Coachella has hosted enough actual reunions (Jane's Addiction in 2001, Iggy & the Stooges in 2003, Pavement last year) to make it an annual spark for fans' fevered imaginations (the Smiths, Roxy Music, Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, ad infinitum).
So, if you looked at 2011's annual font-challenged lineup announcement and didn't see the gettin'-the-band-back-together of your dreams, then one thing's for sure: You ain't Mexican.
For two shows, the classic lineup of Caifanes—singer/guitarist Saul Hernandez, lead guitarist Alejandro Marcovich, drummer Alfonso Andre, keyboardist/saxophonist Diego Herrera and bassist Sabo Romo—will come back together. First, for the also-massive Vive Latino festival in Mexico City on April 11, and then for a Friday-night slot at Coachella.
"The surprise for me has been that, at Coachella, tickets are sold out," Hernandez says by phone from Playa del Carmen, Mexico. And he's heard the same rumors we have: "People are saying that it's the Mexicans' fault!" he says with a laugh, adding in English, "In a good sense."
All it really took to get them back together was a brain tumor.
As any music-lover with even a passing knowledge of south-of-the-border sounds should know, the Caifanes reunion is a big pinche deal. As the band's members take pains to point out, while the Mexico City-based combo didn't invent the rock en español genre, their meteoric ascent from the D.F.'s nigh-illegal underground scene in the late '80s to sold-out stadiums shows and an appearance at Peter Gabriel's WOMAD festival in the early '90s blasted open the door to creative and commercial success for a desmadre of Mexican rock acts, from the mainstream (Mana) to the deliciously quirky (Café Tacuba).
Their sonic palette brought in elements of British new wave and post-punk (in the early days, with their teased-out coifs and makeup, they looked and sounded a bit like the Cure—Google "Matenme Porque me Muero"), as well as prog rock (Adrian Belew of King Crimson produced their 1992 record, El Silencio). But, like all of the best rock en español, it wasn't just rehashed gringo rock with Spanish lyrics tacked on. They drew on specifically Latino song forms and instrumentation (the acoustic guitar runs and horn stabs on monster hit "La Celula Que Explota," the galloping jarana on "Mariquita") to craft a distinctive sound that also combined Hernandez's soaring, spiritually tinged vocals with the Argentinean-born Marcovich's evocative, eclectic guitar work.
In 1995, at the height of their fame, they broke up. Creative differences. Of course.
The battle between Hernandez and Marcovich was so bitter that Hernandez was unable to continue using the Caifanes name. In 1995, he founded Jaguares, who have been successful in their own right and, at one time or another, have featured all of the former members of Caifanes except for Marcovich. Hernandez will release his first solo album in May. The guitarist has had a busy post-Caifanes career, as well: producing, doing soundtrack work, teaching and performing. Last year, Marcovich played a "Pink Floyd Symphonic" show with a full orchestra.
Although the pair hadn't had any sort of communication since 1995, each was still in touch will all the other members of Caifanes. That's how Hernandez heard, in July of last year, that Marcovich had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and was scheduled for surgery. "I immediately tried to get in touch with him and wish him the best," he says.
"At my concerts, I said to the crowd, 'We hope that Alejandro comes through this okay and that he recovers quickly,'" he says, adding that it always got a big round of applause from the fans.
Marcovich learned of Hernandez's concert shout-outs shortly before his surgery, he says by phone from Mexico City. One ex-Caifanes member also forwarded an email with Hernandez's good wishes.
The surgery itself, which took place in Mexico City, "was very delicate," Marcovich says. It lasted about 10 hours, and he was awake for two of them. "Two hours is a lot with your skull open," Marcovich notes dryly; he had to perform various tasks—answering questions, playing melodies on a keyboard, making other movements with his right hand—"so they could determine where to cut."
It was a total success. "I can play guitar; I can compose music. I can talk," Marcovich says. And, as he recovered, he was determined to talk with one person in particular.
"For many years, I'd wanted to resolve my relationship with Saul," says Marcovich, now 50 years old, "because it seemed very sad to me that two people who had been so connected and so creative together . . . [had] a problem from the past—and they couldn't even remember where it came from, except that it separated them. It'd be very sad to die with that feeling."
"From there," Hernandez picks up the story, "Alejandro wrote me, saying, 'I'd like to sit down with you to talk because we have a lot to talk about,' and that's how it was." Sometime in November, they met—and talked until 6 in the morning.
"It was a very deep conversation, very honest, very brave," the 47-year-old Hernandez says. "We said what we needed to say, but in a way that was very . . . evolved."
The "very positive, very healthy"conversation centered on the good things and the bad, Marcovich says. "The good things put us back in the good place of our relationship; the bad, we could talk about for the first time—give them some dimension."
Not long after that, Hernandez recalls, his office got a proposal to get Caifanes back together. "Caifanes get proposals every 15 minutes, no?" Hernandez notes, and he's probably only exaggerating by about 10 minutes or so. But this one was "concrete," for the Vive Latino festival in Mexico City, in many ways a very similar event to Coachella: three days with a slew of both up-and-coming and established rock, rap, dance and electronic acts. (This year's lineup also includes a few rock en inglés acts, notably Jane's Addiction and the National.)
"I'm a reader of the circumstances that life gives you," Hernandez says. "I couldn't have imagined sitting down, suddenly studying this proposal, much less writing an email saying [to the other members of Caifanes], 'Boys, there's this offer . . .'" But that's exactly what he did.
The possibility of playing Coachella followed shortly thereafter, "like a domino effect," Hernandez says.
Everyone was game for the reunion. "It means closing a circle," Marcovich says, "because when the group ended, it ended on bad terms, and that remained like a stain on our careers."
He says that he sees it as an "exercise" to see where they are. "It's really a question of the heart," he says. "We're going to do it for ourselves, for a lot of people who listen to us, who have been waiting for us, for people who have asked us for so many years to get back together."
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"There are no plans for a big tour, nor are there plans for a record, because we're going to do this musical exercise of these two festivals, and then we'll see," Hernandez says. "We'll see what happens, how we feel." He stresses that the former members all have other projects—the politically active Hernandez was just in San Francisco in March for the annual Amnesty International meeting, where he and Steve Earle performed and paid tribute to Joan Baez—and are not looking for a payday. If Caifanes continue to do anything, "it'll be for love, not for other things," he says.
"If not, and that's it, then we took out that thorn we had in our side," Hernandez says. "We did two marvelous concerts, and people will be happy."
This article appeared in print as "Mortal Friends:How a health scare last year brought rock en español legends Caifanes back together just in time for Coachella."