argentina, Africa, Europe and New Zealand (still a low number, given Selena’s popularity, but the figure will probably explode as soon as more people find out about the radio). Quintanilla said he got inspired to create a Selena radio station after he was interviewed in October by the San Antonio-based Robert Rivas Radio show, and quickly instructed his team at Q Productions to develop the station. The present format features 10 straight Selena songs, one by her brother A.B. Quintanilla III and, for the time being, one song by up-and-coming bachata singer Angel Castillo, a new artist produced by Abraham Quintanilla. You also hear from time to time the voices of Quintanilla himself and Joseph Valdez, in charge of promotions at Q Productions and listeners can leave messages and engage in chats with other fans while listening. The station was mostly set up by Chris Domínguez, keyboardist of A.B. Quintanilla’s Kumbia All Starz, but longtime, ultra-loyal Selena mixer/engineer Brian “Red” Moore is also part of the mix.
“We’d like to add more Spanish talking for the benefit of our Spanish-speaking listeners, and talk more about the history behind the songs,” added Quintanilla. “But I’d like to see that each song correspond with the proper album cover when you look at the app. We’re still working on that.”
The best thing about Selena Radio is that, unlike conventional radios, it is not based on hit-oriented song rotation: at Selena Radio you hear every single Selena song, even those never played on any radio; in two days listening to the station I didn’t notice any song repeats.
“You’ll be able to hear every song recorded by Selena since age 6 until her death,” said Quintanilla. “That includes remixes and rarities. Even before Selena signed with Capitol and became a superstar, she had already recorded five albums, which I own. Add to that the Capitol albums, and there’s a whole bunch of other songs there. We’ll letting people hear them all for free. So there’s a lot of music in there.”
May Jesus, Eva and others who know where it’s at make the SA music scene explode in 2015. (screenshot by E.L.)
What started as a blog about Eva Ybarra‘s stirring show at Hi-Tones on November 29, ended up as a multi-band trip. My trip. Hers was one of three unforgettable nights in San Antonio, my three personal favorite musical moments of 2014. And I chose all three shows because, after seeing her rip it that night, I realized my trip had started a few weeks earlier, and that this wasn’t about Eva or any other bands mentioned on this blog: it was about all of them, and about those I don’t even mention. Allow me to explain.
Wasting my time on Facebook, I saw a post by Nick (Lonely Horse) announcing his excitement about an upcoming show by what he described as “the world’s best band.” Curious, I clicked on the link, and it was a story by Matt Stieb on the November 11 show by The Bolos, a band I had never seen before. Whenever Matt (the only thing Chucky and I ever agreed on) recommends a band, I pay attention. Dude’s into jazz, and knows what “good music” is. So I went to see the Bolos, and what I encountered was very similar to this April gig expertly shot by Greg Gabrisch, one of the best live music photographer in SA.
Short story: The Bolos blew me away right from the start. Five seconds into the first song I felt I was in the middle of a tsunami. An organic and ferocious blend of punk, blues, psychedelia by a bunch of young kids who seemed to not give a shit but who knew exactly what they were doing. And it all started with an amazing drummer named Sarek Gutiérrez, as elegant and precise as a jazz drummer, and as brutally powerful as a metalhead. If it’s true that “you’re as good as your drummer,” then the Bolos is a superb band.
So sorry, Eva. It was your night and I will write about it, but not only did you have a great performance: you became the cherry on everyone else’s pie, without even trying. I so want to start writing about you, but I can’t start before taking you back to a couple of earlier shows you missed, starting with the Bolos at the same venue that saw you shining.
That Bolos night at Hi-Tones was a memorable one. Besides the power of the music, it had an added element for me: hidden in the crazed crowd, was no other than Roland Delacruz (aka “Veracruz Delacruz”) and Chris Smart, guitarist and bassist, respectively, for Masters of Love (my favorite local band). They were both visibly moved like everyone else, especially Roland. Seeing them dig a young band reminded me of an obsession of mine: wondering when San Antonio musicians will stop these nonsensical age frontiers and begin to interact more with each other. I’ve lived in many cities in the world, and I don’t see that gap more pronounced than in SA. It could’ve been any other veterano digging the Bolos, but the fact that it was Masters of Love was of great significance to me. (Unfortunately, I don’t have any MOL videos, but just listen to these tracks and keep in mind they’re even better in concert.)
So the next night I go to The Mix to see MOL live, and while having a smoke at the door I see Roland walking by. We say hi, and start talking about that amazing set by the Bolos the night before.
“Those guys are great,” said Roland, “and the best part of it is that they know they’re great. They have the attitude. Many bands nowadays are playing this humble bullshit card, and some even admit ‘we’re not that good.’ Fuck that! You need that attitude, this is rock and roll!”
But the main topic was, and always is (with me, at least), the fact that San Antonio is an ideal place for collaborations between the young up-and-coming bands and the older cats from different genres who, for the most part, can outplay any young kid in town. Somehow, I feel that young, “hip” bands in SA couldn’t care less about what the older guys (and girls) are doing. To my surprise, minutes later who did I see digging Masters of Love at The Mix? Three members of the Bolos. I thought, “There is hope, after all.” Days after the show, I called Roland to revisit our talk and ask him the same question I asked all those quoted in this blog: Am I exaggerating or, indeed, the young bands don’t care about what, say, Mitch Webb & The Swindles (another older band that could pulverize the best of the young dudes with the exception of, perhaps, the Bolos)? Am I just an old (er) fart making a big deal out of nothing?
“[That young/old mutual interest] doesn’t happen too often [in SA]”, said Roland. “When we were young, that was a big part of our lives. But then you get old and raise families, so a lot of my friends have kids now, 8 years old, 10 years old, young adults, so they’re not out as much checking out the bands. Me and Chris Smart are single, so we still go out and check out bands. We’re free.”
Yes, I can understand that, but where I come from, whenever an old rocker had a show, the world stopped. We all flocked to see them and learn from them. How come I don’t see other band than the Bolos checking you out?
Well, the Bolos come to the shop a lot [Robot Monster Guitars], that’s how I got to know them.
OK, but I’m sure they’re not the only young band that goes to the shop. I think there must be some sort of chemistry between the two bands, besides personal chemistry. I think the fact the two baddest bands in SA are friends is no accident. You feed from each other. And I think that, if the SA music scene is ever going to explode, you need more collaborations between the generations and more of the conjunto element in the music. It’s weird Piñata Protest, Los De Esta Noche, and very few others are the only ones interested in the blending of punk and conjunto, to name just one of the endless SA possibilities. That’s our unique thing, we have everything we need to be an original scene, unlike any other.
Oh, definitely. That’s what I’m trying to do. I always go out and check out new bands and tell others about them. I don’t just want to play with my old friends all the time. I tell them, “We should all be playing with the other bands,” you know? And the other bands should be playing with us.
But who should make the first move?
Both should. It’s a mutual thing. I’m out there all the time. The problem is that the Mitch Webbs, when [they’re] not gigging, [they] gotta be at home with [their] family, you know?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the DIY punk thing of “fuck the old” and “let’s do our thing” and all that, but on the other, I see guys like Mitch, you and so many others, outplaying everybody else, and I think, “Fuck, I wish there was some new kid here to learn how a live band should sound.” Of course, sooner or later, everyone learns just by doing it. But not taking advantage of local legends, in order to learn faster, it’s a waste of time. I feel that thing in the air of older bands not being “cool” or something. And that’s idiocy. It’s 2015, dammit. There’s room for improvement in punk. Is that the problem? The “cool” element getting in the way of the ageless cool?
That’s part of it. But mostly I just see it as the young kids not going there because it’s just not part of their scene. There’s too much stuff in their scene and are not willing to explore. Yes, The Swindles are not punk rock, but they’ll kick their ass. They rock. They don’t play like a bunch of old guys, there’s excitement in their shows. But some of the young kids are just stuck in their scene. They do the same thing that I don’t want to do: booking with the same bands. They’re all friends, and that’s what they get stuck in. And I don’t know how to make them come. When I saw the Bolos I said to myself, “They’re not gonna come to my show on their own,” so I decided to go to their gig and afterwards I told them, “Hey, guys, we should do a gig together.” I took the initiative to do that. They didn’t know about the Masters until I told them.
So is there hope for a MOL/Bolos double bill in early 2015? That would be the ultimate intergenerational night.
Yes, we’re working on it. I want to do it in Spring, but the ball’s in their court now.
So I called the Bolos and asked them the same question: “Am I overreacting?”
“Roland and Chris are two role models for us,” said Tanner, guitarist for the Bolos. “We look up to them. Robot Monster is our go-to spot. But besides that, their music is great. It’s just rock’n’roll, fucking amazing. Roland’s guitar is amazing, it really inspires me.
And do you agree that most younger bands don’t play enough attention to bands like MOL?
There is a generational gap. Yeah, you’re right. You don’t really see younger guys going to a lot of shows like that, going to see people like the Masters of Love.
Don’t the older guys outplay anyone in town, or in any town?
Oh, absolutely. (laughs) Definitely. The Masters of Love, that was the first show they played all year and we were really excited about that. To be honest with you, Roland had asked us to play with the Masters that night, but we had played the night before and also our drummer was out of town.
By the way, man, you have a kick-ass drummer.
Yeah, he’s good. Sadly, it sucks, because I don’t think he’ll be playing with us anymore.
It’s his last semester in school and he’s trying to focus on school.
That really sucks. I even tweeted a photo of him that night, “Is this the best SA drummer?” He blew me away. He’s like a jazz drummer with the ferocity of John Bonham. Like Bonham and Watts rolled into one.
He is! He’s classically trained. He teaches percussion, has a school.
Well, I hope he finishes whatever it is he needs to finish and comes right back. Just make sure your next drummer is an interim one, please. The new guy has big shoes to fill for sure. Anyway, will you and MOL play together in 2015?
Who would open for whom?
Oh, we’d love to open for them.
The answer is correct!
Yeah, this year I moved downtown and got to meet many of the older guys, who are doing amazing things.
Well, talk to your young colleagues, everyone should be checking everyone out!
Yeah! Like I said, Roland and Chris have been very cool to us.
What did you learn from them as a musician?
Man… (laughs) Don’t give up on what you love even if you’re never going to make it big. Roland is a great guitarist, and if there is anything wrong with my guitar he fixes it, no problem. He’s a master of his craft. He’s been involved in this for so long and he hasn’t strayed away from anything. Even after all these years he seems to be having a badass time.
We need to keep him single so he can continue to go out every night to check out bands.
That’s love, man…. and he’s a master of it.
So the bad news is Sarek is gone, at least for the immediate future. The good news is that he may perform one last time with the Bolos this January 5 at Faust. The info came from the man himself, whom I contacted yesterday to confirm his situation with the band.
“I recently told the guys in The Bolos that I needed to leave the band because things were getting too intense and we were playing a lot of shows,” Sarek told me via Facebook. “Since I have classes that start at 8 a.m. every day, it gets tough on the body when you play shows so late at night, then have to wake up at 6 a.m. (I know this makes me sound like a grandpa). Funny enough, Tanner just called me today asking to play a show at Faust on Monday for fun.”
Just when I was about to celebrate, I get a second message from Sarek.
“I’m not sure what is happening with the Jan. 5th show,” Sarek wrote. “Tanner said it might not go down because we responded late to the booker’s message to us. But anyways I’m sure I’ll hop in on a Bolo show in the near future since they haven’t found a new drummer yet. The band will post something I’m sure. Cheers.”
Message to the booker, whoever he/she is: FREE THE BOLOS. If anyone deserves forgiveness, it’s them. Let them play. If this doesn’t work, could any other local promoter step up? Libby, Kim, u there?
As a farewell present to us, Sarek shared a gem for the fans.
“Osita [Anusi, bassist for the Bolos] and I made a record in Los Angeles with Jungle Noize a year or so ago. Here is a mini documentary on that recording session from the album RAGA. I figured you would like it. Cheers.”
Cheers, man. And thanks for this.
Shit! I don’t think Sarek knew I was a Hare Krishna (albeit in very poor standard). I was hooked with the “raga” title, but when I heard the maha-mantra I almost flipped. Now I understand why I was so impressed by Sarek’s skills: besides his obvious talent, there’s a Vaikuntha connection there. Thanks again!
OK, me fui al carajo. Back to Planet Earth.
My hope of someone tearing the generational wall down kept growing as November advanced. On the 29th, Travis Buffkin (of DT Buffkin & The Bad Breath fame) hosted a show headlined by Eva Ybarra, the Queen of Accordion, a conjunto legend and one of the most respected female accordionists in the world. Unbeknownst to me, Travis had written an Eva Q&A in September for the Current, but just having him opening for her was one of those intergenerational genius moments that just don’t happen too often in SA. Buffkin (vocals, guitar, keyboard) played with Roland Delacruz on guitar, Michael Kelly on trumpet/keys/percussion, Luis Faraklas Treviño on bass and Ken Robinson on drums. This is how they started the set.
Eva caught the last part of his set, and she was into it. By the time it was her moment to set up, she was thrilled. While her band (brother David Ybarra on bass, Ramón Sánchez on bajo sexto and Pete López on drums) was checking the mics, she waited patiently on the side. Her face was radiant. She was happy to play in front of people from all ages, but mostly for a young crowd eager to see her. Just look at her.
Eva Ybarra groovin’ to Little Francisco Greaves (iPhoto by Enrique Lopetegui)
Then, out of the blue, DJ Rae D Cabello played a 45 by Little Francisco Greaves, and Eva went wild. She started improvising with her accordion, in a surreal conjunto-meets-funk-and-soul moment. Imagine being at a packed Hi-Tones listening to this song two feet from Eva Ybarra and her keys. While she was at it, she looked radiant.
(This was typical Eva. I remember one time when Azul Barrientos was singing and playing guitar at the Guadalupe years ago, and in the middle of a bolero an uninvited Eva started accompanying her on accordion; Eva’s a sponge, the Zelig of musicians).
Eva finally started her show, and she kicked everyone’s ass and reminded us of what an underrated singer she is. She jumped for a stirring popurrí to parts of her own originals (sometimes using only instrumental shuffle parts) to classics like “La Múcura,” boleros, polkas, all while the all-ages (but mostly young) crowd went completely bananas. And not just because it was “fun” to see an older woman play dance music for accordion, but because she was absolutely rocking the house.
The show was a shot of adrenaline for a local conjunto legend who is universally praised but who, like most local legends, is performing, recording, and working much less than she should. Remember Esteban Jordan, El Parche? No one was bigger and badder than him (except for Flaco), but I was there one of his last Friday nights at Saluté and there were five of us (and that’s counting Azeneth, the bar owner). When legends die, we all cry and remember their “legacy.” But when they’re alive, chances are they’re dead broke. We suck.
So keep in mind: Eva is vivita y coleando and, at least for that one magical night, she was happy, fulfilled. And all because a crazy rockero wanted to play on the same night as her (more on that guy later).
“At first it was a scary thing, because [the crowd] was real young and I thought they weren’t going to like my music,” Eva told me days after the show. “But at the very end I was very surprised. They enjoyed Eva’s music, I don’t know if you noticed that.”
Are you kidding? From the get go, you got ’em! They went nuts!
At the end they were saying, “Eva, Eva, Eva!” Clapping and clapping. It was a good match. The rockeros enjoyed conjunto music.
How often does that happen?
Not very often. [Conjunto] is for everyone, young or old. Everyone can enjoy. But this was the first time I played for a younger crowd. I’ve played for mixed crowds, but this time I played in front of a mostly younger crowd. Travis interviewed me for the Current, like you used to, and told me he had a gig for me at Hi-Tones, and I’m very thankful to him.
I don’t understand why these collaborations don’t happen more often. The older musicians are much better players, with lots of experience and…
That’s what makes the difference: experience.
But the young bands also have good things to offer. Do you feel energized when you play with or for young kids?
Yes! At the end of the show, this young girl told me, “Eva Ybarra is my hero.” And I felt so proud (gets emotional for a couple of seconds). Another one said, “You’re badass! No, I’m going to say it my way: You’re fucking badass!” (laughs) A young colored lady told me that. I was in Cloud Nine.
Yet, whenever a local legend dies, everyone mourns him/her and reminds us how great he/she was, but many leyendas die penniless in SA, playing for peanuts or not playing at all. Do you think we’re neglecting our old music masters?
Yeah, it’s been a struggle for me too. I’ve recorded for Rounder Records with the help of Cathy Ragland, who was my manager. But [labels] closed the doors for me. “Just leave your material here,” and they never call me back. I don’t know why. Is it because I’m a lady?
I’ll look into that. I promise you, Eva.
But those who know, know. One of those was present at Hi-Tones: Álvaro Del Norte, singer/accordionist for Piñata Protest and an exception to the rule. Here’s someone who knows where it’s at and one of the few faces I always see whenever any local master performs.
“Yes, there is a divide,” said Álvaro. “It’s not that it’s totally lost, though. There’s plenty of young people getting into it, but it’s not as strong now as it used to be.”
Yes, but I’ve been in SA for 10 years and this was the first time I saw a conjunto artist playing for a mostly young crowd. You once told me you naturally rebelled to your parent’s music, until you were a little older and took a second look and fell in love.
Yeah, high school kids don’t like it. But as you get a little bit older, people go back to their culture and the music they grew up listening to.
But specifically, the local bands, most of them are not like you, who have one foot in the punk world and another in the conjunto world. Why in a place like SA we don’t see more bands like that? It seems natural to me, given the musical elements of the city. I don’t mean everyone should add an accordion to their band, but at least pay more attention to the music around them, the music being made by the still relevant (and alive) masters. Let’s face it: San Antonio’s only hope to develop a unique sound, is through conjunto music. And the local scene will never explode until people recognize that. If we don’t protect and care about the local conjunto masters, it’ll be like living in New Orleans and not care about what the old local jazzmen are doing. For many years it was San Antonio, not Austin, the center of the music world in South Texas. Then it all changed, and we lost our relevance to the degree that we turned our backs to our native sounds. Mainly, conjunto.
I completely agree. We’re not Austin, we’re San Antonio. We have our own special blend of music, just like New Orleans has its music, Nashville, New York, California has its sound… We’ve got to keep that tradition alive, because that’s what made us special. We do need those collaborations. It all comes down to people wanting to rediscover their roots and realizing, “Hey, this stuff is pretty cool, and it’s cool to be different.” It’s a lot better to do something different, to be your own self instead of trying to fit in.
Do you see any urgency on the part of your colleagues to try to create something with all these legends that will be gone in the next few years? “We need to record with this guy, we need to record with this guy!” Is that happening at all?
Yeah, you’re right. It doesn’t click until your mid-20s, until you’re older, and that’s unfortunate. That’s why I was so glad to see Eva at Hi-Tones and that she had a great show. I hope it encourages her to venture out to some of this all-ages venues. She definitely has an audience and I hope she continues it, because she had a great response.
Eva at Hi-Tones wouldn not have happened without Travis Buffkin, a cynical man who only acts when something really great moves him. Someone like Eva.
“With me coming from a punk-rock background, there is a lot of attitude about like, ‘fuck these old guys, we’re young and we’re pissed and we’re going to do it better than them because they’re older and comfortable,'” told me Travis a few days ago. “But for me, as I got older, I realized that I don’t have to write the same aggressive, political music, you know? I feel more confident in myself and the things that I like, so I don’t have to wear all that shit on my sleeve. It took me like until I was 24 or 25 to get over that ego trip of thinking you’re in the best band there is. There’s something to be learned from people that are still badass and older.”
Especially when they play better than anyone else. Do you agree the “old” guys are usually much better players?
Yes, I do. That’s one thing I like about Roland playing with us. I think they should start bands playing together [the old and the young]. When I see Roland playing with the Masters, I try to get him really drunk, and me and some friends try to de-tune his guitar. We just try to fuck him up. Sometimes they’re so goddamn good, you want them to fuck up a little bit. The reason why you go see the young bands is because the young bands don’t give a shit. It’s Friday night, they have a gig, so they’re going to get fucked up, which is a great attitude, that’s fucking rock’n’roll. And the funny thing is, Masters, Los #3 Dinners and these guys they do it, and they do it so well, that sometimes you just want to throw a wrench into the thing. I’m not saying it’s almost not rock’n’roll, but it’s just a different angle of doing it well. When you’re young you suck and you do that well. And Roland knows this. He always says to me, “If you want to be a real shitty band, know you’re shitty and don’t give a shit that you’re shitty.” It’s not about being a proficient player, it’s about attitude.
Don’t get me wrong: mistakes are good. Some, at least. Somebody said “creativity is not being afraid of making mistakes, and art is knowing which mistakes to keep.” But, dude, there’s nothing wrong with good playing either, is there? And everybody makes mistakes, even the Masters. But that band sounds like a unit, like a fucking bulldozer. So do the Bolos, but in a completely different, more… wonderfully sloppy way. But you mentioned something I’m completely for: older guys making bands with young kids. Fuck co-ed. What we need is co-age. That’s the key for the future in SA, I think. Like a great soccer team that mixes youth with experience.
Oh, yeah, absolutely. You’re right, you’re right. That would be badass, because it would solve both issues: the Masters are so tight because they’ve been doing it for so long. And if they’d played like shit it would be embarrassing. But they should play with younger people, and viceversa. It wouldn’t hurt. The things that bums me out… I don’t know how it is in Austin, I don’t know how it is anywhere else, but… It took me a while to pull my head out of my ass and [stop saying], “Just because I’m young and I have a lot of piss and vinegar still in me, I can’t take advice from other people.” I can’t say if we will, like, become the new cool place in that regard… Not to put words into your mouth, but as far as the coin flippin’ again [Austin/SA], I don’t think it would hurt at all to see Piñata Protest with Flaco. That would be something us, as a generation, would be fucking proud of. And I think Flaco would benefit from it, because it will be, you know, a new audience. Not that people my age don’t know who Flaco is, but there’s nothing to lose from it.
Flaco did play on Café Tacuba’s first album. He did a tremendous solo on “Las Persianas”. A couple of years ago I asked him about it, and he didn’t remember it. So there you go…
What’s taking me a couple of years to figure out… We’re the DT Buffkin band, you know, I don’t really know who to play with, that’s where the whole Eva thing came along. I knew that Flaco didn’t need any help playing Hi-Tones. he played there before. I got to talk to Eva for a Current article. I got in touch with her and I just figured, “Man, I want to play with a conjunto legend, and this looks like an opportunity.” As you could tell, [DT Buffkin & the Bad Breath is not] playing ragtime shit anymore, we’re just kind of moving away from that.
Yes, and I loved it. But why settle with “playing with” as in “sharing the bill”? Why didn’t you actually shared the stage at the same time with Eva?
She asked about that, she was wondering if we were going to play together. Honestly, I’m not… I guess I could fake it, but i wouldn’t want to embarrass her.
Oh, c’mon, man… Next time, make sure you get in there with her. She would’ve loved it and I’m sure it would’ve been great. She loved your band and was very grateful to you.
I would ask her to play in one of our tunes, before I’d try to play with her.
Yeah, next time, please do it.
Yeah! They want to have her back. I think [Hi-Tones] is booked until March, but I’m trying to get her a date for April. I’ll let you know.
I don’t have New Years’ resolutions. I’m past the age when to want = to do. But i can still dream. And I dream that in 2015 the young kids will cut the crap and listen more to the local masters and try to record with them. And that Chris Smart and Roland Delacruz stay single for many years to come.
1. (in World War II) a Japanese aircraft loaded with explosives and making a deliberate suicidal crash on an enemy target. The pilot of an aircraft making a deliberate suicidal crash.
1. Of or relating to a kamikaze attack or pilot.
Reckless or potentially self-destructive.
“He made a kamikaze run across three lanes of traffic.” Japanese, from kami (‘divinity’) + kaze ‘wind,’ originally referring to the gale that, in Japanese tradition, destroyed the fleet of invading Mongols in 1281. (Taken from one of those free online dictionaries).
OK, that’s a kamikaze. But I’ve got my own kind of kamikaze, and this is is what he looked like in 1982:
His name was Luis Alberto Spinetta (1950-2012), he was/is from Argentina, and he was arguably the greatest Spanish-language rocker ever born. He also never gave a shit and did what he had to do, with zero concern for fashion, popularity, or “serving my fans, without whom I wouldn’t be here” and all that crap so often uttered by minor entertainers. Spinetta was an artist, and he wouldn’t just write songs: the guy could draw, as shown in the cover of the iconic 1969 debut by Almendra, his first band.
From that first album is the following song, in my book the ultimate rocanrol ballad.
In 1982, Spinetta released Kamikaze, his most minimalist, acoustic album. Listen while you read.
In the album’s liner notes, Spinetta asks, “…are there any more kamikazes out there in creative life?”
I have my kamikazes, you have yours. This is a blog about those kamikazes who write songs or make movies or do whatever it is that they do in order to remain sane, and that sanity is the sanity as described by the kamikaze’s own conscience, not that of society’s. I’ll update it whenever I feel like it and, every once in a while, I’ll stray away from art and write about other topics that move me or piss me off.
It’ll be long, and it’ll be short. Sometimes you won’t see it for weeks. At other times, it’ll be a daily bombardment of words, songs, and videos. Not the most recommended recipe in these days of idiotic immediacy and “keeping with the pulse of the city.” I don’t keep with nobody’s pulse but mine; that’s what jobs are for. But this, this is one of my two little gardens (the other one is here).
It’ll be good, and it’ll be bad.
But it’ll be mine, and it will self-destruct after 108 postings (or not). Such is the post-Big Meat Grinder life.
It’s unedited, uncensored, and bad for business.
But that’s what a kamikaze does. Destination Nowhere.
I only hope that at least one person out there discovers one of the artists I write about and shares my passion and love for them with me.
In other (better) words written by the Ultimate Kamikaze:
“I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.
This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty … what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. (…)
To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing.” (Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer)