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Bacilos Cashes In With A Grin; Recent `Sinverguenza' A More Ambitious Album
By Ernesto Lechner, Special to the Tribune.
19 November 2004
For an artsy pop-rock trio, Bacilos has been unusually frank about voicing its ambitions for commercial acceptance.
"Mi Primer Millon" -- a hit single off the Miami-based group's 2002 album "Caraluna" -- found Bacilos leader Jorge Villamizar singing gleefully about his longing for that moment when the group finally earns its first million dollars.
Ironically, that song catapulted Bacilos into Latin pop stardom. The group, which performs on Sunday at Metro, has played all over the world since then, slowing down its touring schedule only to record an excellent third album, the recently released "Sinverguenza."
"We can't complain," says Villamizar. "We haven't made that first million yet, but we're not exactly hungry. Our music is heard on buses in Central America. We get e-mails from fans in the Ivory Coast. We're adapting to all these changes by attempting to hold on to our sanity."
Bacilos' triumph does not come as a surprise. The trio pegs its radio-friendly, instantly hummable sound to its members' diverse ethnic background: Villamizar hails from Colombia, bassist Andre Lopes is from Brazil and drummer Jose Javier Freire was born in Puerto Rico. The trio met in Miami and spent its formative years working the city'
"You could argue that this is really an American band," says Michel Vega, a vice president at William Morris, the agency that represents Bacilos. "In what place other than the U.S. could these three people have come together as a band? At the same time, the music of Bacilos has a pan-Latin aspect to it that is completely authentic."
Building on success
The new album in particular betrays Villamizar's weakness for the poetic works of quality Latin songwriters such as Panama's Ruben Blades and Cuba's Silvio Rodriguez. It was the commercial success of "Caraluna," Villamizar emphasizes, that gave him the strength to record a more ambitious follow-up.
"There was a slightly malicious, premeditated commercial slant to our previous album that is definitely absent from the new one," he says. "In fact, I'm a little scared about its potential success. The songs are deeper. I made it a point not to hide anything this time, to give this everything I had. I also spent hours learning how to become a better vocalist."
The strategy has paid off handsomely, at least in artistic terms. On the melancholy "En Los 70," the 34-year-old Villamizar reminisces about his childhood, conjuring up vividly poetic images. Throughout the album -- whose title means "Shameless" in Spanish -- the singer imbues the lyrics with touches of his wry sense of humor.
"Yes, it's true, I'm compulsively sarcastic," he says, laughing. "My wife hates that about me. But what can I do? I think you can communicate better what you have to say by being sarcastic. Nobody likes to tell the truth upfront, don't you think?"
The singer smiles at the suggestion that a sarcastic sense of humor may be hiding a wounded idealist.
"True, I'm an idealist," he admits. "At this point in my life, I am aware of the fact that the world was and will always be nothing but a disgusting mess," he adds, quoting in Spanish the lyrics of "Cambalache," an Argentine tango.
The inherent idealism in Bacilos' cosmovision may be the reason why the trio gambled on "Sinverguenza," choosing to work with lesser-known producers such as the late Tom Capone instead of Sergio George, the guaranteed hitmaker behind "Caraluna."
"When you play those huge shows, sometimes you need to get energy out of nowhere in order to be able to do them well," Villamizar offers when asked about the trappings of success.
Happiest at small clubs
"My bandmates may disagree with me on this one, but I'm the happiest at a small club, drinking a couple of whiskies and performing in front of 400 fans," he adds. "Doing music videos and television appearances is a lost battle for me. It's against my nature."
But isn't it against Villamizar's nature to live in Miami? Within Latin music circles, the city has come to represent everything that is prefabricated and shallow about the business of peddling the Latin sound to the American mainstream.
Doesn't living in Miami compromise the Latino roots that Villamizar so passionately defends in his songwriting?
"Being Latino is always complicated, whether you are in Miami, Buenos Aires or Mexico City," he replies. "If anything, being in Miami allows me to study the strange phenomenon that happens when you have Latin American blood running through your veins and you are living in the United States of America."