Gabriel, Israel, Dario, the first thing I'm wondering about is where you guys got the Sonido Gallo Negro ("the sound of the black rooster", red.) band name from?
Gabriel Lopez (guitar, organ): "In Mexican occultism, Santeria and black magic the black rooster is used for many rituals. We saw it as a nice symbol for the mysterious and magical or psychedelic tropical music we produce."
How did you guys get together?
Israel Martinez (bass): "There are seven of us who've lived in Mexico-City our entire lives and the two other guys (Jorge 'Dr. Alderete' Alderete - Theremin/live visuals, Lucio de los Santos - flute/bongos) are Argentinian expats who've been also living there for quite some time now.
The genres you guys draw on, mambo, chicha, huayno, cumbia and so on, aren't immediately the most popular music styles in Mexico, where people prefer mariachi bands, ranchera, norteño or even son jarocho. What drew you to that music?
Dario Maldonado (guitar): "There's a big mambo and cumbia revival in Mexico at the moment. It's become like a cool subculture. But tradition has survived as well. There's a public square in Mexico-City where old people still dance the danzon every Sunday (Plaza de la Ciudadela, red.). Cumbia is almost omnipresent as you will hear it in busses, taxis or out in the streets. What we do with Sonido Gallo Negro is take that old music and transform into something completely new and original."
Is that also why you decided on using instruments and effects like the Farfisa organ, the Theremin and the Fuzzbox?
Gabriel Lopez: "Yeah, we try to approach these genres from the viewpoint of a nineteen seventies psychedelic rock band. Traditionally these styles were usually played by big orchestras, but we do it with the line-up of a rock band and the result is interesting to say the least! (laughs) We love it though!"
Apart from your music there's also an important visual side to Sonido Gallo Negro, something a certain Dr. Alederete is responsible for. What can you tell me about him?
Israel Martinez: "Dr. Alderete is our graphic designer and he also plays the Theremin. During our live shows he uses graphic software called Tagtool, which allows him to project his live drawings on a big screen, adding special effects and so on."
Gabriel Lopez: "It's like another instrument in the band, but instead of being sound it's visual, like musical graffiti of some kind. As he's also a musician in the band Dr. Alderete perfectly understands what we're about. And when he's not on tour with us, we still have visuals he did during other concerts we can use when we're on stage."
'Sendero Mistico' is your first international album, but your debut effort, 'Cumbia Salvaje' was already released back in 2011. Has your sound evolved much since that first album?
Gabriel Lopez: "Yes, on 'Cumbia Salvaje' and 'Sendero Mistico' our sound was still mainly focused on Peruvian cumbia or chicha, huayno and cumbia amazonica, but for our upcoming album, 'Mambo Cosmico', we decided to delve a bit more into Mexico's musical past and started experimenting with danzon, cha-cha-cha and mambo. As these genres are a part of our own musical patrimony, we just had to talk to our parents and grandparents to learn about that music and to borrow the records they still had. Of course, as we've always done, we made that music into our own thing."
Dario Maldonado: "The first single was already released and is called 'Cumbia Ishtar'.
You guys have a clear fascination with lost civilizations like that of the Mayans, the Aztecs or the Incas and the supernatural.
Gabriel Lopez: "That's something that grew from working with Dr. Alderete. He's truly fascinated with the weird and unusual. After a while it started rubbing of on the rest of the band members and now we're reading books and watching documentaries about that kind of stuff all the time. On 'Sendero Mistico' we still focused on Mayan and Inca culture, but for 'Mambo Cosmico' we extended our curiosity and crossed the ocean to explore the mythology of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia as well."
The opening track on 'Sendero Mistico' is called 'La Patrona'. Was that song meant as a salute to the Santa Muerte cult in Mexico?
Dario Maldonado: "Yes, the title of the song translates as "the female boss", and many Mexicans belief that to be death. The members of the Santa Muerte cult have personified death and turned it into a female saint called Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte."
Among Catholics in Mexico, the one symbol that is omnipresent is that of la Virgen de Guadalupe or the Virgin of Guadalupe in English. Should we consider the Santa Muerte cult as some kind of counterculture?
Gabriel Lopez: "Yeah, it's like the B-side of a record, but more importantly it's something that was created by ordinary people who couldn't live up to the moral standards set by the Catholic Church. That's why Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte is venerated by smoking cigars and drinking alcohol for example."
On 'Sendero Mistico' there's also a track called 'Alfonso Graña'.
Gabriel Lopez: "Alfonso Graña was a nineteenth century Spanish explorer who, together with a friend, got lost in the Peruvian part of the Amazon rainforest and was found by members of the Shuar tribe, known for keeping the shrunken heads or tsantsa of their enemies. His friend was killed, but because the chief's daughter fell in love with him, Alfonso's life was spared and when the chief eventually passed away he even became the leader of the Shuar and crowned himself Alfonso I rey de la Amazonia or Alfonso I king of Amazonia. It was just a fascinating story we stumbled on, so we decided to dedicate one of our songs to him."
In conclusion, haven't you guys ever contemplated of taking popular Mexican genres like mariachi or ranchera to another level?
Gabriel Lopez: "Not really, but we're also involved in a project called Twin Tones, and there we do mix mariachi music with influences from spaghetti westerns and ranchera music. Personally I believe there are already enough bands out there doing something similar, so I'd rather focus on what we're doing with Sonido Gallo Negro. We're as exotic in Mexico as we are in the rest of the world, and that's just the way we like it!"