It is a love story which began in a living room and the ‘underground’ of Bogotá’s music scene. It evolved into a partnership in recording studios and when Andrea Echeverri and Héctor Buitrago began to tour their native Colombia. Their’s is a friendship which has endured more than two decades, with its emotional interludes, creative hiatuses and the coming together to broaden this country’s musical horizons.
In the early 1990s, Bogotá was a city plagued by curfews, power outages and a strong military presence on every street, due to the assault by the Medellín drugs cartel to bring the central government to its knees. While people went about their business during the day aware that a car bomb could explode at any given moment, at night the city shuttered up restaurants served by candlelight and the daily papers were riddled with stories of shootings, kidnappings and social cleansing. It was not the time, nor the place, to have a son and daughter playing in a rock band.
When Andrea first met Héctor during those ominous “dark days,” Bogotá was their home, and despite an all encompassing fear, staunch conservative values and social differences. Andrea, having returned from England where she studied Art, played guitar and sang folksy boleros in her parent’s living room. Héctor, on the other hand, was in tune with Bogotá’s burgeoning punk rock scene, playing in alternative venues throughout the capital with his band La Pestilencia (The Pestilence). They were musical opposites. They would go on to create musical history.
In 1991, these aspiring musicians took their first steps as a duo with “Delia y los Aminoácidos.” Their early songs were awkward and eclectic, as Buitrago influenced the sound with his pulsating punk and Andrea – lead vocalist – sang in a distinctively high pitch. It was an urban sound rooted in contemporary themes of alienation and disenfranchisement. With every song they addressed a dispossessed youth and a city in search of its future.
With venues in which to play few and far between, “Adelia y los Aminoácidos” ran its course. So too, did the romance. What would emerge would be a “friendship with distance” and a creative partnership “all about the music,” states Héctor reflecting on the past and on eve of a special tribute concert in their honor at the 2014 Rock Al Parque festival.
In 1993, they formed their “Aterciopleados” – The Velvety Ones. For the guitarist, the cloth represented what they were all about: fuzzy, loungy and futuristic. There was also a retro feel to their name, recalling Pop Art kitsch and Warholian eccentricity. Andrea’s knowledge of art and art history cloaked the band with an uncompromising sound and Héctor’s songwriting gave the capi- tal a melodic sheen.
The Aterciopelados began to sound on the city’s airwaves the same year the band was formed and with the release of their first album, ‘Con El Corazón en a Mano’ (With my Heart in my Hand). According to Héctor, the album was marked by a bold sound, as both musicians were self-taught and brought to the band an “innocence” by mixing bolero with rock, punk with carrillera.
As artists they wanted to control every detail of their song writing, from composing on a computer, to post-production in a studio. “We learned with the years to do things better. At the beginning it was all very artisanal,” states Héctor. Then, the challenge of “what to say?” As musicians they were learning as they played, but the lyrics seemed secondary. “Our words were very rooted in popular culture.”
When they released two years later their second album ‘El Dorado,’ Aterciopelados were thrust up the charts thanks to a hit single: Bolero Falaz. Héctor’s numbing bass and Andrea’s hypnotic vocals rattled the musical establishment and a Bogotá-made hymn was born. With its upbeat tempo and the duo’s lyrics layered with localisms, the capital had found a voice; and one, which put it on par with the Buenos Aires of ‘Soda Estereo’ and the Santiago of ‘La Ley’.
With El Dorado, Aterciopelados became the biggest-selling rock band to emerge out of Colombia and at a time when MTV was beginning to conquer new audiences across the region. An entire generation of twenty to thirty somethings were being pied piped to the rose-tinted sound of the velveteers.
Héctor and Andrea starred in their grass-rootsy music videos and which used Bogotá’s as a backdrop for a plethora of future hit singles. “We found inspiration in the colours of the busetas, the aesthetics of the centro’s streets, and the way we speak,” claims Héctor. While ‘El Dorado’ struck gold for the band, it also defined a “rock colombiano” which began incorporating traditional instruments, such as accordion and flute, with synths and electronically-generated sound. It also made the band members aware that the lyrical direction had to be defined. “We wanted to look at ou ancestry,” says Héctor. “To fight for the social. To defend the environment.”
As a follow-up to El Dorado, Andrea and Héctor headed to London to record ‘La Pipa de la Paz’ (The Peace Pipe) with Roxy Music’s legendary guitarist Phil Manzanera as producer. The album’s signature songs consolidated Echeverri and Buitrago as leaders for much-needed social change at home.
From their start on the local stage to concerts in global venues, Aterciopelados have released six albums, including ‘Gozo Poderoso’ (2000), which earned them a Latin Grammy for Best Rock Group and ‘Oye’ in 2006 with its catchy love song Complemento. In 2008, Héctor and Andrea entered a recording studio for what many predicted would be a last collaborative effort as the Aterciopleados. The album built on the creative momentum of 15 years of song writing and the fact that both Andrea and Héctor were firmly ensconced as Latin American rocks icons. But they never “sold out” on a social message, the need to set wrongs right, and the organic nature of their music.
With a theme built around a pro- posed constitutional referendum declaring access to clean drinking water as a fundamental right for all Colombians, their last album ‘Río’ was also a plea to clean up the Río Bogotá, contaminated by decades of pollutants and abandoned by the city. To raise awareness of the environmental disaster meandering its way across the Bogotá savannah, Aterciopelados launched an extensive tour of the United States in support of their ‘Río.’
Time pressures with family and a desire to take a much-needed break from touring and performing, resulted in a five year respite as the “velvet” duo. Andrea and Héctor embarked on solo projects, each exploring their own musical identities. “Aterciopelados was our comfort zone,” says Héctor. “We got along well, and understood each other when writing songs. When Andrea went solo, her feminine side came out in all her splendor.”
Héctor’s solo efforts have been mo- tivated by ecological activism and a need to “connect” with the native, the indigenous, the shamanistic, through his “Conhéctor” project. The artist continues to perform ‘Cantos Al Agua’ (Chants to the water) to raise awareness of the Río Bogotá and last year, he invited 30 environmental activists to navigate this important river to see first hand the high levels of contamination. Buitrago’s crusades are deeply-rooted in a belief that meditation and music are agents of change. He has also composed several albums for children. “There’s a rebirth when you have children,” states Héctor. “There’s an innocence and new found creativity.”
After their reunion at Rock al Parque this summer, Andrea and Héctor have announced a new album for 2015. Currently on tour in Mexico as guests to an “All Souls Festival” and which is honoring their 20 years together, this duo is hardly jaded, nor arrogant, of their many successes. For Héctor, the chal- lenge ahead is to let the music “flow” and together with the charismatic Andrea, inspire future generations of the “velvet” crusade.