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Women set own rhythm in Latin rock music

Latin American female rockers, including Colombia’s Andrea Echeverri and Mexican songstress Ely Guerra,  are breaking the mold.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Anyone concerned that traditional machismo would stifle Latin American women who want to rock need look no further than Colombia’s Andrea Echeverri and Mexican songstress Ely Guerra.

Their headliner performances at the recent Latin Alternative Music Conference demonstrate that Latina musicians have broken free of the glamour mold that still shapes the images of many female performers.

The Latina rockers evoked a panoply of images: Fringed ponchos and pigtails, elegance with a retro-diva afro. Their videos and lyrics did the same.

The fifth annual conference drew fans, performers and industry insiders to a series of panels, exhibitions and concerts in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto.

Echeverri and Guerra, who performed in a seaside night concert on the Santa Monica Pier, are part of a generation of Latina musicians — among them, the gravelly voiced rocker Alejandra Guzman, the accordion-wielding Julieta Venegas and the seemingly spirit-channeling Lila Downs — who express themselves with a freedom that shatters old ideas of how women “should” behave on stage.

“We are artists with the heart and mind open,” Echeverri said. “I believe that machismo is something from, perhaps, past generations, or of people who still have their minds a bit closed.”

Echeverri, the 38-year-old female half of the Grammy-winning duo Aterciopelados, performed songs from her new solo album during the free concert, sharing a mood that was more mellow earth mother than supercharged “rockera” of the past.

She says she has been changed since becoming a mother two years ago.

“It was incredible, this experience,” she said. “I believe it came to my life at the perfect moment, after I had achieved much on an artistic level, a personal level and a level of independence.

“It has made me feel part of nature, part of an incredible power of creation.”

Breaking stereotypesAbsent from the lineup were more hard-edge songs of past albums by Aterciopelados, which roughly translates as “the velvety ones.” Instead, the audience of several thousand longtime fans, curious newcomers and passers-by were treated to Echeverri’s baby-inspired lyrics such as “Beauty so pure ... promise of the future” in “Baby Blues,” or “Put your little mouth to my breast” in “Lactochampeta.” The song “Amorcito,” or “Little Love,” was set to a video of a sweater-clad Echeverri cycling with daughter in tow.

Guerra, meanwhile, continues to use her glamour-diva looks to break the stereotype of pretty is as pretty does.

Making her second performance at the Latin Alternative Music Conference, Guerra, 32, says it was easier to find artistic acceptance in the United States than in Mexico.

“The people didn’t really understand what I was offering when I first began to do this professionally,” she said. “And when I came to the United States, well, oddly enough, it was accepted from the start.”

While Guerra says she didn’t grow up thinking of herself as beautiful, saying her mother and sisters are far prettier, her looks were something of an initial obstacle in the industry.

“They doubted my professional ability,” she said. “In a way, it was a challenge I had to face and carry until I could feel secure in myself, and until everyone else realized that physical beauty and talent aren’t in conflict.”

Echeverri, who prefers rhinestone decals over makeup on stage, says motherhood has given her greater understanding of her body and reduced any vanity “or pressure to be pretty,” she said.

In the music industry, “for women, they want to reduce us to pieces of meat. ... Because, the fact is it’s a business,” she said. “But in the end, music is super sacred, super far from such things.”