There is a genus of rockeros fans who stand apart from the crowd during concerts; speak flawless English and Spanish; and have Italian, German and Irish surnames. They are the Argentines among us, and according to the U.S. government, they're Latinos, not white. But ask a "true" Latino—one eager to make distinctions—and he'll classify Argentines as white because few Argentines have indigenous blood in their veins; the old joke has it that Argentines are Italians who speak Spanish and think they're British. But Argentines have faced the same historical problems as Mexicans, Central Americans and Caribbeans. They've suffered through one despotic regime after another and a decade-long depression that's about to explode into revolution, and they speak Spanish. Not Latino, my ass.
Enanitos Verdes (Little Green Men) have worked diligently to eradicate such intra-ethnic animosity over the past 20 years. Throughout that long career, they've generated a huge following, probably the largest and most geographically diverse in rock en español. Their secret? They fly high the banner of Latin American unity—lyrically, emotionally and musically.
Enanitos Verdes formed in 1979, the nadir of Argentina's Dirty War. A military junta ran the country as a police state, sweeping suspected leftists off the streets and into detention centers, where they were greeted with torture and ignominious death; when the leftists were all gone, paramilitary groups and police went after the liberals.
There was no room in this nationwide gulag for protest, which explains why early Enanitos Verdes songs were teen-angst crap that will one day serve as the prototype for a South American 'NSync. But you would have sung lame music, too, if there were soldiers ready to make your mom march in Buenos Aires' Plaza de Mayo for the rest of her life, cradling in her arms a portrait of you, her disappeared child.
Still, in the face of such brutal repression, Enanitos Verdes slowly built a progressive reputation. They cleverly got past censors songs with political messages like "Guitarras Blancas" (White Guitars). Ostensibly about wanting to dance, the piece is really about young Argentina's desire—demand, even—to live free; never had dirty dancing seemed so truly revolutionary.
When the junta abandoned power in 1983 following its debacle in the Falkland Islands War, Enanitos Verdes began touring the Hispanic world and picked up social and musical ideas wherever they visited.
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Unlike most obviously political rock en español bands, Enanitos Verdes' music has always veered toward the soft—elements of their teenybopper days still emerge. It's a subtle music that manages to seethe with anger drawn from the working-class backgrounds of bassist/vocalist Marciano Cantero, guitarist Felipe Staiti and drummer Daniel Piccolo, all of whom come from the rural province of Mendoza rather than the teeming metropolis of Buenos Aires that has shaped most Argentine alternative music. That may explain the sense you get that in their music is the soul of Latin America. Instruments from around the Latino world abound: accordions of the Argentine and Mexican variety, the flute of the Incas, and the congas of the Caribbean.
Enanitos Verdes has expanded its thematic embrace to follow Latin America's descent into hell. "Lamento Boliviano" (released in 1994 and dedicated to Simón Bolívar, the 19th-century liberator of South America) is now a classic; it marks the beginning of Enanitos Verdes' evolution toward more social subjects. A scathing condemnation of Latin America as a whole, it urges all Latinos to unite under Bolívar's dream of the Americano, a pan-ethnic grouping that was usurped by those damn Yankees and exists only as an illusion—thanks largely to Latino USA's constant quien-es-mas-macho infighting.
Still, Enanitos Verdes run into the usual carping wherever they go: they're musical wimps. Their lyrics are not sufficiently anti-American. They're Argentines and therefore not equipped to sing about the lives of indigenous people. Yet Enanitos Verdes trudges on, working not so much to weld Marxist ideology onto a song but rather to unite and win fans by concentrating on the shared Latin American experience.
Enanitos Verdes perform at the Sun Theatre, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2700. Wed., 8 p.m. $27.50. All ages.