Perfect Sound Forever

Mexican rock

Ely Guerra Los De Abajo

This strange, unsettling moment
by Oscar Sarquiz
(April 2010)

It's easily understandable that in Mexico, we've always been under the huge shadow of American rock and roll. The early years (early 60's) were bland, amateurish imitations of Hit Parade hits. The late '60's were steamrolled over by the English groups, which detonated originals. In broken English, which went the way of lemmings, mainly because they weren't up to par. Then came the dark ages, when rock was de facto banned after the 1968 riots, and banished to so called 'funky holes' - garages, barracks, even abandoned bullfight rings where the best music came from the border (Tijuana, Juarez, et al), whose groups grew up listening to 'classic rock' before it was so called.

But true Mexican rock, in the Tacvba vein, didn't really take off until the early '80's, when their forerunners, Botellita de Jerez ('Little Sherry Bottle' - an untranslateable children's rhyme) became the closest local thing to the Sex Pistols, in the sense they turned everything upside down by actually flaunting both their quintessential 'Mexicanity' and their admittedly modest musicality. Their example, which I call 'nationalist rock' is recognizedly behind most relevant groups since: Maldita Vecindad, Trolebús, Mamá-Z, Café Tacvba, El Gran Silencio, etc.

However, the tragic thing is that George Santayana was right when he remarked people who ignore their history are doomed to repeat it over and over again: in this globalized, MTV tainted post-rock and roll (not 'post-rock') environment, ever more clueless if better implemented bands are back to aping Nirvana, Strokes, White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, etc.- whatever flavors of the week the old music metropolis come up with for them to try and follow from way behind. Current faves Hello Seahorse sing in English, or in shallow, meaningless Spanish, and their whole output can be summed up as a tiresome redevelopment of that old Q Lazzarus technochestnut, "Goodbye Horses" (which was popularized by the film Silence of the Lambs). It is THAT stale. It is THAT uncreative. The biggest current band, Zoé, is such a brainless sci-fi hodge podge that they cannot stand up to international competition, although they, as most mediocre local 'stars' have a following among Mexican emigrés across the border.

This is tragic, given internationally relevant bands like Los De Abajo couldn't really stand up to the irony of being bigger abroad than at home (like guitar players Rodrigo & Gabriela, who had to give up their metal leanings to become an unexpecte international success playing acoustics).

The near destroying of musical Mexican radio stations as they were hogged by politicians and their sponsors in our most recent, fraudulent presidential election hasn't helped at all, and the empowering of the conservative right has meant that one more time, anything from abroad is looked up to for the purpose of imitation, instead of as an incentive to come up with something new and exciting.

I don't mean to sound too down, but we've seen better days. The fact that we have a de facto undeclared civil war between the government and the drug barons (Colombian style) means that most young people are now Emo mannequins, all uniform and no content, homogenized tribes ripe for exploitation.

I may be missing some white crows in this sorry outlook (like Tacvba, or Mexican-American songstress Lila Downs), but one who comes to mind is singer/songwriter Ely Guerra, presently fighting the indie war with her own Homey Company and a new album whose first listening party I recently attended. She's VERY serious about her art, has dynamite musicians & musicianship, and is in a class of her own - not even nationalistic as such.

But to sum it up, or ease this longwinded torture, the most interesting Mexican rooted band I've heard here recently are actually from L.A.: Monte Negro sports three mexicans and a talented Asian (who happens to be the name-sake of PSF editor Jason G.), and they just had their first small Mexican tour after 40 successful American dates. Does the fact that we are back to Richie Valens validate my rant?

UPDATE: the Vive Latino festival lineup was announced recently. It's our most important open air festival (staged in April). The Deftones will be featured in this. The most interesting (and relevant) U.S. import will be Calexico. Also, Ely Guerra is one of the stars, and Monte Negro will finally get a proper introduction on the smaller, most experimental stage. Rodrigo and Gabriela will be there also, for first time ever on a large stage in their own country.

Also see websites for Ely Guerra, Los De Abajo, Maldita Vecindad and Botellita de Jerez

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