Mexico City’s Jaguares combine mainstream rock, Latin music and jungle mysticism
Who says rock is dead?
Sure, much of what passes today for the old four-on-the-floor racket has all the excitement and relevance of yesterday’s oatmeal breakfast.
Nevertheless, if you’re a rock fan, and you’re missing genuine passion and excitement in your music, and those three guys with the bleached spiky hair and recycled Ramones riffs on MTV or those long-in-the-tooth arena veterans who just released their third comeback album on CMC aren’t satisfying your jones, perhaps you’re looking in the wrong place.
Hint: You might try looking in your record store’s Spanish section.
Example? Jaguares. Here’s a world-class outfit, a trio of unabashed prog-rockers from Mexico whose third and latest album, Cuando la Sangre Galopa (translated, “When the Blood Gallops”; RCA/BMG Latin Records), provides the kind of satisfying rock (not “rock ’n’ roll,” or “[hyphenate]-rock”) fan experience that disappeared long ago in a haze of goatee-stroking ironic detachment.
Of course, for those of us who no se habla Español, it’s a bit hard to discern exactly what singer Saúl Hernández is addressing, but half the time you can’t figure out what even English-speaking singers are on about, so what’s the problem? The point is that this trio (which expands to a five-piece in concert) can deliver guitar-based noise rooted in the classic rock tradition of tunesmithery (e.g., Sangre Galopa’s “El Secreto”; see Lennon, Cobain), and then segue to an angular, Cuban-sounding ballad on the next cut (“Como Tú”), then move to something that sounds like King Crimson’s Adrian Belew reinventing the Beatles.
Cuando la Sangre Galopa is a fascinating album—it definitely falls under the rubric “mainstream rock,” but it takes side trips to interesting places, much like Latin-rock predecessors Santana and Los Lobos do.
Hernández seems to embrace the marriage of classic English and American rock styles with the more fluid Latin forms. “We like to play with that and discover a new point of view,” he says over the phone from Phoenix, apologizing for his command of English—to someone who barely knows any Spanish.
“We listened to all the ’60s and ’70s music,” he adds, “and we listened in English. We’ve grown up with the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, and Pink Floyd, and Genesis, and Jethro Tull—everybody. And in the beginning, we didn’t understand nothing; we just didn’t know what the bands were saying. And over time we realized the philosophy of the bands.”
Jaguares’ debut was released five years ago, but the group is essentially an extension of Caifanes, a popular Mexican group that formed in 1987. Hernández, who plays guitar and some bass, and drummer Alfonso André came from that group; the new group also includes lead guitarist César López. As Caifanes, the group played Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festival; in its current incarnation, the band has worked with such seasoned rock-record producers as Don Was and Greg Ladanyi. The new record, however, was produced by Hernández and André.
While, musically, Hernández mines classic rock forms, his inspiration for lyrics comes straight from the prog-rock canon. “We have a huge influence from mysticism,” he says. “Mexico is huge in that territory, yes? Also, in Central America, we have strong communities of Indian people in the country, so we learn a lot from them. We take trips to the jungle, and I stay with the tribes.”
Hernandez discovered a certain tribe, whose name he mentions but there’s no way to check the spelling, during a period when he was chronically ill and unable to work, and he was seeking something—herbal remedies, spiritual renewal—that he couldn’t find in mainstream society. “It was like that great moment in life,” he says, “when you are lucky to be with other people who think completely different than you, and they have their own cosmos and their own point of view about everything.”
Sometimes, the shock of something new and different is just what the doctor, or brujo, ordered. How’s your sense of adventure?