Colombia, birthplace of Gabriel García Márquez and many of the fables about El Dorado, has long been a land where people search for the extraordinary. So two years ago, singer-guitarist Andrea Echeverri and bassist-producer Hector Buitrago of the Colombian rock duo Aterciopelados (ah-tair-see-oh-peh-lah-dose) trekked to Colombia's Putumayo region, befriended a local shaman and joined in what Buitrago calls a healing ritual. "They make this drink, and everyone has it," says Echeverri. "You get terribly sick and get in touch with the divine part of yourself and see beautiful things."
Some of that same sorcery-minus the stomach-upsetting side effects-is present in the duo's terrific new CD Gozo Poderoso (BMG U.S. Latin). Aterciopelados (the name means the Velvety Ones and was borrowed from the writings of Simone de Beauvoir) formed in Bogotá around 1990. Echeverri's parents were dentists; Buitrago's family ran a store in a market. The two dated, but soon their bond became a purely musical one. "That relationship is in the past," says Echeverri. "But we respect each other and we love each other."
Echeverri and Buitrago, both 35, are heroes in their homeland. Their 1995 release El Dorado sold more than 200,000 copies in Latin America, which made it the best-selling album by a Colombian rock act up to that point. And Echeverri, with her tattoos, piercings and plainspoken attitude, has become a symbol of South American feminism (she plays down such talk: "I would just like to be myself"). The group began as punkish, but it has broadened its sound to include electronica and Colombian folk. "We are modern people," says Echeverri. "But we have links to the past."
Gozo Poderoso (Powerful Joy) digs deep into Colombian traditions. The gently melodic songs are marinated in regional rhythms, including cumbia (a hot, syncopated dance music) and vallenato (a sweet, accordion-led genre). There are also futuristic flourishes: electronic beats, turntable scratching and tape loops. Luz Azul (Blue Light) is a song of hope directed at Colombians: "Let the emotion of the music penetrate you/ Let the discord slide past you." Another track, Fantasía, is more overtly political, comparing American international influence to the tyranny of the Roman empire. But some of the best numbers are unabashed, almost old-fashioned, love songs. On El Album, Echeverri sings of a passion that haunts like a photo: "As I save the negatives/ I can reproduce you by my side." It sounds better in Spanish.
Which is part of the point. Youth culture often rejects the past; Aterciopelados is leading a wave of Latin acts that are dragging tradition into the present. In Brazil, performers like Moreno Veloso are blending bossa nova with electronica; in Mexico, Nortec Collective, an organization of Mexican artists, recently released The Tijuana Sessions Vol. 1, a groundbreaking CD fusing traditional norteño (a kind of polka-esque music) with clubland techno. Echeverri and Buitrago are particularly proud that Gozo Poderoso was recorded in Colombia-and in Spanish. "Identity and roots are very important for us," says Echeverri. "We've been listening to English music all our lives without understanding all of it, so why can't it be the other way round?" Language barriers don't stand a chance against this CD's powerful joy.