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The Musical Migration of Rodrigo y Gabriela
Interview by Claire Healy


(Tina Korhonen, www.rodgab.com)

And what do Mexicans think of Ireland?

It depends where in Mexico you are. A lot of people in Mexico don’t have a clue where Ireland is. A lot of people say [US-]Americans are ignorant, but Mexicans can be ignorant too. An Irish friend of ours visited Mexico and he always had a great time because people saw him as someone different. They thought he was a gringo, but he told them he wasn’t. Mexico is very friendly, but there are eejits there too!

Did you find it easy to settle in as a Mexican/Latin American?

I think in Ireland people don’t really have an idea of Mexico, generally they only know what they have seen in American films or in shows like ‘Speedy Gonzales’ [Warner Brothers cartoon character of a Mexican mouse]! I don’t get offended because I didn’t know anything about Ireland before I came here. A lot of Mexicans do get offended, and complain about it when they come back from Europe. For me it’s just a little annoying, but some Mexicans think that it’s racism. I think people are just trying to be funny. The middle classes and upper classes in Mexico can be so pretentious. They study in American-style universities and dress like Americans, yet they say they are proud of Mexican culture. Then they come here and get called ‘Speedy Gonzales’!!

Did moving abroad make you more aware of your identity as a Latin American?

People here don’t really know, they think we’re Spanish, they call us the Spanish couple, whatever, I don’t really care. Throughout Latin American history people have been conquered, and now we are bombarded with American culture. I don’t really focus on Hispanic roots.

In Mexico they don’t teach you that the Aztecs were an amazing and advanced civilisation. In school they use racist words for indigenous people, it is really cruel. A few well-educated people know about the Aztecs, and some good teachers teach the truth. The Mexican President [Vicente Fox] didn’t want people to mention the Aztecs, which was very bad. When Mexican people go abroad and live in other countries, they get confused, they think ‘I’m not indigenous, I don’t know what I am - but I know I’m not Speedy Gonzales!’

You start to think about your identity and where you’re from when you are abroad. Some crazy people say ‘we’re Aztecs,’ but they’re not. In Europe, people have been fighting so long for their territories, so identity in every country is strong. Over there people are only proud to be Mexican when they’re drunk! Some of the local people, the working classes, they know they’re Mexican and they don’t worry about it. Their skin is usually darker and, though they may not know anything about the Aztecs, they don’t get confused. The upper classes are usually more European-looking. Mexico is really a very racist country. At the beginning when I went back to Mexico from Ireland I thought this was terrible, but now I accept things the way they are and that you’re never going to change things. Mexico is a welcoming country to foreigners but Mexicans can be racist towards one another.

The image on television over there is just Barbies all over the place, and particularly in soap operas. Young actresses and newsreaders look European, that’s the cool image for young people. People grow up with terrible complexes. A typical Mexican girl with dark skin who is really beautiful would still think she was really ugly.

You played with Irish folk musicians - to what extent did living in Ireland influence your music?

We played with Robbie Harris, and other Irish folk musicians. To be honest, harmonically they did not have much influence, but I was quite impressed with Irish music. I saw it live, and enjoyed seeing young talented people playing in contemporary ways. My right hand, my percussion hand, is influenced by Irish folk - my hand was impressed with the bodhrán [traditional Celtic frame drum]! It sounds so fantastic and I tried to play it. Robbie and I went together to buy a bodhrán and he tried to teach me how to play with the stick, but I gave up and just played with my hand. That’s actually the original Irish way so I play it in the pure form!

Rodrigo Sánchez
(Enda Casey, www.rodgab.com)

You are repeatedly referred to in the Irish media as playing with ‘Latin flair’/ ‘Latin style’ - do you consider your music to be ‘typical Latin American music’?

No, I don’t think we play ‘Latin music.’ We are influenced by it, because some of the music is fantastic. Though we are much more influenced by heavy metal. Before I got into that, music was everything to me as a child. My mum always played salsa. I never really liked salsa, I thought it all sounded the same, and was really monotonous, but eventually I thought it was cool. We came here to compose a different type of music, but Latin elements started to come up. We never studied Latin music, so we don’t even really know what ‘Latin’ is. Really you can call our music whatever you want, except flamenco!

A few years ago we played a song called ‘Libertango’ based on the music of Astor Piazzola [influential Argentine tango composer]. I love Piazzola, it’s not pure tango. I think in Argentina they hate him because he mixed tango with jazz, but I love his music! So we did a version of his song, but also with Irish influences. I have loved tango music since I was a little girl. My mum had a great collection of albums, loads of tango and instrumental music. I still love that, and the dance itself. I also like bossa nova and jazz, but not so much Mexican music. You hear that a lot at parties when you’re drunk! When I’m back in Mexico I watch Mariachi [traditional Mexican bands] on TV and some of the bands are really good, but it’s like in Ireland where a lot of people hate Irish music. When some Irish people hear Irish music, they don’t stop and say that’s cool, they just hate it. I have come across a lot of people like that.

Why exactly did you choose to record a song with the Hungarian Roma violinist, Roby Lakatos?

He is amazing, we saw him on TV and thought this guy is amazing. The record company for the album wanted us to jam with different people, but we wanted someone that we really admired. The only one that responded to us was Roby Lakatos, so he came to Bath and recorded the song in just two hours. We were playing like crazy - he wanted to play on the whole album and to be on the cover, but we said no. He is amazing but crazy!

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

You recently appeared on Mexican television - how did the Mexican public respond to your music and your story?

We got loads of messages saying ‘guys, you played really well,’ but the majority of people just said ‘wow - you are going to be on TV in America.’ They are more impressed by our story than by the music, like the fact that we were on Jay Leno [US-American chat show]! I didn’t really want to go to Mexico at all, we’ve been touring and recording constantly for the past two years, we have no life. So going to Mexico to work didn’t sound that inviting. But we tried it out, we did a whole day of publicity on the TV and on radio programmes, from 7am in the morning to 9pm at night! So we’re just gonna wait and see what the response is. Maybe we’ll go back there to work, maybe just on holiday. We know some people were impressed, but on the streets they were much more impressed with our travels.

Do you want to eventually return to Mexico, or settle in Ireland or elsewhere?

I already have a house in a village in Mexico, in Ixtapa [beach resort in the state of Guerrero, 200km north of Acapulco], and that’s where I’ll definitely spend the European winter. I really like Europe and I’d miss Ireland if I was away too long. For the moment, because the album was released in America, it’s convenient, because we can easily go back from there to the village in Mexico. But who knows, our record label is Irish and our manager is Irish. At least for a couple of months a year I’d like to live in West Cork. It’s beautiful, I’ve been there twice, I love the West of Ireland. I would like to live there for a while. I don’t know, I just know I can’t stay in one place for a long time, I have to keep moving.

Claire Healy

More information, music and concert dates available on the excellent website, www.rodgab.com. I am very grateful to Gabriela Quintero, for so enthusiastically doing the interview, and to Carlo Polli, for organising it.



[1] 'Two adventurers and music-lovers went off to seek their fortune overseas, and encountered praise and applause.'


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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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