How to drive a (fabulous) Cadillac

What a difference a hit makes.

Arguably the kings of least-likely-to-succeed Latin alternative bands, Argentina’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs have always proven critics wrong. Mainly on the strength of one single (the irresistible, Olodum-like “Matador”), great songwriting, dynamite live performances, and smart planning, LFC debunked all formula myths and established themselves as one of the biggest and most influential success stories in the history of the genre.

They are the example I use whenever an up-and-coming artist whines to me about the “difficulties” in getting your music heard — nobody (and I mean nobody, nobody, nobody) had it tougher than Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.

For starters, the band couldn’t play and the singer couldn’t sing. Today, after six years of unofficial separation, they’re back in the studio recording new songs and updating some hits, just before a new world tour (first date is November 5 at Foro Sol in Mexico City, the place where they left off; those 50,000 kids either remembered how LFC had improved or are young post-“Matador” converts).

 “They didn’t have the prestige of Sumo, the hermetic poetry of Redonditos `de Ricota`, nor were they a pop machine like Soda Stereo,” wrote Mariano del Mazo, one of Argentina’s leading rock critics. “Everything was too difficult for LFC: They weren’t great musicians and had to compensate limitations with attitude. But they knew how to repackage themselves. They gave up the limitations of ska and reggae and went on to other rhythms. They learned. And all with a great sense of opportunity: In each historic moment of the band, they played what they had to play. And here they are: They’re back. And they want to take America `the continent` back.”

 Their start in America `the country` was less than auspicious. They were showered with beer and nachos at a rock en español festival in LA in 1989 and, days before, in their first solo appearance, they performed in front of eight people at a small club. They were fun, but not much more than an energetic ska band. A few years later, Mexican powerhouse Café Tacuba would co-headline with them. I mean, no foreign band would ever co-headline with a major Mexican band, especially if you’re from Argentina. LFC did it.

 But they had Tom Cookman working for them behind the scenes: a tireless worker who can tell you to fuck off in a second but who also understands that the least a publicist can do is return phone calls and send complete press kits on time. Perhaps Cookman’s greatest move was to put the guys in touch with producer KC Porter (Santana, Ozomatli, Ricky Martin) in 1992. He was exactly what LFC needed: a fully bilingual producer with a rock edge and pop sensibility. He was behind LFC’s most successful albums and singles, most notably “Matador.”

 “Our original plan in 1989 `10 years after the band got together` was to make noise,” Cookman says. “I was always convinced that everything and anything was possible.

“I always felt that they could be on stage with any other band I was a fan of and hold their own. I felt that people would look past the language. I also felt that there was a market within the Latino space that was under-tapped.”

“Reggae and ska was real strongly powering their scene, but it evolved over the albums up to `1994’s` Vasos Vacíos and `94’s Grammy-winning` Fabulosos Calavera into some pretty hard jazz and metal rock, but always keeping the Latin roots throughout,” Porter says in an email. “They have always been fearless and that’s really what attracted me to them initially. But I did love the old `ska-oriented` Caddies. They would bring in so many colors into the mix, and did things that nobody else would really dream of. They gave rock en español a much broader definition, making it cool and acceptable for so many other eclectic bands to do their thing. Ozo has a more `US` perspective, less raw then Fabulosos, perhaps, but both of these bands are very strong communicators.

“I remember loving and learning from the Cadillacs’ “Quinto centenario” message of not celebrating Columbus’ ‘discovery’ of America, so much so that I wanted to keep that whole concept alive with Ozo on a song we wrote for the Street Signs album `‘(Who Discovered) America’`.”

 “We’re enjoying writing together again, and I know what kind of composer this guy is,” says singer Vicentico, with bassist Sr. Flavio at his side. “He’s the author of ‘Matador,’ and a new Flavio song can feed us for another 10 years.”


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