“The world is moving in a very weird direction,” says Andrea Echeverri from her home in Bogota, Colombia. The woman, with her son’s playful Spanish in the background, is one-half of Bogota’s pioneering rock band, Aterciopelados, who vow to continue doing what they do: make music of mythological sounds and indisputable success. Her story is one of harnessing music’s raw current to demand social change, and Echeverri embodies a socially aware musical archetype. Whereas male bands historically define rock music, Echeverri forged her own niche and, thereby, a new space for women.
The stage at Coachella is the perfect platform for Aterciopelados. Not only will the desert landscape be inspiring for the singer/songwriter, but she says Coachella represents, “a hippie feeling and independent music,” both of which are core aspects of the Aterciopelados identity.
When Echeverri met her bandmate Hector Buitrago, he was in a hard-rock band and there were hardly any spaces for underground musicians to perform in Bogota in the early ‘90s. The duo opened a club to root the nascent scene and together they began recording punk-rock albums. Having been together for nearly 20 years, their male-female relationship continues to unfold and so too their sound evolves into melodic rock riddled with Colombian tributes to vallenato, cumbia, and folk.
Six albums later, 2008’s Rio represents a new plateau for the band: it is a record infused with organic sounds and concentrated on Bogota’s river. Echeverri remembers the river’s plentiful flow during her youth, but by 2008 it was one of the world’s most polluted rivers and its flow reduced to a trickle. The record, released in conjunction with a constitutional referendum to mandate access to clean drinking water, is undeniably coupled with political and humanitarian visions.
Echeverri’s children augment her inner-strength and optimism, and she emphasizes positivity as the only option she will accept. “I am a very different woman and more connected with the hope of change because they [my children] will live longer than me,” she says about becoming a mother. “It makes me a lot more concerned about what is going on.” Though relatively untrained, her passion propelled her into music and her musical abilities followed suit. Growing through music, she encodes a message of “confronting identity” in her songs. Sometimes the lyrics are neo-feminist, sometimes tributes to ancestors, sometimes lullabies, and sometimes love or protest songs. Echeverri is emblematic of the many paths of womanhood within music.
People are noticing. “We are working to change things that are not happening as they should,” she says. In their homeland, they contribute songs for projects, including one dedicated to displaced indigenous peoples. The United Nations celebrated their anti-violence efforts by presenting them guitars forged from machine guns. They have also collaborated with international artists, including Stephen Marley and Julieta Venegas, to record “The Price of Silence” in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Currently working on a solo album, Echeverri is excited to be behind the mixing knobs learning the technical aspects of recording for the first time. Echeverri and her music never changed at the behest of anyone outside of the band. “What can we do?” she asks and her fierce sense of identity crystallizes. The multiple-Grammy winning band knows exactly what they are doing. She says, “For the ones who get it, they do.”
Anything but a hippie caught up in passé ideals, Echeverri is as down with contemporary music as anyone and is excited to see Imogen Heap and Phoenix at Coachella. She talks about the process of sharing music in a flux with listeners and artists attempting to find new channels and different ways to communicate. “Like a medicine,” the power of music shines through to children, fans, and anyone else paying attention. While her son is giggling in the background, she aptly adds, “I think that’s where it should lead—a place where music finds its real power again.”
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