Fans of the seminal Colombian alt-rock band Aterciopelados can rest easy—after years of contention, the frayed creative partnership behind one of Latin America’s most iconic combos has mended.
Vocalist/guitarist Andrea Echeveri and bassist Hector Buitrago aren’t just touring together again. They’re creating music in an entirely new way that blends their distinctive sounds and concerns, and they’re performing these captivating songs alongside fan favorites on a North American tour that brings the band to Moe’s Alley on Friday, July 26.
New album Claroscura holds up on its own, even if listeners aren’t familiar with the band’s almost three-decade career of enthralling music.
“In the 1990s, I did most of the composing,” Buitrago says in a recent phone conversation from Barranquilla. “Now we’re composing together, which we hadn’t really done before.”
In the early ’90s, Aterciopelados put Bogota’s thriving music scene on the map with a series of brilliant albums, starting with 1993’s Con el Corazón en la Mano. Exploring the stark reality of life in a country beset by drug cartels and a decades-long civil war, the album introduced a mesmerizing mélange of punk and cumbia, pop psychedelia and surf rock. The band’s sound evolved with each release as they delved deeper into Colombian folklore while absorbing new sounds on international travels.
In those early years, they were a romantic couple, “and in the beginning we did songs about falling in and out of love,” Buitrago says. “Then we started writing about different, broader themes. Andrea specialized in women and human rights, and I specialized in the environment and ancestors.”
The band’s artistic breakthrough was 1997’s ska-inspired La Pipa de la Paz (The Peace Pipe), the first album by a Colombian band ever nominated for a Grammy Award. They followed it with 1998’s electronica-infused Caribe Atomico, an album that combined environmental consciousness with electronic textures reminiscent of Radiohead, Morcheeba and Massive Attack. After a hallucinogenic encounter with a shaman, Echeverri and Buitrago recorded the sublime Gozo Poderoso, which won a 2001 Latin Grammy for best rock album by a duo or group with vocal.
But after the release of 2008’s Rio, the number of Aterciopelados concerts dwindled, and the strained relationship between Echeverri and Buitrago led to a prolonged estrangement. “We had three years that we didn’t see each other,” Echeverri said. “Each of us was working on solo projects. We were a couple at first, then we worked together for like 20 years. And then there was tension in the air.”
Rumors of the band’s demise proved to be premature, however, as Bogota’s Rock al Parque made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Looking for a booking coup for the free festival’s 20th year in 2014, the promoters “started calling us all the time,” Echeverri says. “Usually they give foreigners the good money, and bands from Colombia not so much. But they offered us the good money and insisted.”
What ultimately resurrected Aterciopelados was the ecstatic reaction from fans. Playing era-defining hits from their small-but-mighty discography, Echeverri and Buitrago were overwhelmed by the outpouring.
“The whole park was packed, and you could see the different ages,” she says. “Young people came to us saying, ‘We’ve grown up listening to your music.’ Everyone was so happy, dancing and crying. We’ve been playing for almost three decades, and you felt all those years were worthwhile.”
They were inspired to write new music that reflected the group in the present, even after releasing highly regarded solo albums (Echeverri’s eponymous first album, full of songs inspired by the birth of her daughter Milagros, won a Latin Grammy in 2005). Working together again meant making adjustments.
“Doing it all yourself you get tired. It’s so much work,” she says. “Some things, you know how to do them, and different things, you don’t know, and now you have to do them. That’s the price of being independent. When you have a record label, a good studio, a good producer, you can just write and sing.”
Aterciopelados doesn’t sound transformed so much as reenergized. On Claroscura, their seemingly bottomless bag of melodic hooks yields new irresistible anthems infused by reggae and reggaetón grooves. Together, Echeverri and Buitrago are writing their next chapter.
Aterciopelados perform at 9 p.m. on Friday, July 26, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $35 adv/$40 door. 479-1854.