Music Interviews
3:22 pm
Fri November 8, 2013

¡Aparato! Takes Latin Music Traditions Into The Future

Originally published on Fri November 8, 2013 7:08 pm

All this week, All Things Considered has been broadcasting from Southern California, a hotbed for Latin Alternative music. Felix Contreras, co-host of NPR's Alt.Latino podcast, says that even for him, that music often evades definition.

"Latin Alternative is a combination of tradition mixed with hip-hop and rock and electronica. But then sometimes it's just straight hip-hop, and that throws my theory into shambles," he says. "It's all of the above, but none of the above."

However you peg the style, he says, there's one Los Angeles-area group that's doing it right. ¡Aparato!, a trio whose name translates to "machine," fuses rock with instruments and sounds from Mexico's son jarocho tradition. While the band has yet to release a full album, it's already worked up a cult following and topped lists of the best Latin Alternative bands of the year in local alternative weekly newspapers.

Two of ¡Aparato!'s founders, Cat Mendez and Alexandro Hernández Guitérrez, joined host Audie Cornish at NPR West to explain the instruments they play, recount their past lives in punk and metal bands, and perform some music live. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block in Washington.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And Audie Cornish coming to you this week from Culver City, California, and there are a lot of Latin alternative bands. I mean, they're out here left and right. But what does Latin alternative mean? Even our own Felix Contreras of NPR's ALT.LATINO sometimes wonders.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Latin Alternative is a combination of tradition mixed with hip-hop and rock and electronica. But then sometimes it's just straight hip-hop, and that throws my theory into shambles. So, you know, it's all of the above, but none of the above.

CORNISH: But Felix says, this next band, they're doing it right.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONTRERAS: They start with a very solid foundation of tradition, you know, the whole idea of you got to know where you come from to know where you're going, that's what these guys do and I think they do it really, really well.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: This is ¡Aparato!, that translates to machine, and while they have never released a full album, they've already worked up a cult following and topped the list of best Latin alternative band of the year in local alt. weeklies. Today, we're joined by two of and fuses rock with instruments and sounds from Mexico's son jarocho tradition. While the band has yet to release a full album, it's already worked up a cult following and topped lists of the best Latin Alternative bands of the year in local alternative weekly newspapers.

Today, we're joined by two of ¡Aparato!'s founders, Nancy Cat Mendez and Alexandro Hernandez Guiterrez. Welcome to the studio.

NANCY CAT MENDEZ: Thank you so much for having us.

ALEXANDRO HERNANDEZ GUITERREZ: Hello.

CORNISH: So I noticed, first of all, you both have come in with instruments, which we love. Tell us what they are, what they look like.

MENDEZ: I am holding a (unintelligible). It looks like a ukulele. It's a little longer. It has eight strings. And it sounds like...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GUITERREZ: The instrument I am playing is part of the son jarocho tradition as well. The song "Jarocho" is music from the Southern Gulf Coast of Mexico, primarily the state of Vera Cruz, but of course, we take this music or elements of the music, primarily the instruments and do our own kind of rock with it.

CORNISH: And let's talk a little bit more about this because I know you guys describe your music as jarocho rock. And I want to get an idea of your musical backgrounds because, Cat, I heard you were in an all-female punk band.

MENDEZ: Yes, Mystery Hangup.

CORNISH: It's hard for me - for people to get that you're wearing this floral shirt, this cat-eye makeup and I'm - the punk thing, I'm having a hard time seeing it.

MENDEZ: That was my - that was an opportunity with music beyond stages where I can release my energies and express myself really. The fury comes out on stage.

CORNISH: Now, Alexandro, for you, what did you grow up listening to because you had this attachment to this kind of traditional instrumentation?

GUITERREZ: Right. The song "Jarocho" has been a memory for me every since I was about six years old. But my first bands I ever played in were heavy metal bands.

CORNISH: Wait. What? Really?

GUITERREZ: Definitely. I heard Black Sabbath. I was in the car with my brother and my parents and I heard this sound and I heard the song "Iron Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, 'IRON MAN')

GUITERREZ: And all I wanted was to sound as loud and as heavy and as amazing as they did.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, 'IRON MAN')

GUITERREZ: And so that was my introduction into music. I took guitar lessons for about a year. I started learning how to play the blues and so that was my entrance into playing music.

CORNISH: Well, I want to play a song that will give people an idea of what your sound is now. It's called "Criminal."

GUITERREZ: "Criminal."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, 'CRIMINAL')

CORNISH: Very gorgeous kind of pop rock sound, actually, and dark lyrics. I mean, Cat, you're singing, I'm not a murderer, she screamed. Tell us about the song.

MENDEZ: This song was inspired because, well, we have parents that migrated to the United States because...

CORNISH: From where? Where did they come from?

MENDEZ: Well, my parents migrated from Oaxaca.

CORNISH: In Mexico.

MENDEZ: Yeah. (Unintelligible) in Mexico. And I start thinking about, well, why is it, you know, that these people, they migrate in search of a better life to find jobs and then they are criminalized or discriminated against. There's women that take birth controls because they know that there's a possibility that they're going to be raped while crossing the border.

Why is it that these people go through all these extremes? And so hopefully, with the song, people will think a little deeper and be like, well, maybe it's globalization or the outsourcing of jobs or maybe it's NAFTA that's causing serious conditions in other people's countries that are forcing them to leave their homes and their families and everything they know.

CORNISH: Do you feel essentially a responsibility to talk about these kinds of issues? And how do you do that without being, you know, a message band?

MENDEZ: We just try to make it sound fun and interesting and very colorful so that it's not just a preachy band, I guess, because we don't want to be that. But I think it's important that we do take on that responsibility to talk about issues that other people can't talk about.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Why do you still feel so connected to these particular instruments? What is it about them that you think brings something special to the music?

GUITERREZ: Their timbre, their sounds...

CORNISH: Can you give me an example?

GUITERREZ: Yeah, definitely. Just to give a traditional strum right quick. Here goes one.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GUITERREZ: Adding kind of some elements of that into a song like "Criminal" I start to do something like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GUITERREZ: And that type of strumming, like say if you're playing an electric guitar, it's hard to duplicate and there's also bands on - in both Mexico and Latin America and even in the U.S. that fusing the instruments in a similar way, but not so much with the type of rock sound, kind of post punk that we do it with.

CORNISH: Nancy Cat Mendez and Alexandro Hernandez Guiterrez, Their band is ¡Aparato! Thank you both for coming in.

MENDEZ: Thank you so much for having us.

GUITERREZ: Thank you.

CORNISH: Well, we'd love to go out on a song. Is there one in particular you'd like to play?

GUITERREZ: Yes, we would love to play...

MENDEZ: (Unintelligible).

GUITERREZ: (Unintelligible) One, two, three, four, five, six...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.