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Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet: Latin Arena Rock

by Rachel Devitt

Cheat Sheet: Latin Arena Rock


These days, the idea of a Latin rock band of mega-proportions capable of selling out arenas is pretty much par for the course. I mean, there's a little band called Maná out there releasing albums and playing tours, right? Right. But the stadium-level success of artists like Maná, Zoé and even Juanes' folky pop rock is also part of a lineage and a historical trajectory that's become increasingly significant in the history of Latin music.

The late '80s and early '90s ushered in an era of what many people called Rock En Español. What that meant, essentially, was that Latin musicians were doing what musicians around the world were doing at that moment: immersing themselves in post-punk and post-metal, helping to shape sounds like "grunge" and generally putting the focus on chunky guitars, angsty vocals and killer riffs. What we ended up with was a clutch of super-awesome new bands, many of whom leaned a little toward the alt side of things, and most of whom became big stars throughout Latin America and beyond, thanks to an increased interest in and attention on the Latin music market.

Wow, what a moment: In Argentina, Soda Stereo were churning out epic dream rock, and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs were blending in a little ska and punk with their alt. Meanwhile, in Mexico, Caifanes were dishing up post-punk synth-rock, and Café Tacvba were blowing the whole world's mind with their heady, eclectic brew of influences. Over in Europe, Manu Chao was rocking out with his first band, punk outfit Mano Negra. And of course, Maná, who are still going strong today, got their start in that era, too. Bands like these helped pave the way for next-gen rockers -- but they also benefited from the earlier roads paved by big bands like Santana and Los Lobos.

This little Cheat Sheet turned out to be not so little. The list is long and sprawling, spanning multiple genres (Tex-Mex! Punk! Ska!) and eras. And, well, the concept itself is kind of big. Essentially, we're drawing connections here among the massive! formative! major! Latin rock bands that, at one point or another, hit the big time in a major way. Many of them continue to do so, like the seminal Café Tacvba, who drop their seventh album this week. And hey, if nothing else, it makes for a killer playlist.