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Rock Latino

The center of Hispanic culture is shifting westward due to Mexico's demographic weight and its infiltration of the US

I have already spoken in this column of Rolling Stonemagazine's Latino offering, in its US edition. Once a year it runs an issue partially devoted to the "Latin" scene, in English. The latest of these was particularly unfortunate.

One misfortune: it coincided with the decease of Lou Reed. So the front cover has a close-up of a somber Lou; while the back cover, titled The Latin Hot List 2013, features the golden body of Naya Rivera, who appears in the teen-musical-comedy series Glee, and fancies herself a singer. Even were they doing it on purpose, it would be hard to play up more coarsely to the stereotypes that prevail in the US mass media. They offer a selection of 11 currently popular ("hot") Hispanic names, from a chef to a TV channel. Significantly, these include no rock, unless this label can be applied to the Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra or Robi Draco Rosa. And we are talking about Rolling Stone!

A few weeks later I was reconciled with the masthead. The Mexican edition of Rolling Stone (owned by another firm) published a special issue called Rock Latino: the origins of rock in our language, from 1957 to 1970. I am impressed. Specials of this sort are fairly frequent in British music magazines, but less so in our cultural ambit. These Mexicans often publish monographic issues on epochs or styles of rock. Surprising how the focus of Rock Latino spans the Atlantic. And it is not essentially just an advertising platform, like the Latin issue in US Rolling Stone: I counted only three pages of advertising out of 108.

The fact that grass was being smoked in public, and that one (one!) girl took her clothes off was sufficient to establish a prohibition of rock concerts

The fact that Rock Latino comes from Mexico, serves to remind us that the center of Hispanic culture is shifting westward, if it is not already out there in Aztec-land, due to Mexico's demographic weight, its infiltration of the US — and its generosity. Consider this: Rock Latino distributes its space between Mexico, Argentina and Spain and, tangentially, places like Uruguay and Venezuela. It is inconceivable that a mainstream publication in Spain or Argentina would spread its net so wide, whether on account of chauvinism, ignorance or mere lack of imagination. True, Mexican rock went through dark years unknown in Argentina or Spain. Though we suffered dictatorships, rock was openly followed even when it became psychedelic and progressive, while in Mexico it was driven underground, to grimy improvised venues known as hoyos fonqui (funky holes).

The first trauma was the massacre of Tlatelolco. In one article, Jorge Castañeda notes that the government put down the 1968 university riots at a toll of 85 dead, not the 600 that we usually hear. Even so, more than enough to snuff out the revolutionary dreams of those students, who paraded with a Che Guevara placard at the head of the demonstration. Castañeda and other interviewees explain that the shock caused by the massacre inhibited subsequent Mexican governments from again using soldiers to impose order by force, at least not against college kids, the children of the middle classes. But the powers-that-be developed a phobia of mass youth gatherings. In 1971 a kind of Woodstock slipped past the gate when a stock-car race at Avándaro, outside Mexico City, included a musical program that attracted about 250,000 people. The fact that grass was being smoked in public, and that one (one!) girl took her clothes off — earning the media nickname "the bare-ass of Avándaro" — was sufficient to establish a prohibition of rock concerts as effective as it was unwritten.

Rock Latino is not wholly exemplar of what rock journalism should be. The quality of its texts is uneven. But it does remind us that we have a musical history in common. The fact that we are all becoming citizens of the Pitchfork Nation involves a renunciation. It means forgetting who we are and where we come from. That's too high a price.

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