The New Impresario

08.13.05
Golijov's Ayre-Song-cycle featuring Dawn Upshaw

Gustavo Santaolalla has always had two loves: Rock 'n' Roll and Latin culture. As a boy in Argentina, he listened to American music that ranged from Nat King Cole to the Beach Boys. When he decided to become a musician himself, Santaolalla wanted to pay homage to his influences without aping them. "I didn't want to create the Beatles in Spanish," he says.

That quest ultimately led Santaolalla, 53, to help pioneer the fusion of conventional rock and traditional Latin music sometimes called rock en Español. Through his label, Surco, Santaolalla has signed and produced acts as diverse as the rap-rock band Molotov, the crooner Javier García and the Colombian heartthrob Juanes, whose album Un D'A Normal (A Normal Day), racked up five Latin Grammy Awards in 2003 and sold more records in the U.S. than any other Spanish-language album that year. Santaolalla has also introduced the sound to new audiences with his scores for the films 21 Grams and The Motorcycle Diaries.

What pleases Santaolalla most, however, is the way the genre has achieved popularity while pushing the definition of Latin music for Americans.

It offers a "cultural map of Latin America and shows that we are more than just Mexican sombreros and congas," he says. "Not that I have anything against that, but I wanted to stretch past the stereotypes."