Do a Google search for "Latin rock band" and you'll get nearly 30,000 results. That doesn't necessarily mean there are 30,000 different Latino rock bands in existence today, but you never know. After all, about as many people worldwide speak Spanish as English, and Spanish is the second most used language in international communication. More importantly, in the past 15 years, the Charlotte area has become one of the fastest-growing Hispanic hot spots in the nation. So, it shouldn't come as any surprise that one of North Carolina's latest up-and-coming bands is a group of Charlotte-based Ecuadorians and Venezuelans called La Rúa.
We're not talking Latin rock a la Carlos Santana or Los Lobos. Those acts incorporate Latin brushstrokes into their predominantly English-language songs. We're talking rock sung in Spanish. Hence, the genre name: rock en Español. "Although the thought of writing in English passed through our minds briefly," says guitarist and Venezuela native Tony Arreaza, "there was no question about it when it came time to select the songs for the album. We definitely wanted to remain true to our roots and language, by promoting and somewhat introducing rock en Español to this region."
Rock en Español ranges from the eclectic, experimental music of bands like Mexico's Cafe Tacuba, Colombia's Aterciopelados and Spain's Manu Chao, to the hip-hop, funk and electronica of Mexico's Plastilina Mosh and Kinky, to the art-rock of Puerto Rico's Circa and the roots-rock of Peru's Libido, to the U.S. West Coast rock en Español of Ozomatli and Go Betty Go, to the big, mainstream sounds of Mexico's Mana and Colombia's Juanes and Shakira.
But take a look around: This is still the South, and as much as we have changed, for the most part Bubba still likes his rock in English. For a band like La Rúa, breaking down cultural or language barriers is a challenge -- and just the kind of thing it likes to do. The band has toured the Southeast, gigging from Charlotte to Asheville to Atlanta. For the past two years, the band has staged its own rock en Español festival in Charlotte called Carlotan Rock (www.carlotanrock.com). You might say the members of La Rúa are ambassadors of a new movement in Southern rock.
"The satisfaction has come from the fact that we feel like we're paving the road for new bands and that our music and live performances are getting great feedback despite the language [barrier]," Arreaza says.
La Rúa has, indeed, paved the way for other rockers en Español. The band's 2004 Carlotan Rock fest introduced the Charlotte-area bands La Marea and Bakalao Stars. For last year's festival, La Rúa brought in acts from other parts of the South, including Diazero from Atlanta and Sóniko from Miami. The festival drew 1,000 people, including more Anglos than the band expected. For the 2006 festival, La Rúa will be expanding even more. They've already booked the new Charlotte band Sin Recursos, as well as Louisiana's Palo Viejo and the DC-area band Papas Underground.
"We want people to know there's beauty in diversity, and there's no excuse to pass on our music just because you don't fully understand the language," Arreaza says. "The passion and energy that we put into our music could open your eyes into a multicultural and richer world."
For the record, the guys of La Rúa are bilingual and they do interact with non-Spanish-speaking fans during their live performances. Arreaza suggests the band's shows be thought of as a fun Spanish 101 lesson. And plenty of English-speaking fans are signing up for classes.
It hasn't come without hard work on the band's part. "It's been a tough journey, but at the same time very satisfactory," Arreaza says. "We've had to educate many club owners, journalists and music fans in general about rock en Español. Many times, Latin music is way too stereotyped, due to artists like Santana, Enrique Iglesias or Ricky Martin -- with all due respect. And this situation gets even worse in [the South], where the Latino population is just starting to leave its mark."
Muchas gracias, La Rúa, for continuing to broaden our musical horizons.
For Your Ears (and Eyes)
• La Rúa: Una Noche de Abril (at www.larua.net)
• "The Latin Invasion," by Mark Kemp (www.pastemagazine.com/action/article?article_id=1613)
Carlotan Rock '06 featuring La Rúa, Bakalao Stars, La Marea, Palo Viejo, Sin Recursos and Papas Underground is at Charlotte's Neighborhood Theatre, Fri., July 14; www.carlotanrock.com.