Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A hair-raising ride with Rodrigo y Gabriela

One of the many great things about music is the way musicians can constantly surprise you with their capacity to make extraordinary sounds out of things that you thought were familiar. Einstürzende Neubauten do it with scrap metal and power drills, but Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela do it with a couple of acoustic guitars.

Their guitars might still sound like guitars, but only insofar as the bodies of Romanian gymnasts still look like bodies. Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero make their guitars contort and leap and spin and skip and trip and twist in ways that guitars are just not meant to be able to do. In the strong and supple hands of Rodrigo and Gabriela music becomes not just an art, but a power sport, too.

Rodrigo y Gabriela were originally famous for their covers, but their latest release 11:11 is made up entirely of original material. And yet the album proudly displays its influences, with each track dedicated to another musician, and each track reflecting something of that artist’s work, transformed into the unique flamenco/rock/folk/metal fusion that makes the music of Rodrigo y Gabriel so unique, so distinctive.

And so the album opens with ‘Hanuman’, dedicated to Carlos Santana, and bursting at the seams with those energetic and stupefyingly complex Latin rhythms. From the opening bash of chords, you know that here the guitar is as much percussion as it is melody.

Not surprisingly, ‘Buster Voodoo’ is dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, where snippets of Hendrix’s iconic ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’, mixed in with bits of screeching acoustic feedback, are taken and converted into something that would be called Latin Blues Rock Acoustic Metal, if there was such a thing.

But most of the music on this album can’t really be called anything, because no one has ever quite done any of it before.

Rodrigo y Gabriela’s own musical heritage is rooted firstly in metal, and certainly they have retained that intensity, that inclination to shun anything that sounds like a gap, a pause, a bit of wasted space. The music is often hard and edgy, holding you by the throat even while it summonses you to dance.

But the music here is also full of a diversity of texture that you don’t typically associate with metal, and that Rodrigo y Gabriela achieve only by investing it with the richness of their own culture, like the infinitely changing Latin hues that flicker and glimmer in ‘Triveni’, where the music seems to subtly change colour every time you look at it. ‘Logos’ begins to sound like Metallica played over Bach before it eventually trails off onto its own gentle, amiable melody and leads you straight into the leaping rhythms of ‘Santo Domingo’. You can taste the East in ‘Savitri’, with its frenetic dance to the Hindu god of the Sun.

But there are slower, gentler moments, too, like ‘Chac Mool’, where the guitar’s hesitation is more like music holding its breath than music taking time to rest, until it allows itself to breathe just a little before exploding into ‘Amam’, a track that sends you wild with its energy, celebrating the Sanskrit word for the only deathless part of the human body, and eventually joined by the blood-letting electric guitar of Alex Skolnick, leaving you feeling like really might be invincible.

The album’s title track is its last – dedicated to Pink Floyd, and bringing in the sophistication of prog rock, picking out forlorn melodies above the beat, but spicing it all with the flavours of a Peruvian cajón, a box drum made out of wood and slapped with the hands and then eventually adding a lonely piano just when you think the music has faded away.

11:11 is an endless journey of surprises, where there are sharp turns on hair-raising bends, exhilarating dips and impossible climbs, everywhere along the road, but where nothing slows down and you just hold on tight and revel in the thrill of it all, and you find yourself trusting the skill of who’s at the wheel and you just let yourself gape and gawk in wonder at the endless range of new bits of scenery that you get to look at.


  1. Love Rodrigo Y Gabriela - amazing guitar players - incredible stuff. Also for guitar stuff. Andy Mckee is also really good - more fingerstyle www.andymeckee.com Matt Stevens is good - more Rodgab spanish style - worth a listen www.mattstevensguitar.com or Erik Mongrain is amazing as well.

  2. Thanks for both of these links, Simon. Those multi-layered acoustic sounds were pretty incredible! I had a bit of trouble with the Andy McKee link at first, but worked it out eventually and it was worth the wait ... som interesting, cool sounding colours there. Thnanks for both of these!