Gustavo Santaolalla Rocks the World of Latin Music

Posted in MusicWorld on October 10, 2001 by

"Life doesn't get much better than this, man," Grammy-winning producer/songwriter/Surco Records President Gustavo Santaolalla said in 1994, holding his youngest daughter Luna shortly after her birth. Santaolalla must be saying the same thing these days. True, winning a Latin Grammy for Café Tacuba's Revés/Yosoy (Best Rock Album of 2000), producing the most nominated artist of this year's Latin Grammys (Juanes) and being nominated for the Producer of the Year award (for the Amores Perros soundtrack, Bersuit's Hijos del Culo and Juanes' Fíjate bien) doesn't compare with bringing a daughter to the world - but it's pretty darn good.

Santaolalla is one of the early, key figures in Argentine rock. As the leader of Arco Iris (formed in the late '60s, and still performing today) and Soluna (mid '70s), he was the ultimate mix-master, combining rock, jazz, Latin American folk, and African influences. His rigorous 9-to-5, 24/7 rehearsals and communal lifestyle are the stuff of legend.

Santaolalla's bands were a perfect machine, but they also had a soul. He brought that passion and discipline with him in 1978, when he decided to start from scratch in the U.S. First, as a bandleader in the punk-oriented Wet Picnic; later as a producer for Maldita Vecindad, Caifanes and Café Tacuba (which led the New Mexican rock movement of the late '80s) and now with some of the best Latin alternative acts, all of which were at least gold in the local markets and earned critical acclaim.

His Surco label (a joint venture with Universal Music Group) could not have started better: Molotov's Dónde Jugarán Las Niñas? (1997), sold over a million copies worldwide. He recently finished work on Argentine rocker Erica García's third album, is about to start working with fellow countrymen El Otro Yo and has begun Uruguay's La Vela Puerca's second outing. On top of that, he's working full-time on his second collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, and Juanes's seven Latin Grammy nominations put both artist and producer at the forefront of the eclectic and exciting Latin alternative music world.

But when it comes to prizes, Santaolalla's priorities are clearly defined. "The best prize, really, is the volume of work through time," he says. "That means a lot more than any prize whatsoever."

Even if 2001 were a year without Grammy nominations, it would still be a special one for him. On August 19, he celebrated his 50th birthday in typical Santaolalla style: at the Roxy, on the night of Bersuit's stirring performance at the legendary West Hollywood club. Friends, record label executives, musicians, journalists and family shared the excitement of being near the man who, many experts say, has the artistic future of Latin rock in his hands.

"First of all, no artist owes me his or her success," a confident but humble Santaolalla says. "Their success is 100 percent based on their talent, not mine. I'm just a channel, and these artists' success doesn't surprise me at all. Still, it feels good to see how others also believed in them. I'm well aware that I'm in a privileged position, but feel that I need to take advantage of it very carefully and make sure that, at least, my work can have a positive effect in people."