The longtime popularity of Colombian alt-rock stars Aterciopelados is as unlikely and lovely as their music. Led by punky earth goddess singer and songwriter Andrea Echeverri and reserved guitarist Hector Buitrago, ex-lovers who’ve found more lasting gratification as musical partners, Aterciopelados (which means The Velvety Ones) are both critically acclaimed and popular with a broad swath of Latin America since the early 1990’s.
Since the release of their latest album, Rio (which means both “river” and “I laugh”), last fall, Aerciopelados have achieved a new level of recognition in the United States. They performed at the Coachella Festival this spring, and Rio got raves in Billboard, Spin, Rolling Stone and NPR. Last fall the group played the United Nations alongside Angelique Kidjo, Harry Belafonte and others to commemorate the 1945 signing of the U.N.’s charter.
Although the Atercios sing exclusively in Spanish, their gorgeous, catchy melodies, and blend of rock, Colombian folk, funk and electronic music; and the spirit that leads them to sing out against violence, environmental destruction, and social injustice, need no translation.
A perpetual Miami favorite, Aterciopelados play Grand Central, the new edge-of-Overtown club that’s the latest project of Pop Life maven Aramis Lorie, on Thursday, June 10, en route to playing the Bonnaroo Festival. We talked to Echeverri, 44, at the home she shares in Bogota with her historian husband, and their six-year-old daughter Milagros and year and a half old son Jacinto, about balancing madrehood and music, social activism and having fun, playing the U.N. and meeting director John Waters. When she picks up the phone, Jacinto can be heard wailing “Mama!” in the background.
So how do you manage being the mother of two kids with being an artist?
It’s terrible, just terrible. Because that’s what I do. But at the moment you leave [on tour] it’s terrible, because you know it creates an enormous hollow, you know their daily life changes so much, you know that they don’t like you to leave. At the same time I enjoy the trip, I enjoy that they don’t wake me up four times a night, and that I can go out. At the same time I feel a terrible loss and I feel guilty. It’s very complicated.
Has having two kids changed your point of view or your music?
I feel more responsible, more selective about the kinds of things I want to say. You feel a stronger commitment to change and the future.
The songs on Rio seem stronger and more direct about politics and social themes than other records. What inspired that?
I feel committed to certain themes. Violence, for example, that we can’t find a way to stop, that’s everywhere all the time. For me it’s very important not to agree with weapons, not to go along with money being the most important value. It’s important to take care of nature, to say that we have to respect women, because they are in a very strange place in contemporary culture and need to recover their power. And besides all this, you’re very conscious that you’re a musician, and that your music should be a celebration and not just talk about heavy stuff. It’s also important to laugh and dance. And there are love songs – for couples, for women, for children, for the earth. For life.
You just played in Coachella, and now you’re going to play at Bonaroo, two of the most important music venues in the U.S. and the world. What’s it like to play at these big events for mostly Anglo audiences?
When I’m onstage I close my eyes, so I don’t see much. But I love being part of these festivals. Also, there’s a lot of options to hear a lot of things backstage and from out front, and to hear bands we’ve never heard, which is really cool.
What are some of the bands you’ve enjoyed hearing or meeting?
We liked a band called Dirty Projectors that played right before us at Coachella, they were really good. We saw Bad Weather, from this guy Jack White, which was great – rockerisimo.
Do any of these acts know your music?
Probably not. But you know who we saw? The director of those movies Crybaby, and
Pink Flamingos, what’s his name?
Him! We met him in Coachella. He looked at us like we were really strange, but we gave him a record anyways.
What was it like to play the United Nations?
Strange. They don’t have much experience in production, so sonically the show was a little chaotic. We played two songs in front of a bunch of people that were – let’s say they were the people that you always see in front of you. It was a different kind of experience – but a good one.
Did they dance? In the video for the song The Price of Silence [based on Aterciopelados’ Cancion Protesta], it shows all the U.N. delegates dancing, which is really funny.
Yes, they all got up and danced a little.
You seem to have a very young spirit, and at the same time you seem like a mature artist. How do you do that?
For concerts, I get a little alcoholic help. Concerts are definitely a very powerful ritual, and during them you feel very differently than when you’re at, say, the supermarket. So I suppose it’s music that keeps me active and experimenting and happy. And young people feed you with their energy. But mostly it’s that music is so powerful and special. It feeds you. Playing music is an enormous gift.