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The Second Wave

Rockinvasion '97 is the most ambitious U.S.-Spanish rock tour ever.

June 15, 1997|Yvette C. Doss | Yvette C. Doss is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer

Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy and girl happen to be in a rock band. When they break up, boy and girl stay in the band and make hit music exploring their painful separation.

Sound familiar?

No Doubt.

For Andrea Echeverri and Hector Buitrago, members of Colombian alternative rock trio Aterciopelados (Velvets), that scenario isn't just a recounting of No Doubt's mega-hit "Don't Speak," which focused on Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal's breakup.

It's their own story, one that fueled the group's second album, "El Dorado," the 1995 collection that helped make the band's folk-tinged sound one of the most acclaimed in the burgeoning global rock en espan~ol scene.

When Aterciopelados appears Saturday and next Sunday at the Universal Amphitheatre as part of the Rockinvasion '97 concert, Echeverri may even show the crowd the tattoo on her arm, which reads "Hector."

Despite its mushrooming popularity in the Spanish-speaking world, rock en espan~ol remains something of an underground sound among Spanish-speaking youth in the U.S. But supporters of the style are hopeful that it will eventually become successful enough here that young, bilingual Latino fans will be as familiar with the story (and music) of Andrea and Hector as they probably are already with Gwen and Tony's.

The weekend concerts at Universal could be a major step in that direction. Rockinvasion '97 is the most ambitious U.S.-Spanish rock tour to date. The first such tour sponsored by a major U.S. corporation (PepsiCo Inc.), Rockinvasion '97 kicks off Friday in San Diego and also includes stops in El Paso, Houston, Chicago, New York and Miami.

The concept grows out of a test concert held last year at Universal. Titled "Wateke '96," it featured such acts as Aterciopelados and Shakira.

"We basically took last year's program and took it national," said Jaime Vasquez, Southern California marketing manager for PepsiCo, which is sponsoring the tour as part of its high-profile campaign to attract young consumers.

"Most companies consult with outside ad agencies who lead them down the path of least resistance, i.e., by telling them to use mariachi music, those formats that are most recognized by the U.S. companies," Vasquez said.

"But they don't realize that Latino teens are now living in two worlds. Having grown up in an English rock world but raised by Latino parents, many are interested in a mature rock formula that borrows the rhythms and the melodies that are credible and relevant to the Latino community and incorporates them into the rock format."

Besides Aterciopelados, the Universal lineup features such other highly regarded rock en espan~ol acts as Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Maldita Vecindad. In each city, the tour will also include one English-speaking band.

Here's a guide to the weekend acts:

* Los Fabulosos Cadillacs: This Argentine entry started out 10 albums ago as a straight-ahead ska group, complete with porkpie hats, but it has evolved into one of the most eclectic bands in Spanish-language rock. The Cadillacs' last album, 1996's "Rey Azucar" ("Sugar King"), includes a duet with Deborah Harry and blends punk, ska, rap and reggae with the Latin rhythms of Brazilian samba and salsa. Political messages are embedded in upbeat, catchy tunes for a subversive touch.

* Maldita Vecindad: The veteran quintet from Mexico is the band on the bill that will rock with the most traditional Latin American flavoring. Themes such as the search for identity in "Pachuco," which is a son's plea to his once-rebellious father to understand his nonconformity; frustration with racial divisions in "Saltapa'tras"("Jump Back"), and the corruption of power in "Aunque" ("Even Though") are bolstered by Arabic melodies, boleros and ska beats.

* La Union: Of the four rock en espan~ol acts, this is the one with least credibility to die-hard fans because of an apparent tendency to switch musical styles to take advantage of the latest commercial trends, according to Emilio Morales, publisher of Long Beach-based La Banda Elastica, the nation's first rock en espan~ol magazine.

* Aterciopelados: This is not only the one group on the tour that is fronted by a woman, but is also the one most deserving of attention. "They are the band for the end of the millennium," says an enthusiastic Morales. The group's "Miss Panela" ("Miss Cheese") is a feminist critique of beauty pageants, while "Baracunatana" is a lament about a cheating girlfriend. Both are standout tracks from the quartet's latest album, "La Pipa de la Paz" ("Peace Pipe"), which combines folksy rancheras, boleros and tangos with a solid rock backbone and powerful vocals.

Besides the question of reaching more bilingual fans in this country, rock en espan~ol faces the challenge of attracting English-dominant Latino fans. Few at this point, however, are predicting that rock en espan~ol will soon compete with mainstream rock for attention among the general English-speaking audience.

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