While They Have Your Ear . . .

Ater­ciopela­dos Have Soft­ened Their Sound — but Not the Points They Make

The Washington Post Sunday - - Arts - By Teresa Wiltz

Their name may mean “The Vel­vety Ones” — an old joke be­tween them — but the mu­sic and mes­sage of the Colom­bian duo Ater­ciopela­dos are any­thing but soft. They’re not afraid to ag­i­tate — whether that means tak­ing a fem­i­nist stance against hip-shak­ing pop priest­esses (yes, Shakira, this means you), protest­ing war or de­rid­ing the masters of the in­dus­try for crimes against the Earth. Ever since they surfed the Latin rock wave of the early ’90s, Ater­ciopela­dos have been the provo­ca­teurs of al­ter­na­tiva — post-punk and proudly po­lit­i­cal — glee­fully mix­ing and match­ing in­flu­ences that in­clude Colom­bian folk mu­sic, bossa nova, rock, elec­tron­ica, trip-hop and even In­dian mys­ti­cism.

Un­like their Colom­bian com­pa­tri­ots, the afore­men­tioned Shakira and the wildly pop­u­lar Juanes, the Bo­gota-based Ater­ciopela­dos aren’t likely to be heard on lo­cal sta­tions like El Zol any time soon. You might, how­ever, hear them on NPR or stream them via on­line ra­dio shows such as KCRW’s “Morn­ing Be­comes Eclec­tic.” Nor do Ater­ciopela­dos as­pire to mass ap­peal, though their latest CD, “Oye” (“Lis­ten”), hit No. 1 on both iTunes’ Latin Al­bums chart and eMu­sic’s Top Al­bums chart.

She — An­drea Echev­erri, 41, tall, lanky, hip­pie-chick­esque — brings the melodies. He — Héc­tor Buitrago, 40, com­pact, broody, with a slightly punked­out vibe — brings the beats. Echev­erri plays gui­tar and sings lead with a dis­tinctly melo­di­ous voice, the tran­quil­lity of which be­lies the an­gry snap of her lyrics. Buitrago prefers to re­main in the back­ground, pro­duc­ing and play­ing bass. They were once lovers, a short-lived union that ul­ti­mately yielded a long-term mu­si­cal part­ner­ship. It’s been five years since their last stu­dio re­lease, and now, with the crit­i­cally ac­claimed “Oye,” Ater­ciopela­dos are once again hit­ting the road, stop­ping in the Wash­ing­ton area re­cently for a gig at the State Theatre. (Ater­ciopela­dos hadn’t per­formed here since 2003, when they ap­peared in a free con­cert at the Kennedy Cen­ter.)

Life ex­pe­ri­ences have mel­lowed their sound, tak­ing it from an elec­tronic rush of gui­tars and drum tracks to the more or­ganic noodlings of acous­tic rock. She had a baby. He’s about to be­come a dad, any day now. But the one­time punk rocker isn’t about to stay in navel-gaz­ing mode. “We’re also a coun­try that has a lot of prob­lems, po­lit­i­cal prob­lems,” Buitrago says, speak­ing in Span­ish from back­stage at the State Theatre. “Par­ty­ing is a form of cathar­sis. Mu­sic is a refuge, a cel­e­bra­tion.”

Part of main­tain­ing that refuge is their re­fusal to per­form in English, as did Shakira, who found great cross­over suc­cess in the States once she branched out lin­guis­ti­cally. North Amer­i­can in­flu­ences form a con­stant bar­rage back home, from McDon­ald’s to Bratz dolls to pop mu­sic.

“Cul­tur­ally, you have to de­fend your­self from English,” Echev­erri says, switch­ing be­tween English and Span­ish. “You have to cul­ti­vate Span­ish, dream it, sing it, be it.”

Ater­ciopela­dos see their mu­si­cal meld­ing of gen­res as in­evitable. Colom­bian mu­si­cians such as for­mer soap star Car­los Vives found that they have an em­bar­rass­ment of mu­si­cal riches to cull from, re­flect­ing both Colom­bia’s African, Euro­pean and Na­tive Amer­i­can her­itage and its ge­o­graphic di­ver­sity: cumbia and val­lanato from the coasts, where the AfroColom­bian pop­u­la­tion re­sides; joropo from the moun­tain­ous re­gions of the An­des, where the pop­u­la­tion skews more in­dige­nous.

“When artists like that are out front and ahead of the curve,” says KCRW’s Nic Harcourt, “it’s like what the Talk­ing Heads did — in­flu­ence other mu­si­cians com­ing up be­hind them. And those in­flu­ences stick around for years. It wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing to me to hear younger Latino mu­si­cians reel­ing off Ater­ciopela­dos as [their main in­flu­ence] decades from now.”

“They’re a very great mu­si­cal band that has been able to ma­ture,” con­curs José Til­lán, an ex­ec­u­tive at MTV Net­works Latin Amer­ica and MTV Tres. “They’ve been able to learn from life and come back and do re­ally cool records.”

With the re­lease of their 2001 CD, “Gozo Poderoso” (“Pow­er­ful Plea­sure”), they be­gan to at­tract an English-speak­ing au­di­ence. “Gozo Poderoso,” which sold 70,000 CDs, won them top spots on Bill­board’s Latin Album charts, a Latin Grammy in 2001 and a gig on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

But in­stead of tak­ing ad­van­tage of that crest in pub­lic at­ten­tion, Ater­ciopela­dos took a long break to pro­duce solo al­bums, fu­el­ing ru­mors that they’d bro­ken up. They hadn’t. Buitrago pro­duced Echev­erri’s epony­mous 2005 album, a crit­i­cally ac­claimed paean to ma­ter­nity, which gar­nered Echev­erri two Grammy nom­i­na­tions. Mean­while, Echev­erri per­formed on Buitrago’s 2006 CD, “Conec­tor,” which ex­plores Buitrago’s An­dean roots and fea­tures an all-star list of Colom­bian singers and mu­si­cians.

They’re not ones to hold their tongues. Back in 2002, for ex­am­ple, they agreed to per­form at the Miss Colom­bia beauty pageant, but with a caveat: that they be al­lowed to per­form “El Es­tuche,” a sting­ing swipe at plas­tic surgery and the ob­ses­sion with all things phys­i­cal. And with “Oye,” they con­tinue the tra­di­tion, with “Cancíon Protesta” (“Protest Song”), in which they in­dict the prac­tice of fu­mi­gat­ing co­caine crops — and along with them, a good chunk of the coun­try’s na­tional parks. In ear­lier years, Echev­erri blasted the las­civ­i­ously vo­cif­er­ous dudes hang­ing out on the cor­ner (she viewed cas­tra­tion as a vi­able op­tion).

To­day, with “Oye Mu­jer” (“Lis­ten, Wo­man”), she comes off as more ma­ter­nal than an Ani DiFranco she-war­rior, gen­tly fin­ger-wag­ging at the women who earn a liv­ing off their looks and the men who ob­jec­tify them: “Are you a hu­man be­ing,” Echev­erri sings, “or the erotic fan­tasy of some guy?”

“It’s not per­son­ally against Shakira,” Echev­erri says. “It’s against the whole thing.” Spo­ken like a wo­man who isn’t go­ing softly, or qui­etly, into mid­dle age.

BY BILL O’LEARY — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The po­lit­i­cally minded duo Hec­tor Buitrago and An­drea Echev­erri at the State Theatre.

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