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Americas Los de Abojo - winners in the Americas Category

Los de Abajo (Mexico)

Winners in the Americas category

Song : El Loco
Album : Cybertropic Chilango Power (Luaka Bop, UK)

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Interview with Lider Terán

Politics and music don't always mix well. Artists often wrongly assume that a passionate belief in something is enough to get a message across, to the detriment of their music. Happily, Mexico City residents Los de Abajo seem to have struck a good balance between entertainment and education with theirs. As founder member and frequent spokesperson Lider Terán puts it: 'Music always dictates honesty and freshness in what we say.'

Their name means "those from below" and represents a statement of solidarity with the oppressed people of the world. The group started out as a latin ska four-piece in 1992, but as their number grew to include eight musicians, so their sound evolved to embrace a much wider array of pop and traditional styles such as rock, salsa, reggae, ska, cumbia, son jarocho and banda sinaloense. This reflects their democratic approach to creativity. To this day, all of them receive equal pay for their input, even if main vocalist Lider is often credited with writing their "multi-coloured" songs.

When they first took their demo tapes to Mexican record companies, their music was considered insufficiently commercial to warrant release, so they decided to do that independently. Then, David Byrne's Luaka Bop label took an interest and put up the money for them to record their international debut, which got a U.K. release in 1999.

The follow-up, Cybertropic Chilango Power, came out earlier this year and shows a considerable maturing in their approach. That was in no small part down to the influence of Spanish producers Macaco, who obviously shared with them an appreciation of Manu Chao's music, and contributed significantly to the process of writing songs in the studio.

Despite growing success, Los de Abajo haven't deserted their political commitments and still play benefits for the infamous Zapatista movement, which is fighting to bring a degree of self-determination to the people of Chiapas in southern Mexico. And as for their musical evolution, they are increasingly looking to their Mexican roots for inspiration, as a joint appearance with son jarocho specialists Los Cojolites at this year's WOMAD festival in Reading demonstrated.

Jon Lusk 2002

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