A New Generation of Chilean Artists Arrives in the U.S.
Originally published in Billboard Magazine July 19, 2012
By Judy Cantor-Navas, Los Angeles
Gepe made his Los Angeles debut at the House of Blues on a recent Thursday evening, playing guitar, programming beats and blowing Andean folk melodies on a wooden flute dangling from his mouth. "This one's called 'Out the Window,'" Gepe (real name Daniel Riveros) said in English. As he began to sing in Spanish, he was soon accompanied by half the room. "I love that you know it," he said.
A few days later, another Latin American musician named Alex Anwandter, who often performs with Gepe and local artists in their native city of Santiago, the capital of Chile, sang his new single, the anti-discrimination anthem "Como Puedes Vivir Contigo Mismo," at a pregame event at Dodgers Stadium.
Gepe and Anwandter were among six Chileans in the lineup of the recent Latin Alternative Music Conference, with Chile boasting more artists than any other country.
"Today the most relevant pop in Latin America is coming out of Chile," says Alfonso Carbone, a former president of Warner Music Chile who heads Santiago's Feria Music, where foreign distribution is a current priority. For decades the Chilean market has seemed apathetic to music by its own artists, but now Feria's top acts can each sell as many as 100,000 copies of an album, according to Carbone.
Even alternative artists who don't sell many records are able to make a living by performing in clubs and other venues.
"What used to be considered indie is now mainstream," says Rodrigo Santis, co-founder of the Quemasucabeza label, which distributes and markets albums by Gepe and other indie pop artists through Feria. Santis' artists tour routinely throughout Latin America, as well as in Europe and Japan, with U.S. dates becoming more frequent. "It's really snowballing," he says.
Carbone calls the current scene in Santiago a "gigantic movement," adding, "For a long time there was really nothing happening."
Starting in the '90s, Chile became an increasingly regular tour stop for American arena acts and, more recently, Santiago started hosting Lollapalooza Chile. While the country claims a few internationally successful acts and locally iconic pop-rock groups, foreign audiences still tend to identify Chile with the singers of the nueva canción, notably Victor Jara, killed almost 40 years ago in the early days of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
"We're the first generation [since the dictatorship] to say what we think," says Anwandter, 29, whose album Rebeldes (Feria) has been released stateside on Nacional Records. "We didn't know about protests, but we've learned to speak for ourselves."
The new generation has "a capacity for great songwriting and also for composing with computers," says Jorge Gonzalez, founder of Chilean rock godfathers Los Prisioneros, who is soon releasing a solo album and also touring the States in September. Gonzalez describes the current bunch as having the social consciousness of its folk singer predecessors, along with less expected influence from mainstream dance pop.
"These artists see things clearly and know where they're going," Santis says. "They've brought freshness to Chilean music and have the confidence to play it anywhere."