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The Musical Migration of Rodrigo y Gabriela

Interview by Claire Healy


Dos aventureros, amantes de la música, buscaron fortuna en el extranjero y encontraron elogios y aplausos (Rolling Stone México, November 2004) [1]

Rodrigo y Gabriela in concert
(Enda Casey, www.rodgab.com)

The stage is in complete darkness and the audience is hushed in anticipation, as two young guitar-players take their seats. A few seconds later, the entire venue reverberates with the frantic strumming of guitars and the synchronised tapping of the two performers’ feet. The tunes are literally hammered out on the instruments, the exquisite music punctuated by the performers’ humorous personal interjections between songs. After a succession of encores, Rodrigo and Gabriela take their final bows on the stage at Vicar Street, Dublin, and retire to the temporary sanctuary of the dressing rooms and an enormous bowl of fruit. The audience in the Irish capital is once again in awe of the talent, energy and mastery of the Mexican couple, who have returned to play a few gigs in the city where it all began. Despite their growing popularity and tours in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and most recently back in Mexico, Gabriela and Rodrigo continue to find themselves returning to Ireland.

Gabriela Quintero and Rodrigo Sánchez first met at the Casa de Cultura in Mexico City. Mexico City, constructed on the ruins of the Aztec cities of Tenochtitlán and Tlatelolco, is the capital of Mexico, and with a metropolitan population of almost twenty million people, is one of the largest cities in the world. After each playing in various heavy metal bands based in the sprawling metropolis, Rodrigo and Gabriela began to perform together in a band called Tierra Ácida (Acid Earth). During the day, Gabriela worked as a music teacher, while Rodrigo performed music for television programmes. Yet gradually they began to think of leaving la Ciudad de México and traversing the Atlantic to Europe, in search of adventure.

The pair arrived in Dublin, Ireland in 1999, to a city and a country in the initial stages of an economic boom period. This was reflected in a thriving live music scene in the city’s pubs and clubs. As Rodrigo explains, ‘we didn’t want to come to London or Paris or Spain. We come from a very big city, so we wanted something smaller.’ (Rodrigo y Gabriela DVD). In 2003, the duo released their first album, Re-Foc, and a year later an album recorded live in Manchester and Dublin hit the shops. Their music is an innovative hybrid of the metal music that they carry in ‘la médula de los huesos [the marrow of their bones]’ (Sergio Burstein, Lavibra.com), jazz and classical acoustic guitar - but any verbal description could not do justice to their originality. As Gabriela points out: ‘I hate to think what kind of music I play or I want to play. All that to me, is s**t. To be honest. You play what you can express.’ (Rodrigo y Gabriela DVD).

In 2006, with their eponymous album, Rodrigo y Gabriela beat both the Arctic Monkeys and Johnny Cash to number one in the music charts of their adopted country. (Sue Steward, www.rodgab.com/history, 2006). I spoke with Gabriela Quintero in November 2006, and she candidly told her story:

[Claire Healy] Could you tell the story of your move from Mexico City to Dublin City? What had you heard about Ireland before you arrived here?

[Gabriela Quintero] I had heard very little about Ireland. The original idea was to come to Europe, but to live somewhere different - not in Spain. But we didn’t know much about Ireland. We got advice from a Mexican friend who had lived all over Europe ten years before that, and who really loved Ireland and said that it was very friendly. I didn’t know anything else, but I should have asked my mum, she is very knowledgeable, and she always loved Irish writers. When she came to visit Ireland, she said I should have asked her about it first!

Had you known of any connections between Ireland and Mexico?

Yes, I had heard of the San Patricio Battalion. In a place called San Ángel there is a plaque with the names of all the Irish soldiers, but nobody in Mexico knows this, they don’t teach it in school. It was a cool thing to happen, though they all ended up having horrible deaths. The world is very small, you know, the more you travel, the more you know. I think we only have borders in our minds, but in reality they are not really there.

Gabriela Quintero
(Enda Casey, www.rodgab.com)

What influenced your decision to come here?

We just wanted to come to Europe, to travel the world, we were not looking for a job. We come from a middle-class background in Mexico, so when we quit the metal band, we just went to the beach. Then we found a really good way to make a living by playing music at hotels. We were sorted and we got paid properly, but we wanted something else. So we decided to travel to Europe, but the package trips they sell in Mexico are always to England, France, and other places. We didn’t want to see the Eiffel Tower, we wanted to do something outrageous, like maybe live in Poland, but we ended up in Ireland! It was definitely the right decision in the end.

Did you know anyone living in Ireland before you arrived?

Not really, we didn’t know anyone personally. The day before our trip we met a girl who knew a friend of a friend of a friend - a Mexican guy living in Dublin. She gave us his telephone number, he was a student studying in Dublin, we didn’t really know him at all. We ran out of money in Ireland after the first week, so we had to go out and busk, but we rang that guy and he was really cool, he let us sleep in his house for three days. He didn’t really have to do that, he was a good soldier!

What were your first impressions of the country, and did they change after you had remained here for a while? What differences do you see between Ireland in 1999 and today?

There are a lot of differences between Ireland in 1999 and today, even though when we came here in 1999, a lot of people were already telling us that Ireland used to be different, that everything was terrible now. Now I have kind of become one of those people who say ‘it’s terrible, Ireland has changed so much’!

It was our first time in Europe so there was a big culture shock and my English was terrible, I had none whatsoever. Rodrigo spoke a little bit of English, but the first day was a nightmare. Even just trying to say the most normal things was a problem, but people were very nice to us. We didn’t understand anything. After just one week we had to go and play in the street. My first impression of Dublin was that it was really windy, and really cold, and I thought ‘what on Earth are we going to do?’ We busked on a Saturday morning at 11am on Grafton Street [the main shopping street in Dublin]. It was absolutely packed. That changed everything; many people approached us and were very friendly. We basically just said yes to any invitation.

Our first gig was a religious party in Bray [County Wicklow]. We had said that we would do anything, but on the journey there we wondered if it was some kind of sect, and we didn’t know what they were going to do to us! It ended up being a little boy’s First Communion, and we spent the evening drinking with the guests! The following day we played at a folk night in the Norseman pub in Templebar [Dublin’s cultural quarter]. We were paid ten pounds each and were the headline act, though everybody thought we were Brazilian!

I don’t think people are less friendly in Ireland if you come from a Latin American country. Latin Americans can be very proud, but it all depends on how you approach the encounter. Really, nobody cares in Europe or America if you are Latin American or not. Mexicans often complain about foreigners, and think that foreigners are being cold just because they don’t tell Mexicans that they’re great! People can have problems if they arrive here with a bad attitude. Wherever you are from and wherever you go, you find good people - and eejits [Hiberno-English word for ‘idiots’]!

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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 1 March 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Healy, Claire, '
The Musical Migration of Rodrigo y Gabriela' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:1 (March 2007), pp. 47-51. Available online (www.irlandeses.org), accessed .


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