Sometimes the best way to make
"world" music is to start in your own backyard. Few Latin alternative bands
express that idea better than El Gran Silencio, which hails from Monterrey, Mexico, but
whose vision extends to Spain, India, and beyond. From deep roots in the alternative scene
of a town that has been called the Seattle of Latin alternative, El Gran Silencio have
traveled a musical path that meanders through rock, hiphop, norteño, cumbia, pagode,
ragamuffin, rumba flamenco, and even raga.
Originally slated to release as a
two-album set, Super Riddim Internacional, Vol. 1, is a monumental new work by El
Gran Silencio (Volume II will be released in the fall.) The band--which consists of
brothers Tony and Cano Hernandez on vocals and guitars, Isaac Valdez on accordion, and
Ezequiel Alvarado on drumshas reached dizzying new heights of creativity and
rhythmic energy. Like EGSs previous albums, Libres y Locos and Chuntaro
Radio Poder, Super Riddim Internacional is the soundtrack to an imaginary world
where Mexican breakdancers chill to a new kind of international folkloric lounge music.
Its music that would feel equally at home in Los Angeles as Barcelona, and maybe
even Morocco or New Dehli.
El Gran Silencio was founded in the
summer of 1992 after Tony and Cano Hernandez had been playing in various rock bands and
wanted to find a way to combine their love for hiphop and norteño music. In the early
80s they had been exposed to early hiphop by Afrika Bambaata and Soul Sonic force
and even obscure electrofunk artists like Egyptian Lover. But the momentum of a
renaissance of Mexican rock began to sweep the country in the late 80s through
groups like Caifanes, Maldita Vecindad, and Maná. The brothers Hernández formed EGS in
the midst of a new Monterrey wave that included bands like Control Machete and Plastilina
Mosh, and more recently Kinky, Jumbo, and Zurdok.
But despite the emergence of Monterrey
as the "it" city for Mexican rock, El Gran Silencio would rather hang out in
their own barrio in the citys northern suburbs. "Going back to see our homies
is a way of grounding ourselves when were flying too high," said Tony
Hernández. It makes us write about them, and their experiences and we try to take things
that can be told in all parts of the world."
EGSs method of making the
particular experiences of their hometown universal is also something they apply to the way
they make music. Enduring criticism from local rock purists, they pursued their interest
in the cumbia root of norteño all the way to its home country of Colombia. "We found
that there are many styles in Colombian music besides cumbia. In the new record we do a
little Colombian merengue, puya, porro and paseo," said Hernández.
story of EGSs heady and completely original tropical-rock mix doesnt end
there. When they began touring Europe in the late 90s, they came into contact with
groups like Dusminguet, Macaco, and Peret, who were creating their own fusion, which some
call "rumba flamenco." "We saw so many musicians playing so many different
styles, it influenced me to get into other rhythms," said Hernández.
The result is the kind of music that El Gran Silencio
plays todaywildly varied yet coherent, speaking to the whole world from the heart of
their barrio in Monterrey. The highly charged ragamuffin of "Super Riddim
Internacional," the albums first single, flows naturally with more
introspective songs like "Recordar es Vivir" and "El Espejo."
"Recordar es Vivir is
based on something my father used to say about how peoples deeds are remembered more
than just who they were," said Hernandez. "I wrote El Espejo after
taking a bath and looking in a mirror, and thought about how the years were going by. The
mirror told me the truth about what I had done in my life."
As students of international music, El
Gran Silencio strives to reproduce what theyve learned with authenticity. On the new
album, you can hear instruments like the African yambe and chekere, the Colombian
guacharaca, and even the Middle Eastern darbuka. But there are also frequent appearances
by DJ Macojazz, Tony Hernándezs alter ego, inserting the kind of triphop-influenced
looping of folklore and funk that make EGSs sound as electric as it is authentic.
El Gran Silencios mix of
norteño, hiphop, rock, and worldbeat makes them seem a little exotic, so its easy
to forget that their Monterrey perspective is very much like Tijuanas. Living in a
major city close to the U.S. border makes them more America-centric than youd think.
Bits of English and Spanglish flow through their songs, particularly those with a
ragamuffin or dancehall bent.
"We get to see the Hollywood
movies first, we eat hamburgers and watch Bart Simpson," said Hernández. "When
someone doesnt speak Spanish but likes our music, were very interested in
knowing why. Also, the hiphop element in our songs relates to people in the U.S.
Were not one of those groups that say that Mexicans or Latinos are the baddest, and
we dont want to know about anyone else."
Super Riddim Internacional is a
joyous hybrid of sensuous beats, urban sarcasm, and earnest self-reflection. It can send
you into a fit of breakdancing, or it can be music to watch the sun set by, blurring the
lines between raucous guitars, wailing accordions and a South Asian backbeat. Its
the ultimate statement from a band that wants to make the world its own personal moshpit.
El Gran Silencio Links: