This week we kicked off a series about the latest and most innovative acts in world music called The New World. We started with Rodrigo y Gabriela, who first worked together in a metal band Tierra Acida in Mexico City. When they left the band, the two friends decided to pick up acoustic guitars to make a living playing background music at big hotels at the beach. After working the hotels for a while, they realized that the acoustic guitar was actually profitable. So with that new confidence they took off to travel Europe, ending up in the friendly, small city of Dublin. They played on the streets there and made friends with another busker named Damien Rice. Damien was just about to hit it big, and when he did, he invited Rodrigo and Gabriela to open for him. This was the beginning of the duo’s cult following, they started opening for other acts, mostly rock bands and stunned the audiences with covers of Led Zeppelin and Metallica.
Eventually the duo was signed to ATO and they asked the label to send them back to Mexico, to the beach, to record their first big album. Rodrigo and Gabriela and their Irish crew did go to the beach, but ended up with lots of beers and parties, but only a few demos. When they got back to Dublin, the label was concerned they might never get a good recording, so they hooked the duo up with producer John Lechie, who had done many rock records for bands like The Stone Roses, Muse, New Order, My Morning Jacket, The Fall and many, many more. Lechie wooed the reluctant duo to let him produce, promising he would only be morphing the recording and would not change one note of their music.
The result was an acoustic rock record unlike any other. Rodrigo and Gabriela’s self-titled album was put out in 2006, and defies labels. The band themselves call it simply “acoustic” although the structures are mostly rock with chords and harmonies from rhumba and jazz thrown in. They say their biggest influences are rock bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Metallica and Pantera and guitar trios like the Al Dimeola, Paco De Lucia and John McLaughlin collaborations (if you haven’t heard these you are in for a treat — especially “Friday Night in San Francisco”). In this documentary the band tells their own story.
Because Rodrigo and Gabriela slam their fingers into the guitars rhythmically, many people mistake them for Flamenco, but Flamenco is a very specific style, ritualistic and must stick to a strict formula. Rodrigo y Gabriela are rock musicians. Unlike any other. And to watch them is incredible.
The next episode of The New World series will be on Somalian rapper K’naan, whose songs about real life in impoverished Africa are intense and poetic. All KEXP Documentaries air Thursdays at 3pm on Kevin Cole’s Afternoon Show and Saturdays at 2pm on Quilty 3000’s Show. KEXP Documentaries are produced by Michele Myers with assistance from John Felthouse and Leah Pogwizd. You can find all our series: Punk Evolution, The Heart of Soul, Music Revolutionaries, Portraits of Post-Punk and more in the On Demand section of kexp.org.