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FEEDBACK: Rock en espanol and the Perils of Assimilation

Dear Mexican: I was wondering what your take is on the Los Abandoned breakup. You once pegged them as the saviors of local rocken español. Do you have any info or theories as to why the best of the Great Brown Hopes called it quits? After catching them onConan O'Brien, I thought our little scene would finally get its much-needed promotional steroid. No dice. In general, do you think alt-Latin (or Latin indie) will ever make it in the U.S. (or abroad, for that matter)? I know "make it" is a vague expression, but what I mean is, at a "quit my day job and live off my music"-type level. No band that I know of have been able to buy their own homes off their music money. It seems gringos (the ones with the ability and willingness to actually purchase music) aren't buying much music in any language other than English. I might even say they turn a blind eye, or ear, to music made by brown people. Maybe they incorrectly assume it's all brown anger, Zapatista-type stuff. Dude, I know you've been critical of the scene in the past, but with the exit of Los Abandoned, what hope is left? Is thereanythingwe can do to salvage the scene?

BreakupsNo Son Very Nice

Dear Wab: I wanted to criticize your rambles, but I don't blame you—indeed, I'm as despondent as , but with better grammar. Los Abandoned, for ustedes not in the know, was a Los Angeles-based quartet that reflected the postmodern Latino experience better than any band ever. Seriously: They were poppy, punky and political; had a gabacho, a Chilean and Mexicans; sang in English, Spanish and Spanglish; and were at ease plucking ukuleles and Stratocasters or drumming out indigenous rhythms. I remember seeing Los Abandoned (who were dressed up in World War II-era khakis) years ago at a seedy Hollywood nightclub, ready to kick off a Battle of the Bands for local rock en español groups. (They went on to win.) Even then, I knew Los Abandoned would do something, and they did: an album deal with Neil Young's label, appearances on Conan and praise from The New York Times. If any Latino alt-group not named the Mars Volta finally became a mainstream hit, I and others figured it'd be them.

Rock en espaŮol's fortunes look bleak with the folding of its brightest hope, Los Abandonded. Photo by Lisa Hahn.

But last month, Los Abandoned announced they were calling it quits with a farewell concert near the La Brea Tar Pits. Fans remain mystified—myself included. But the denouement of Los Abandoned signifies something more than just the breakup of a group—it hints at the end of rock en español itself.

I began covering the scene in 2001 for the Weekly, and I remember the various groups—both international and local—that made Orange County an unlikely hotbed of rock en español. The movimiento roared, as various groups fused traditional Latin American rhythms to pop music. The best of the bunch—Venezuelan salsa-funksters Los Amigos Invisibles; Mexico's reggae-norteño shamans El Gran Silencio; and Bersuit Vergarabat, the finest bunch of musical anarchists since the Mothers of Invention—were some of this century's finest groups, and they visited la naranja—specifically Anaheim nightclub JC Fandango—with regularity. Locally, bands such as Voz de Mano and Viernes 13 impressed as well. Concerts were plentiful and always packed.

But I haven't followed those bands closely in years because the music stagnated. The stalwarts continue to release new albums, but no other groups from Latin America have emerged to infuse rock en español with new ideas, characters, or music. Efforts to introduce rock en español to American ears—having Café Tacuba open for Beck on a tour, for instance, or the Lollapallooza-inspired Watcha Tour—flopped, with gabachos simply not interested in hearing wabs and their cousins.

And so, the scene tattered. JC Fandango hosts a show or two every couple of months instead of weekly, as it did in its glory days. The same groups now headline the House of Blues. And Orange County's biggest Latin-alternative event is the reprehensible Reventón Super Estrella, the flagship event for the KIIS-FM of Spanish-language alternative music. At all these events, everything is the same: Fans and band members sing along to the same songs—the same sets!—they experienced seven years ago.

The biggest culprit for the downsizing of rock en español? Assimilation. It's been the trend for rock bands in Latin America for the past couple of years to disavow anything Latino about their music and emulate the music of el Norte. (Just check out Café Tacuba's latest, electronica-heavy album, Sino.) Latino musicians in the States follow those cues, content with crafting American-style pop while singing in Spanish—in other words, sucking in two cultures. And so listeners are robbed of rock en español's radical promise of effortless multiculturalism, of a truly borderless world.


GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

 
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