That’s something that Rodrigo y Gabriela go to prove. The acoustic guitar duo has gained worldwide acclaim through their minimalist, but extraordinary, approach to modern music. Heavy overdriven guitars, screaming organs, booming bass lines, and crashing drums are good and all, but Rodrigo y Gabriela remind us that music isn’t just in the technology – it’s in the soul. Their spirited writing, wildly innovative playing and their great showmanship combine to take us away from the highly technological 21st century music scene and put the muse back in music.
Their musical history is a relatively brief one. Hailing from Mexico City, both were members of a metal band, aptly named ‘Tierra Ácida.’ They performed regular gigs around the city, and were well established as excellent musicians. But, both Rodrigo and Gabriela became disillusioned with the city’s music scene, and they were desperate to try something new. In 2000, they ended up leaving their roots, selling their equipment, and shipping off across the pond to Dublin. They heard that it was a good starting point for wandering musicians, and in their attempt to forge new ground for themselves, both stylistically and monetarily, they bought some acoustic guitars and began doing duo performances.
They began as many travelling musicians do, playing pubs, bars, restaurants, and of course, busking. Although this seemed a step down from where they were in Mexico City, they were enthralled with their gigs, as they had much more flexibility in style and genre to work with. Rather than playing metal or thrash, they were forced to play acoustic up-tempo originals and covers. Some covers were of metal bands, but their stunning versatility began to develop during this time. After several years of playing, in 2005 they got what they needed – Damien Rice asked them to open for him at the Oxegen Festival held in Ireland at the Punchestown Racecourse.
This led them to begin touring intensively from 2005 onwards. Beginning in the UK, their music quickly spread and they gained wide acclaim in Europe and beyond. Their first two albums – Foc and re-Foc – were released in 2001 and 2002, respectively. They didn’t attract wide audiences, but it helped them define their playing style and techniques in the early part of their musical career. They released their next self-titled studio album in 2006, Rodrigo y Gabriela. This gained huge acclaim in Ireland (especially due to their live performances for larger audiences), and it pushed back the Arctic Monkeys and Johnny Cash for #1 on the Irish Albums Chart. Several live albums have been released as well, chronicling their performance abilities. Their most recent studio album is 11:11, released in 2009. This final work demonstrates a real refining of their style explored in their earlier albums, but all of their earlier work is beautiful and absolutely worth listening to.
Stylistically, they cover new territory. Their unique feature is, of course, that they perform all of their songs instrumentally, with only two classical guitars. No unnecessary over-producing, no excess sound or parts, no overly technological elements necessary. Rodrigo is the lead guitarist, offering intricate and technical melody lines and impressive metal guitar playing on his classical instrument. Gabriela is the heart and drive of the two. Her amazing rhythm style is absolutely what sets them apart from other acoustic groups. She uses her guitar as a percussive instrument while she plays chords. She offers drum beats while playing the chords that support Rodrigo’s shredding, and she gives powerful subtle rhythmic texture to Rodrigo’s unique melodicism.
On the whole, these two combine innovative musical approaches to rather standard musical equipment (by the standards of today’s technological focus) to achieve stunning results. They can serve as a reminder that music is what comes from the soul, not from the setup. Give them a listen and see for yourself.
3.) Buster Voodoo