South of the Border

Guajiro shores up a Latin punk audience, Castro excluded.

Pop-punk, ska-punk, garage-punk, goth-punk, post-punk — is there any part of punk rock left to explore? Sure, but it may come from outside the cultural lines of middle-class America. There's a whole multicultural angle that's been mostly untouched. And that's where Miami's Güajiro comes in. The fourpiece — composed of guitarist/vocalist Will Lopez, drummer Doug MacKinnon, guitarist David Santos, and bassist Jorge G. Graupera — thinks it's time punk rock has its own "Latin Explosion."

"I don't think there's a good Latin punk record out there," Lopez says, adding that he intends to change this. "We set out to make the definitive Latin punk record — an American-sounding, Latin punk record."

Though it won't be released until sometime this fall, Güajiro's debut CD, Material Subversivo, is exactly what Lopez hoped to create — a stripped-down mix of '77-style punk and melodic rock, with lyrics in Spanish and English. The songs are tightly executed and well-produced without sounding overly slick. And it probably doesn't hurt that members of Pennywise and Buena Vista Social Club had a hand in the recording.

Barrio boys: Graupera (left), Lopez, MacKinnon, and Santos
Barrio boys: Graupera (left), Lopez, MacKinnon, and Santos

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"The idea was to make a Wu-Tang Clan-type of punk record where we have guys from other bands perform on the recording," Lopez says. "We had an open-door policy where anybody who wanted to bring something in, while we were in the studio that month, could come by and take part in the songs."

But how did a fledgling band from Miami, together for less than a year at that point, hook up with all those California cats? Simple — by having a drummer who grew up there. Having played in Cali punk legends the Vandals (as well as Boston hardcore vets Slapshot), MacKinnon knows more than a few people in the SoCal punk scene — people like Mudd from Long Beach Records, who released Güajiro's self-titled debut EP. The disc features the song "Matanzero," which has been all over the satellite airwaves and cyberspace, from MTV Overdrive to XM's Rancid Radio.

"Rancid had been playing our song 'Matanzero' on their radio show," Lopez says about how Güajiro got on Friday's bill. "Soon, I got a call from their booking agent who said they were handpicking bands for opening slots on their tour and they wanted us to be one of them."

Of course, that doesn't mean Lopez and crew do all their promoting on the Internet.

"You can't just play Señor Frogs on a Monday and say, 'This scene sucks,'" MacKinnon says. "You get your ass in the van, book your tour, and earn those fans one by one. There'll be breakdowns, a lot of peanut butter and jelly, and a lot of Taco Bell. If it means that much to you — if it's in your blood and you want to leave your mark — you have to go out and work hard."

Güajiro's done its share of hard work. The band knows that to reach its target audience, playing only inside the States is not an option. It was time to bust out their visas.

"We played a music festival in Ensenada, Mexico, which was awesome," Lopez says. "They shut the entire town down — you can't park anywhere. There were bands from different genres playing on these huge sound systems. We played three shows, and there were like 5,500 people each night. We definitely plan to go back."

Lopez adds that a trip to Tijuana is in order, as well as a return to Puerto Rico. Thankfully, as Lopez learned, reggaeton isn't the only thing Puerto Rican kids are into.

"There are kids over there trying to bring back the CBGB, Saturday-matinee-show vibe — a bunch of raging, 14-, 15-year-old hardcore kids," Lopez says. "The P.A. sucked, but it didn't matter. The kids just went nuts, jumping on stage and singing along with us, even though they had no idea what we were saying. And from there, we'd play a show that same night at a regular club. The island's really about to explode with this kind of music."

However, there's one nearby communist island Güajiro won'tbe visiting anytime soon. Hell, their merchandise isn't even allowed there.

"Our friend, Omar, recently went back to Cuba to visit his family," Lopez recalls. "He brought some Güajiro CDs, T-shirts, and videos, but the customs agents stopped him. They said, 'What is that?' He told them it was just a band — some friends of his. They said, 'Oh no, that's subversive material — material subversivo. We can't let that in.' They confiscated all of it. When Omar told Dougie and I about this, we kind of looked at each other and knew that when the record was done, that's what we'd call it."

So Güajiro's banned in Cuba, eh? Not a problem. With a series of tours scheduled for later this year — including a trip to New York City, possibly for the CMJ Music Fest — Güajiro will do just fine without Castro's approval. Let's just hope he doesn't want credit for the album title.

 
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