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Si habla rock 'n' roll?

Mexico's Jaguares let the music do the talking


Let's face it: Americans are a provincial people. For a culture founded on the Great Melting Pot principle, we prefer assimilation to occur on our own terms. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to the much-hyped Latin music explosion of the last five years. It's no coincidence that in a land where strident politicians occasionally make noise about declaring English the official national language, we point to watered-down "crossover" artists such as Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera as proof of our expansive multicultural tastes.

None of which guarantees an easy time in the U.S. for Jaguares, one of the leading lights of the Spanish-speaking world's "rock en Espanol" movement. The Mexican rock trio is revered on its home turf, garnering the cover story for the inaugural issue of Rolling Stone Mexico. But because they perform only in their native tongue, Jaguares face an uphill climb in the U.S. -- certainly more so than English-language musical and ideological cousins such as U2, to whom Jaguares are often compared. But drummer Alfonso Andre doesn't see this struggle as a result of American tastes so much as one of American tastemakers.

"It's not like the people [in America] are lazy," he says. "It's just a bigger problem that has to do a lot with the media. The people that we know who are English- speaking Americans really like what we're doing, and find it different from what they're used to. I think [American audiences] could get to like it if they get exposed to it. Radio doesn't really care much for [us]. Actually, even the Latino radio [outlets] don't really play us, so it's been tough to get an audience here in the States, because we don't have those supports."

Which is a bit ironic given Jaguares' ready assimilation of American and European rock influences. In its earlier incarnation as the respected Mexico City act Caifanes, the band often looked and sounded like a Latin American analog to '80s acts like the Cult and the Cure. They even had eccentric British rocker Adrian Belew produce one of its albums.

"We don't want to do this crossover thing that everyone else is doing -- to change the language of our music or the music itself to match what's being done in the youth market," says Andre. "In Europe, for example, you can check the radio and find music from all over the world on the same station. I love that."

The U2 comparisons are especially apt given the band's gradual evolution from its new-wave underpinnings to more accessible, arena-friendly rock with a hint of dust-swept mysticism thrown in for good measure. The video for "Deslizandote" finds singer/songwriter Saul Hernandez in full Bono/Ian Astbury dress, stalking a desert landscape not too far removed -- at least visually -- from that on the cover of U2's The Joshua Tree. And Hernandez acts every inch the rock-star-as-shaman: He makes annual pilgrimages to the jungles of southern Mexico to absorb the indigenous culture, and he told Alternative Press earlier this year that "each concert, each record is a political act."

On the latter subject, Andre demurs. "We comment about things we don't like or things that have touched us," he says, before admitting, "It is a political thing to do. To be on stage and say things that you're watching around you -- that's always a political act."

But he's more direct when asserting Jaguares' insistence that their music, from the thundering rock gallop of last year's Cuando la Sangre Galopa (When the Blood Runs) to this year's acoustic El Primer Instinto (The First Instinct), be allowed to reach across any boundaries on its own.

"We grew up listening to music in English," he says. "We didn't know what the lyrics were about, but we liked it anyway. The music was strong enough that the message came across the language barrier. We would love that to happen the other way around. I think it really makes you a better person, being exposed to more of a broader cultural experience. I think it should be like that in all the world."

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