Latino rock band back in stride

Los Cadillacs Roar Back, and Pick Up New Fans
By LARRY ROHTER, NY TIMES, April 3, 2009

It’s almost as if they hadn’t been away. Ten years after the release of their last recording of new material, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, perhaps the most innovative Spanish-language rock group of the 1990s, are back: on the road, playing in stadiums; on MTV again; and with a new CD.

In fact, the only real surprise about the return of the Cadillacs, who are scheduled to play on Sunday at the Hammerstein Ballroom, may be that they dropped out of sight in the first place. This Argentine band was at the peak of its popularity in Latin America and building a following in the United States when it simply stopped recording and then touring. There were no visible signs of internal squabbling, no announcement of a breakup or even of a timeout, just a sudden silence.

“It had been 17 years together, nonstop, but we had no big quarrel or rupture, like in Pink Floyd,” said Flavio Cianciarulo, the band’s bassist and one of its two main songwriters. “We were just exhausted.”

Sergio Rotman, the saxophonist, added: “This was an obvious and necessary crisis, but it wasn’t set off by anything particular, like one guy falling in love with another guy’s wife. We had families and children, and we just needed to stop and see where we were going.”

In its heyday, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs was a pioneering band, and not just because its music mixed ska, punk, reggae, salsa and funk in unpredictable ways. Its quick embrace of MTV Latino as soon as that channel went on the air in 1993 led to a string of powerful videos charged with political imagery and the recording of MTV Latino’s first “Unplugged,” helping make it one of the first rock en Español bands to become popular throughout Latin America rather than just in its native country.

But the six core Cadillacs are returning to a musical landscape that changed enormously while the band was dormant. In addition to the different economics and technology of the music business, the Latin music market is now dominated by genres that barely existed in 1999 or were of minimal importance, like reggaetón and cumbia.

With another group, that might raise questions about the ability to remain relevant. But the Cadillacs’ mix-and-match approach seems to have saved it from that fate: since going back on the road last fall, the band has filled soccer stadiums from Buenos Aires to Mexico City, drawing crowds as large as 60,000.

“Musically speaking, they were so much ahead of their time,” said José Tillán, a vice president for music at MTV Latino. “What is reggaetón but a derivative of a Caribbean beat that they were already playing? So I’m assuming that because of those rhythmic elements they might be more appealing to all these young kids listening to these new kinds of music.”

During their long hiatus, most of the band members continued to play music, sometimes with one another and often in small clubs around Buenos Aires. Mr. Cianciarulo also wrote a pair of books and had a radio show.

The lead singer, Gabriel Fernández Capello, the band’s other main composer, evolved into something of a crooner of tropical music and had probably the most commercially successful solo career. Mr. Rotman moved to Puerto Rico, where he delved deeper into Caribbean styles like salsa and meringue.

But no sooner had the band members made the decision to reunite than a tragedy struck. In March of last year, the percussionist Gerardo Rotblat, who had not been ill, died suddenly of pulmonary edema at 38. In the initial shock, his colleagues wrestled with what to do next, wondering if Mr. Rotblat’s death were an augury.

“Basically, we had two choices,” Mr. Cianciarulo said. “We were devastated, and, yes, we thought of abandoning everything. But we chose the other path and decided, ‘Let’s do it, not just for him but for us too. Let’s take this tragedy as a stimulus and do everything at double speed and effort, because he deserves that.’ ”

The first of the recordings from the sessions that followed was released in the United States last month and is called “La Luz del Ritmo” or “The Light of the Rhythm” (Nacional Records). That title is meant as a homage to Mr. Rotblat; a second CD from the same sessions, to be called “The Rhythm of the Light,” is likely to be released later this year.

To help get them back in their groove, the band members turned to Robert Carranza, the Grammy-winning American engineer and producer. CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

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