Our biggest dream is to make it in this country," says Toto González, drummer for the Miami Latin quartet Sóniko. He's giving an honest response to a question loaded with pure nostalgia: As emigrated South Americans, do they want to go back there to play in front of their old friends?
Yeah, they do. But not today.
"Can you imagine the guys we went to school with seeing us on-stage and wondering how we got there?" Javier Guell laughs. The guitarist, along with friends González and singer Alex Izaguirre, is originally from Venezuela. Peruvian bassist Jorge García completed the lineup on February 2001, just as the band was about to begin its second rehearsal.
All four have spent at least a decade in Miami: González and Guell came here after high school, while García and Izaguirre arrived with their families at ages 12 and 13, respectively. None was escaping political turmoil, as many of their Latin American colleagues have done over the past few years; they didn't have to take just any kind of work that was offered. That gave the four some time to develop their sound together after playing in a few early, less successful bands. "We have learned from our past experiences, and those mistakes are now helping us to clear the road for Sóniko," says González, who was in a band called D'Facto at the time his two Venezuelan friends played in Extravagaria.
Though Sóniko takes up much of their time, the four have other interests. García, who played in a band called Vía 1 before joining the group, recently earned an associate's degree at Miami Dade College. He's mulling over a career as a sound engineer but says he's "undecided." While in Extravagaria, Izaguirre finished high school at G.H. Braddock in Kendall. Now he is in the middle of his graphics design studies at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, following his friend Toto's lead.
González graduated in 1997 as a graphics designer from the International Fine Arts College and has worked for Spanish-language magazines like Estática, Boom!, and Eres. Gonzalez's strict father, a Venezuelan businessman who mostly supplies wood to big companies, never really understood what his son wanted to do "with a bunch of little [drawings]." But at least he understood that his son was not going to follow in his footsteps. "I lied to him. I said I was going to study business management," González confesses. The drummer handles Sóniko's marketing and public relations; organizes and DJs at Noches de Fabrika, a Latin-themed party night at La Covacha in Miami; and is the webmaster for Fabrika's site, www.movimientofabrika.com, which provides tour dates, music files, and news about Latin rock bands.
Guell, who didn't lie to his family, graduated with a degree in industrial engineering last year from Florida International University. He's still waiting for his work permit "to begin looking for one of those jobs," he says. The guitarist laughs when asked what parallels he finds between playing in a rock band and being an industrial engineer. He says he's good at both but adds, "That doesn't mean that I like the career as much as I like music. You can call it plan B!"
Sóniko's history can be split into a plan A and a plan B. When the band began recording Spanish alt-rock songs that were inspired by Seattle grunge, Brit-pop, and '80s and '90s rock en español acts like Soda Stereo, Robi Rosa, Fito Páez, and Hombres G, it sought to create a package that would impress South Florida's Latin music industry. Part of its plan worked: Thanks to energy, determination, and money well invested, as well as some extra help in the final mixes from Shakira's engineer, Marcelo Añez -- who got a Grammy for his work with the Colombian diva's MTV Unplugged -- the band completed a solid debut, Kombustión. Unfortunately, none of the major labels, decimated by an industrywide sales slump, offered the band a recording contract.
So Sóniko turned to plan B. It released Kombustión last September under Fabrika Music, an independent label owned by González. Sóniko's video for its first single, "Los Muebles del Planeta de los Simios" ("Furniture of the Planet of the Apes"), was in heavy rotation on MTV Español early this year, which has opened a lot of doors. Directed by yet another Venezuelan, Danny Perez -- an old friend of González's who works for A Band Apart, an L.A.-based production company that counts among its clients directors Quentin Tarantino and John Woo -- it shows the band in various animal costumes, none of which is an ape. An "imaginary trip inspired by childhood figures" such as a raccoon, a donkey, a chicken, and a dog, the low-budget clip won Sóniko the network's "buzzworthy" status and helped it pick up some extra gigs, press interviews, and airplay on music channels like Urban Latino TV and HTV. The band toured the West Coast in March and made a stop at the industry showcase known as South by Southwest.
Things are starting to fall into place for Sóniko after two years of dirty work with little compensation. "Don't get me wrong -- it's not that we've made it or anything," Guell says. "We're pretty much in the same place, but at the same time, we can see that this band is doing things seriously and that we've progressed a lot musically."
When asked about the highlight of their brief career, all agree that it was opening for Venezuelan funk band Los Amigos Invisibles before 1,500 people at La Covacha last September. Izaguirre confesses to a serious case of the shakes before going on-stage that night, overwhelmed by a crowd ten times bigger than Sóniko's normal audience. The others laugh at Izaguirre, remembering when bodyguards were needed to get rid of an overly passionate male fan and, minutes later, to almost surgically separate an obsessed female who was trying to kiss Izaguirre. "At some point, we had, like, three different mosh pit areas spinning in front of our eyes, and it was unbelievable," González gushes. "I said, 'We don't have that many friends to create such a situation! They must really like our music!'"
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