Since one of the first proto-punk bands of the world appeared in Peru in the 60s, Latin American rock music has adopted and combined many esthetics, styles, and genres. From entertainment to activism, rock en español rose from an underground counter-culture to the core of popular entertainment. Navigating military dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, conservative societies, defective democracies, socio-political violence and conflicted multi-cultural scenarios, Latin American rock has survived as a diverse blend of genres with distinctive local characteristics.
Here is an arbitrary (but representative) selection. Which other legendary bands would you include?
1. Los Saicos (Perú):
Did you know that punk rock was born in Lima? 13 years before the punk movement in England, Los Saicos were pioneering the genre in Peru. In the late 60’s, their singles Demolición and Fugitivo de Alcatraz took the local scene by storm.
2. Serú Girán (Argentina):
Serú Girán was an Argentinian rock superband formed in 1978. Founded by rock legend Charly García, this iconic group rebelled through poetry and sophisticated compositions. Their song Canción de Alicia en el país, for example, subtly criticized the military dictatorship Argentina was experiencing at the time.
3. Los Prisioneros (Chile):
Chilean pop/rock sensation Los Prisioneros (the prisoners) helped shape rock en español. Founded in 1979 when its band members were still in high school, the group since catapulted to regional success. Due to its political themes, their music was used to criticize the brutal military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet and other repressive regimes and societal norms.
4. Soda Stereo (Argentina):
Soda Stereo was one of the best-selling Argentinian bands of all time. With hit singles like Persiana Americana, their 1986 tour Signos was the first to transcend national boundaries in Latin America, gaining them fans throughout the region. Its frontman, Gustavo Cerati, was one of the most influential Ibero-American musicians. He died prematurely at 55 years old after being in a coma for four years.
5. Caifanes (México):
Formed in Mexico City in 1987, Caifanes defined classic Mexican rock with songs like the La célula que explota, a rock anthem with touches of mariachi and bolero guitars. After the band’s break up, its leader (Saul Hernandez) went on to form Jaguares while other members founded La Barranca.
6. Café Tacuba (México):
Café Tacuba was a Mexican rock band that started in the 1990’s. Named after a Mexico City café, the band combined punk, ska, and electronica with local sounds from boleros and rancheras. Hits like La Chica Banda, Bar Tacuba, Ingrata and Las Flores gained the band popularity throughout the continent.
7. Los Abuelos de la Nada (Argentina):
Led by iconic singer Miguel Abuelo, this Argentinian new wave rock band was responsible for many hit singles during the 80’s: Sin Gamulán, Costumbres argentinas, Mil horas, “Himno de mi corazón” and “Lunes por la madrugada” are examples of the new artistic pop trend after the military dictatorship.
8. Aterciopelados (Colombia):
Led by Andrea Echeverri and Héctor Buitrago, Aterciopelados is one of the first Colombian rock bands to reach international audiences. In addition to their popularity in the 1990s with songs such as “Bolero Falaz,” “Baracunatana,” and “Cosita Seria,” they have been activists about social justice and environmental issues. The recent album “Claroscura” (2018) is their come back after a decade of recording silence.
9. Babasónicos (Argentina):
Under the leadership of Adrián Dargelos, Babasónicos formed an iconic part of the 90’s sonic underground rock movement in Argentina. With their album Jessico (2001) they created the first best album of rock nacional of the 21st century. Their songs–Los calientes, el Loco, Deléctrico–became radio hits, and have not stopped since. Their latest album, Discutible, was released in 2018.
10. Los Tres (Chile):
With musical influences that range from rockabilly and jazz to Chilean folklore (like cueca), Los Tres rose to national fame in the 90s. Hits like Un Amor Violento, Déjate Caer, and La Espada & la Pared, consolidated the band as the center of the Chilean cultural scene during the democratic transition after Pinochet.