Though overshadowed in the mass market by the likes of Juanes and Shakira, the vibrant and diverse sounds of Colombia's alternative-music scene are — just like those of "underground" scenes elsewhere in the world — reaching more and more listeners beyond their native borders.
At the forefront is Aterciopelados. Over the course of their 13-year existence, the Bogota group has come to define the syncretic possibilities of "Latin alternative." Initially fusing traditional Latin American sounds with punky aggression and rock chops, Aterciopelados has gone on to incorporate everything from electro beats and hip-hop to folksy introspection and funk-rock into their sound. This willingness to experiment without compromise has earned them respect; their infectious, accessible songwriting has made them one of the most popular and award-winning bands on the continent.
With the Oct. 24 release of Oye (their sixth studio album), the iconic group is re-entering a Latin rock world they helped create, but also one that's markedly different from the time of their last release (2000's Gozo Poderoso). Accordingly, the band is shifting gears. While their last couple of releases have found them experimenting more with synthetic textures, Oye finds the group's core — singer/guitarist Andrea Echeverri and bassist Hector Buitrago — going back to the fiery rock-band dynamic that drove Aterciopelados in the first place.
"It does sound different," says Echeverri. "It sounds more like our first album. After that, our sound became more electronic and a bit more mellow. This one is a bit more like it used to be."
Echeverri and Buitrago have been working together a long time. "We met in 1990 at a party," laughs Echeverri, "and decided to start a band." The sound of Aterciopelados is most certainly something that they have defined. Thus, it was somewhat surprising when, in 2004, rather than a new Aterciopelados disc, the world was treated to a delicate and atmospheric Echeverri solo album, followed in early 2006 by an adventurous outing from Buitrago (Conector, which featured vocals by Echeverri).
Sonically, neither of these discs ventured too far away from territory the two had covered in the band: Echeverri's had more of the alt-rock melodicism, while Conector was more electronic in nature. Despite the fact that each helped out on the other's solo album, it was impossible not to notice a sophistication and maturity to these solo albums that indicated perhaps Aterciopelados had been outgrown.
Quite the contrary. Though they found the solo experience rewarding, Echeverri and Buitrago were quickly inspired to resuscitate their group.
"The writing is still Hector and me, but the arranging was something that happened with the full band," says Echeverri of the process that led to Oye. "When it's electronic, you make it in the computer and you don't rehearse with everyone. We wanted it to get back to where we were all working together again. We wanted to try live drums again. We wanted the songs to have the whole band."[email protected]