Cerati En Stereo
For the past 7 years the Latin Grammy Awards have been accompanied by an annual dose of Latin pride and musings about Latin music's increasing ability to transcend borders and unite Spanish speakers of diverse countries and cultures. So it was great to see two awards this year go to Gustavo Cerati, the Argentine rock god and a true pioneer in spreading the gospel of contemporary popular music en español. Long before Ricky Martin jump started the so-called "crossover" phenomenon and when a young Shakira still did her shimmying in her bedroom, Cerati and his band mates in the now-legendary group Soda Stereo were literally crossing borders in Latin America, touring throughout the region, and even performing in New York. That was in the eighties, when Soda's idea that a band could transcend the audience in their own country was brand new.
"I think with Soda we were really at the dawn of something." Cerati told me, hiding from rubbernecking fans behind black bug eye shades at the Latin Alternative Music Conference this past August, when he played Central Park Summerstage to a capacity crowd. When the music scene in Argentina exploded after the demise of the military regime, the movement was called "rock nacional." But after Soda Stereo, it was no longer a purely domestic product. The band members were the first pan-Latin rock stars, selling over seven million albums. Such was their popularity that once they stumbled upon a hotel called the Soda Stereo Inn in Mexico; the singer has kissed babies named Cerati.
Cerati laughs now, recalling the South American superstars' first show in New York in 1989, when Soda played The Ritz for a sorry handful of people, including me (I worked for their label, CBS Records, in the then anemic Latin division.)
"It's good to see how [music in Spanish] has taken on new dimensions," Cerati said. "And that's because of the people with talent who keep doing things and persisting in coming here and playing, first in a small venue then a place that's a little bigger, saturating the public, getting the attention of people who may speak Spanish.
"Also with time you see the vices, all of the vices of the music industry. In Buenos Aires now, as always, there is good music and there are talented people. But I feel like the panorama in general, not only in Argentina but everywhere, is very boring, there's not much movement. I feel that everything has become very Disney-like: very much a shell and not a lot that is real. I think things need to be shaken up. The industry is very boring, not dynamic at all."
It's a sign of the times that an artist as grande as Cerati finally gained some widespread recognition in the U.S. last year as one of the producers of Shakira's album Fijacion Oral Vol. 1. But that new awareness no doubt sparked some members of the Latin Academy's votes: he snagged Best Rock Album for his latest solo effort, Ahí Vamos, and Best Rock Song for "Crimen" - at the Latin Grammy ceremonies Nov. 3 at Madison Square Garden. Cerati has recorded a handful of albums since Soda called it quits in 1997, experimenting with everything from classical music to electronica. On Ahí Vamos, which through pre-orders went platinum in Argentina before it was released, for the first time there's a distinct echo of Soda Stereo's sound.
"I wanted to do a record that didn't have too many abstract landscapes, that was classic, simple," he said. "But I needed the lyrics, the music, to be very direct and concrete. I think it was the result of my personal evolution. Maybe before I felt more of a need to separate what I was doing from the image and sound that had any relation to Soda Stereo, and the way that I worked, the way that I composed the songs with Soda; I was looking for something else. Now I don't think I have those kind of prejudices, I'm not worried about the idea there might be some relationship to that. I'm tired of electronic structures and machines, I got a little bit bored with all that. Of course there's still a very strong electronic movement in Argentina -- and I'm kind of listening to other things. You get tired of everything after a while. So I needed a rest from that. I'm not in the mood for ecstatic music. When I was making Ahí Vamos I was listening to Queen and Led Zeppelin, the classics. I wanted to make a classic record."