Argentina Rocks!

South Americans speak about struggling and surviving in SoFla

Argentineans weren't always this active in South Florida's music scene. But bands like Tereso, Prole, and the Gardis have been playing around for a while now, getting themselves mixed up in jams with visiting Argentine rock celebrities like Los Piojos or simply trying to make a buck. Although different circumstances led them to come here in the first place, they all quickly learned that only a few lucky musicians can actually earn a living in their chosen profession.

Los Violadores' guitarist, Stuka, regularly travels to his native country to sustain that punk band's legend, which originated in the mid-1980s with usually abrasive shows. Here in South Florida, he often shares a stage with the Gardis and has even played guitar over Argentine TV producer/DJ Alex Pels' downtempo beats. But he's not interested in establishing his own band here; he already has Los Violadores, whose albums are being distributed in the U.S. through fellow countryman Gustavo Fernandez's Miami-based company DLN. He moved to the United States to give his 13-year-old son, Ivan, a future. "Just say no to no future!" he laughs. "What a punk slogan!"

In contrast, Gardi Pais plays three, four, or more nights a week in bars so he can cover his monthly expenses, which include supporting two cute little girls and a wife. His band, the Gardis, features two other Argentineans, bassist Gaston Zukowski and drummer Sebastian Acosta (who also plays in local rock group OHMS). At times, the trio has expanded its basic lineup to include guests like Stuka, blues rocker JAF, and guitarist Gabriel Carámbula, an unexpected development to those who remember when Pais was a rhythm guitarist for Carámbula's Argentine rock band Los Perros in the mid-1990s.

The Gardis have a busy weekly schedule that usually consists of a gig at the Poor House in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesdays, shows at Miami nightspots on Thursdays and Fridays, and a show at North Beach's Sandbar on every other Saturday. What's their secret? During their shows, Pais' own English-language R&B songs play second fiddle to fervent renditions of Rolling Stones cuts. "We are doing what the Beatles did in Hamburg," he says. But the band leader, who delivered pizza for three months after arriving in South Florida in 1999, does not consider the Gardis to be a cover band. "If I really want to do that," he says, "I'd grab a bunch of songs from the Top 40 and I'd make three times more money playing Fort Lauderdale 50 times a month."

Singer and guitarist Alan Hughes, who has led his band Prole for five years and sings in a late-1980s rock argentinomode, politely disagrees with Gardi's method. He prefers to develop his band's identity by focusing entirely on his own compositions. Prole has a new Tuesday showcase, PROLEferation, which started this month at Churchill's Hideaway, independently released a self-titled album, and is preparing a follow-up disc. However, things are not easy for alt-rock bands like them. There are not enough places to play, and it's hard to develop any loyal following.

But Hughes lives here now, and that's the reality he has to deal with. Learning to become a chef while living in New York City gave him an alternate way to survive. He left Argentina for Spain in 1989 and relocated to South Florida in the early 1990s. In America, he worked in several kitchens, paying his dues as a cook and chef before buying the increasingly hot Miami Design District restaurant One Ninety last year. But, he says, "I'm a chef with a rocker heart."

If you're in the Design District, you might run into some of the guys in Tereso. The group is about to independently release its first album, which will cover most of the stuff it's been playing for the past seven years. All of its members have other occupations. Singer Juan Rozas went from picking up trees after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 to delivering pizza before concentrating on painting. Some of his best sellers are big reproductions of famous artists, tailored for ceilings in wealthy people's mansions. Meanwhile, guitarist Marcelo Crocetti specializes in metal, sculpting big heads that have taken up most of the space in the warehouse where he works. His mother's cousin, Juan Carlos Payarols, is a famous goldsmith in Argentina who has sculpted presidential canes for the country's last four democratically elected presidents. Crocetti, who used to wear a Mohawk, has sold some of his pieces to the now-closed Leah's Gallery as well as to some South Florida photographers. Still, he has to spend some time working in an older family business, distributing baked goods to stores and supermarkets that cater to immigrants.

Blues rocker JAF is another nut in the jar. He spent more than a year playing the club circuit when he decided to leave his mid-1990s Argentine pop glory behind. But he couldn't secure a record deal here, so he left for Spain. His short stay in South Florida is fondly remembered, though. If you go to Sandbar, you'll probably notice that bands don't play in the back of the bar standing on the ground anymore, not after JAF built a two-foot-high wooden stage in the front of the club. "I can play better if it's on-stage," the impulsive carpenter said at the time. Too bad he didn't stick around to see what South Florida was really like.

But those who know what the city's about, like producer Alfi Martins, enjoy it enough. In the mid-1980s, he worked as a keyboardist for Charly Garcia before moving to New York later that decade. For a while, he lived in Madrid, but after deciding he wanted to come back to the States, he finally settled in Miami in 1995. He's been involved with the "meta-hop drum and bass" band Council of the Sun for a few years and recently worked on a remix for Bajofondo Tango Club. He is not planning to go back to Argentina anytime soon. "I can't say that I didn't enjoy playing there," he says. "But all I can think of now is [being able] to buy an apartment in front of [soccer team Boca Juniors' stadium] La Bomboñera to live there when I retire."

The latest addition to the Argies pack is drummer Edmundo "Pelu" Rivero, who recently left the Gardis and debuted as a solo artist at Sandbar, where he now performs every Thursday. Pelu came here in 1998 after sharing a band called Semen with his brother Damian for nine years. His grandfather, singer Edmundo Rivero, was an Argentine tango icon, but Pelu didn't want to cash in on the legend. While cleaning bathrooms and kitchens, Pelu waged a legal dispute to recover his now-5-year-old son, Fausto, after his mother brought him to the States without Pelu's consent. But the court decided in his favor, and he's now able to visit Fausto as often as he wants. Pelu met Pais in 2000; while with the Gardis, he got a chance to sit in as a session drummer with many Argentine celebrities. Charly Garcia was his favorite. "To play with him was a dream come true," he says.

Rivero shares another dream with Tereso and Fort Lauderdale-based rock band Vieja Gloria: They all want to play at Obras, a 5,000-seat stadium that has been Buenos Aires' rock cathedral since the late 1970s. Vieja Gloria has developed a small following over the past seven years, playing its own songs along with a few Argentine rock classics by cult bands like Redonditos, La Renga, Los Piojos, and Divididos. But when bassist Pablo Vivas talks about his experiences here for the past 12 years -- he and his friends in the band paint houses or do gardening or whatever else is necessary to earn income -- he doesn't have to say that he's homesick. It comes out over a long conversation during which he expresses his anger at the state of Argentina's economy and how its politicians have left tons of people like him with little alternative except to emigrate.

"Once you've been painting all day, I swear that you won't think of strapping a bass to your neck," assures Vivas, who still manages to do it three times a week. Some fans love to visit them during band rehearsals so they can literally cry while listening to the group's intimate Redonditos covers. "We play for the suffering Argentineans," he says.

Somehow, all the above-mentioned musicians share his lament. Despite the modest success some of them have achieved here, none of them left Argentina with a smile. It doesn't matter how long ago.

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