El Sonido: Cancioneros is the first season of KEXP’s newest podcast series, El Sonido, and the first produced fully in Spanish.
What keeps us rooted in a world where everything is changing? Music. We each have songs that connect us to our origins, and through those, we can draw the sound map of our lives. The first season of the El Sonido podcast offers a musical tour through the personal songbooks of key artists in modern alternative, popular and independent Latin music to explore what it means to be from a place and what Latin music is today. Host Albina Cabrera guides us through each artist's story across eight episodes, from the song that decided the destiny of Mon Laferte to the visual and political approach of Lido Pimienta, from the revolution of Villano Antillano to the childhood of Trueno and the comeback of Buscabulla. As we journey through the songs that shaped each artist, we get a portrait of the present and future of their music scenes.
SANTIAGO: I strongly believe that independence is that free space where art can go anywhere, even more so in Latin America – a continent in constant crisis – he who decides to freely experiment with their art is really doing it despite everything around them.
ALBINA CABRERA: The conversation with Santiago Motorizado was originally planned to be a chat about Latin American indie rock and his band, but it turned into a story of liberation.
El Mató a un Policía Motorizado, his band, took the DIY route beginning in the early 2000s. They’re co-creators of a new era of independent music in their country, as well as a new sound at a time when Argentina was coming out of a deep economic and social crisis. In episode one, we covered how the flight of big labels in Chile would naturally allow for the growth of a massive alternative scene that erupted at the same time. Something very similar would happen in Argentina.
SANTIAGO: The driving force behind our adventure was trying to make music that we didn’t feel like what was played on the radio, that really represented us. We didn’t have a space that really excited us.
ALBINA CABRERA: Today, with 20 years of making music under his belt, five albums, four EPs, dozens of tours, and a Latin Grammy in 2022; Santiago – Argentinean singer and composer and founder of the rock band El Mato a un Policía Motorizado – will share the songs that make up the DNA of El Mató and that of various generations of millenials of the region as well.
Hi, my name is Albina. This episode will search for independence day… or, in other words, the day when Santi discovered that being independent is liberating. We’ll go straight to the context that birthed his scene and we’ll meet the artists that it shaped and those it keeps alive.
SANTIAGO: First, Velvet Underground as the godfather of an alternative culture.
SANTIAGO: If we talk about independent culture, I have to talk about Suárez, Rosario Bléfari’s band.
SANTIAGO: I’m a fan of Ed Maverick, who’s a total legend to me. And also a bit darker.
ALBINA CABRERA: This first season of El Sonido Podcast is called Cancioneros, and it covers the songs that have accompanied some of our favorite artists from the Latin and Iberoamerican alternative scene.
In the first episode, we followed the journey of Mon Laferte. We talked about how songs can recall everything you’re missing when you leave your country, or… when time passes and you continue to live your life, and things simply just change.
You can access this podcast in spanish on your preferred platform, read more about every artist mentioned on KEXP.org and enjoy this podcast with English subtitles on YouTube. Subcribe to KEXP PODCASTS and watch this episode and more.
Those cosmic guitars that characterize the band as well as their songs about friendship and destruction began in the first years of the new millenium but have caught on in recent years.
ALBINA CABRERA: Ed Maverick from Delicias, Chihuahua knows that.
ED MAVERICK: You put on El Mató, which is more from the 2000’s, and on the radio you’ll get Pescado Rabioso, you’ll get everything that’s already been around for much longer. But the people who listen to El Mató today also listen to that. And that’s where you really get a sense of its timelessness.
ALBINA CABRERA: Niña Lobo from Uruguay also knows that…
CAMILA RODRIGUEZ: For us, they were always clear and hugely important musical models.
ALBINA CABRERA: And Carolina Durante from Madrid.
DIEGO IBÁÑEZ: We look at Argentina just as we looked at everything that surrouned Los Planetas here – everything that surrounded El Mató in Argentina. Those were the artists we took note of that sung in Spanish.
ALBINA CABRERA: It’s from here that I’ll tell this story. With the voices of artists from Santiago’s songbook, and bands that have been inspired by the music of El Mató a un Policia Motorizado.
SANTIAGO: Yeah, I think that El Mató is obviously a part of what is independent alternative culture in Argentina and over time entire continent, and that makes me really happy.
ALBINA CABRERA: I spoke with Santi on a summer morning when the band came to Seattle in 2022 to record their Live on KEXP session, you can go check it out in two languages on YouTube. You’ll notice I’m very excited because we’re from the same country and we’ve known each other for years.
ALBINA CABRERA: Admit it – we all have that band. The one from your neighborhood, or the one that is your friends, or the band shirts that you wore or still do, the things that you believed in, believe in, and will believe.
We’re going to talk about that feeling here. I’ll admit that for me personally, they were THAT band for various reasons, but especially because I’m from the same generation and grew up in the same socio-political context that they did.
I haven’t been to an El Mató show since I left Argentina. In fact, the live shows that I’d usually go to are among the things that I miss the most.
The reality is that many important things happened in that time period that explain the music that came from it, the context of the band that we’re talking about, and the reason why Santi is on this episode.
I called some people who have written about this. And that’s where the writer and witness Walter Lezcano comes in.
WALTER LEZCANO: My generation – I’m the class of '79 – went through three tragedies. One would be going up in the '90s in a context of neoliberalism that destroyed a lot of hope and many ways to live. That’s one thing...
ALBINA CABRERA: Walter Lezcano is an Argentine journalist, writer and poet. He’s written many books, one of which weaves together is writing with the one and only Santiago’s drawings — the book is La Ruta Del Sol: La Trilogía de El Mato A Un Policia Motorizado.
WALTER LEZCANO: The second would be the uprising of 2001. Just as we’re entering adulthood, the country showed us its face.
SANTIAGO: We basically began with nothing, in a country in social, economic, and even cultural crisis, which was also the motor behind our entire adventure. It was trying to make the music that we thought represented us, that wasn’t playing on the radio, that didn’t have a space and that excited us and fed us.
WALTER LEZCANO: And the third is the tragedy of Cromañón.
ALBINA CABRERA: The Tragedy of Cromañón, in Argentina, was one of the four tragedies that changed rock in Latin America. The journalist Juan José Remucao writes about this in his VICE piece which details what happened in the discotheque Factory in 2008 in Quito, Ecuador; the 29 lost lives in “Utopía” in Lima, Perú in 2002; what happened in the venue Kiss in Brazil in 2013 where 232 people died, and the night that we’re referring to, that December 30, 2004 in the venue Republica de Cromañón in the Once neighborhood, where 194 people died in a fire caused by the use of pyrotechnics, in an enclosed space. They were attending a concert of a popular rock band, Callejeros.
That happened in a country that had just gone through an unprecedented crisis, corralito (the imposed restrictions on cashflow), protests, five presidents in one week.
The infrastructure’s instability was revealed, bribes, and a nightlife circuit far from providing spaces for safe entertainment. The word “ROCK” became synonymous with death.
NICOLAS IGARZABAL: El Mató comes from that. They come from menemismo, the 2001 crisis and the worst tragedy in Argentine rock, of the tragedies in Argentina, but precisely in the context of a show. After the tragedy of Comañón, many similar places shut their doors, and the rock scene in Argentina dimmed.
ALBINA CABRERA: Nicola Igarzabal is the author of Más o Menos Bien, the history of Argentine indie post-Cromañón.
NICOLAS IGARZABAL: The biggest bands remain and those in the underground scene either died or kept at it, fueling a scene that feeds the entire music circuit.
ALBINA CABRERA: If this is the first time you’re hearing about this, I invite you to become more familiar with your scene. How do the spaces you frequent function, what’s missing. The independent scene teaches us that we take care of eachother.
WALTER LEZCANO: Those kinds of fires make a big impression on you, they leave marks on your skin, and they also connect you to music in an entirely different way. That is to say, listening to music wasn’t just a way to pass the time, it was our life, literally, listening to records, songs. At that time, the idea of an alternative began to surface in a literal sense, an alternative way of living, of taking music into our own hands.
ALBINA CABRERA: Growing up in the '90s means to have grown up in a generation that straddled two worlds – the one that came with a hint of times past or what we saw on MTV and the hyper-connection that came with the invention of the internet and digitalization.
SANTIAGO: There was a very direct path in music, it was having a video and trying to get your songs on the radio. The classic steps that the industry tells you to take. In the '90s, that faltered a little bit thanks to the phenomenon that was Nirvana and how the industry went looking for tons of weird artists hoping they would find the next Nirvana, consequentially uncovering an entire completely independent alternative scene.
ALBINA CABRERA: Santiago grew up in Barrio Jardín, La Plata, which for those of you who have never been, I recommend it. It’s the capital of the province of Buenos Aires. It’s about an hour away from the capital city, which is likely the Buenos Aires that you’d recognize.
I wanted to know which artists formed Santiago’s foundation during those years. One could think of solely of the years he’s been playing music, but the reality is that, in this series, I’ll try to tell you constantly that all of those songs that mark your life are the result of the person that you are.
I ask Santi about the Spanish-language artist that’s been his guiding influence since he was young.
SANTIAGO: You’d have to go to a car dealership where the father of the bassist worked, the father of Cabeza, and at the door of the dealership you ask for the Embajada Boliviana, and they’d take you back and sell you a cassette with their music on it alongside a photocopy of the cover art and a nice little drawing. I remember it so well.
ALBINA CABRERA: It was with Embajada Boliviana that Santi declared his independence.
SANTIAGO: They were incredible songs. They were very mysterious, but I knew they were a group of friends from La Plata doing this. It was like magic, with very few elements. And that was a lesson for me.
ALBINA CABRERA: The journey of going to get a copy of the demo of his neighborhood band sparked a special revelation for Santiago and was something that impacted what would come in his life.
SANTIAGO: Understanding that one could be excited by that, like with any album, in any part of the world.
SANTIAGO: And it’s not just the excitement, but the desire to make music. When I heard Embajada Boliviana I wanted to have my own band, and it liberates you in the sense that: I don’t know how to play the bass or sing very well, or play the guitar very well but we can do something, something that excites all of us, and we can get there. That is really powerful.
ALBINA CABRERA: And Santiago finally had his first band and picked up the bass. El Mató a Un Policia Motorizado released their first recording in 2003, an EP called Tormenta Roja.
Though it was the trilogy from 2005 to 2008 that really solidified the sound of El Mato. The EPs Navidad de Reserva...
ALBINA CABRERA: ...Un Millón de Euros...
ALBINA CABRERA: ...and the EP Día de los Muertos would shape the most intriguing band of the scene.
ALBINA CABRERA: And this scene wasn’t just Argentina. It had its versions in Mexico, Spain, Chile, and more.
ALBINA CABRERA: It was in the United States, the heart of New York at the beginning of the millenium, the last wave of rock took the world by storm. Bands like The Strokes, Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
ALBINA CABRERA: The interesting thing about Latin America is that there were a handful of artists who added local touches to the globally popular alternative style.
Santiago’s songbook continues in Argentina, with El Mato’s influences.
SANTIAGO: If we’re talking about independent culture we have to talk about Suárez, Rosario Bléfari’s band. This was in the '90s. It was totally different on a level of language, on a level of aesthetics, Suárez was doing something amazing with their songs, with their albums, with their videos, with their live performances. They were the godparents of the independent culture both in Argentina and the rest of the continent.
NICOLAS IGARZABAL: For me there are three bastions of independence. Just as I mentioned Necro in the '90s, I’d add Daniel M in the '80s and I’d add Rosario. Three wings of Argentinean Indie.
ALBINA CABRERA: That is Nicolás Igarzabal. Indie rock from the U.S. and lo-fi from the '90s was also a big influence on El Mato.
SANTIAGO: First, the Velvet Underground as godparent of an alternative culture.
SANTIAGO: Later Nirvana, and later everything that happened because of Nirvana. We were personally big fans of everything that came out of Matador Records like Pavement, Guided by Voices, Yo La Tengo.
It was like taking elements from abroad and giving them a personal touch in an entirely different part of the world.
SANTIAGO: When we saw that all of these bands were a part of the same label, we decided that we should have our own label too. We never made it official on a professional level, it was always more of an artistic collective called LAPTRA.
SANTIAGO: We started with 107 Faunos. El Mato and 107 Faunos, and later we started adding bands from La Plata: Antolín, Reno, and later Hojas Secas. But then we traveled to Neuquén and met Atrás Hay Truenos. We added them, they were all about it. We met Go-Neko! And they were into it. And then came Bestia Bebé and Super 1 Mundial.
SANTIAGO: Tom discovered Las Ligas Menores. He saw them in a video on youtube and they were into it too. Now there’s the new generation, Nina Suárez, the daughter of Rosario Blefari, Media Hermana.
ALBINA CABRERA: This is the snapshot from 2004 and today of the bands that surround the protagonist of this story, but this is not the only one – nor is it the last. This is just an example that can be extended to another lands, and it shows us how an unstable economy in the late '90s in Latin America created the necessary conditions that made this music and scene evolve. Local culture, politics, and the internet would lay down the rules of this sound.
ALBINA CABRERA: I recorded this on a Sunday while El Mató is in Tornillo, Texas recording the follow-up to La Sintesis O’Konor. I say follow-up, because although they released Unas Vacaciones Raras after Sintesis, those were musical versions of the soundtrack for the series Okupas, available on Netflix.
Santiago and I exchange voice notes from there…
ALBINA CABRERA: What always captivated me was the band’s lyrics, those spiral-like mantras that become lyrics.
ALBINA CABRERA: Santiago’s poetry is a recognizable ingredient at this point
ALBINA CABRERA: I’m obviously interested to know who Santi thinks is lyrically interesting and who occupies his personal songbook.
SANTIAGO: Carolina Durante has something very current, no? I mean, their poetry attempts to capture our present strange world a little more directly. And that’s something that really interests me.
ALBINA CABRERA: Las Canciones de Juanita is the name of the album that Carolina Durante released in 2019.
DIEGO IBÁÑEZ: I remember when we started the group, we decided to make a playlist of all of the artists we liked and were a bit envious of. And of course on that playlist was El Mató.
ALBINA CABRERA: That’s Diego Ibáñez, singer of Carolina Durante.
DIEGO IBÁÑEZ: The song came out and there was that feeling of “we don’t sound bad, we sound better than we did before,” blah, blah, blah. And well, the El Mató influence was strong because we were listening to them 24/7.
ALBINA CABRERA: The music of the moment for Santiago is Niña Lobo, an independent band from Uruguay.
SANTIAGO: They are five girls from Montevideo who make what I consider to be amazing, miraculous, so much so that when I heard them in the pandemic, in the middle of that whole mess, of that uncertainty, it helped lift my spirits, it gave me a sense of hope. It touched me deeply because I think that everything we just talked about coincides there.
ALBINA CABRERA: Camila Rodriguez, singer of Niña Lobo, recalls the beginning of her musical relationship with El Mato.
CAMILA RODRIGUEZ: One day we received a message on Instagram telling up that Santiago had covered “Domingo.”
CAMILA RODRIGUEZ: We were all together and couldn’t believe it.
SANTIAGO: They have a very distinct style and the mix a bunch of things. Their second album that they just released is impressive, it signifies a big change in their sound which they managed expertly, genius even. They’re incredible live and they’re also among the best people I know.
ALBINA CABRERA: El Mató demonstrated that doing things independently can get you very far, including into the mainstream. They just won their first Latin Grammy for Best Rock Album for the 2022 album Unas Vacaciones Raras.
ALBINA CABRERA: To talk about indie rock and El Mató is to talk about one of the dozens of scenes that you can find in a square meter of Latin America. That list is intimate when you expand it to talk about new rock in the region. Walter Lezcano describes the epic battle that is rock.
WALTER LEZCANO: To an extent where someone is fighting for what they think is right in an unjust world, rock will be alive, punk rock, independence, DIY. So the best legacy that these people leave us is that it doesn’t matter how the mainstream defines success, we have to remember our priorities keeping in mind that at the end of the day we’re all here to support the movement.
ALBINA CABRERA: Current alternative music is made up of young people who grew up listening to an endless supply of global influences. Santiago brings up two examples based in Argentina: Lara91k and the one he claimed was the most disruptive, DILLOM.
SANTIAGO: DILLOM has a vibe that’s much more playful and ironic. He’s incredible live. His stage set-up is simple because he’s new. He’s doing really well, and always uses the tools he has on hand. He has his own signature, his own language, he has this unique way of playing with words that’s very apparent and unlike anything I’ve heard before.
ALBINA CABRERA: DILLOM embodies the coolest elements of the new generation. He’s based in Buenos Aires, but his scene extends across Latin America. It’s one that includes performing trap, electronic, and has rock undertones. DILLOM, like many of his contemporaries, found the freedom of independence crucial in developing his creative vision.
MARTHA ESTRADA: For me it's more conceptual and that which seeks to expand what is possible in terms of narrative and universes.
ALBINA CABRERA: Marta Estrada is a Guatemalan cultural manager and producer with a focus in independent music in Central America. .
MARTHA ESTRADA: It has nothing to do with being jealous of bigger artists, including Argentines, who have different numbers and have been able to tour in other countries.
SANTIAGO: And then, on an artistic level, talking to Lara, Lara91k, she told me that she grew up listening to El Mató. That surprised me because the connection between our music and hers isn’t necessarily the most obvious.
ALBINA CABRERA: Lara91k released her album Como Antes in 2022, one of the best albums of that year which included collaborations with Saramalacara, the global superstar Duki and Santiago Motorizado.
ALBINA CABRERA: This generation’s DIY tactics move them forward
SANTIAGO: In the sense of DIY, which is very present in the new generation, very present and they exploited it much more than we did. I can see that even beyond the art itself, there’s another thing, a legacy of doing things independently, that the new generation used a lot using things like YouTube and other platforms. It’s fascinating.
ALBINA CABRERA: The pandemic accelerated a process of decentralization that had been brewing for years. Today, artists don’t need to leave their cities to develop their careers. El Mato did it from La Plata and Ed Maverick does it from Delicias, Chihuahua.
ED MAVERICK: For example, in Delicias there’s nowhere to play, where people can exhibit visual art, nothing like that. So one thing I want to do is open a venue and do various things there and bring artists from wherever.
ALBINA CABRERA: We began in Argentina, proceeded through Uruguay, Spain, and ended up in Mexico. But this is not the story of a continent, nor of official Latin American indie rock memories. This episode is a photograph of a moment and of an artist. In this case, Santi and his songbook, the common denominators in his soundtrack, his vision, and doing things independently. Ed Maverick reappears in connection to this idea..
ED MAVERICK: Sometimes I feel like not giving a shit allows for things to happen. I think that it’s a key element of an independent scene and spirit, because at the end of the day I’m not independent. I’m technically not independent, but I strongly believe in the independent spirit, in the responsible and moderate ignorance of the rules.
ALBINA CABRERA: Santiago agrees.
SANTIAGO: Ed Maverick represents the current moment that I think is a little bit oversaturated with celebratory pop, with the idea that everything is great and dancing because everything is actually bad. I like that he leans into the darkness a little, that he represents reality a bit more accurately.
SANTIAGO: Everyone believes what they believe of course. You’re not obligated to write about anything, but I question when they talk about what’s happening on the planet. I’m not talking about politics necessarily, but feelings. Of this dark time and how it affects daily life, relationships, friendships, family, whatever. What interests me is that they talk about real life.
ALBINA CABRERA: El Mató shines in the communion that is their live show. For this songbook, Santi chooses THE song of the band that encapsulates their essence.
SANTIAGO: “Mi Próximo Movimiento” is already an old song. Since we released El Día de los Muertos, we usually end our shows with this song and I love it because it invokes a sort of intense celebratory environment in which all of the generations who listen to El Mato come together. So, in a way, that can represent El Mato both past and present.
ALBINA CABRERA: When you encounter the band of your life, you declare your independence.
SANTIAGO: And it turned out ok. Making the independent space a free place that allows songs and music to travel through different channels, to reach new levels, I think that’s really powerful.