Imagine shattering a glass wine bottle, picking up all of the different shards off the ground and perfectly piecing it back together. That is what it takes to piece together the unique sound and obscure roots of internationally known guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. How exactly they found their sound seems simple once explained, but even a scholar couldn’t pinpoint the background of their entrancing sounds after just one listen.
Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero met as teenagers in the early ‘90s at the Casa de Cultura in Mexico City, brought together of course by nothing more than a little fate and a lot of music.
“At the time, Gabi was actually taking drum lessons at Casa de Cultura, and I was there because my older brother was the director,” Sanchez tells Encore. “I was chilling there with my brother who was a in my rock band with me [Tierra Acida]. We were actually playing our first performance later that night with our band that consisted of just my brother, myself and a friend. After the show, Gabriela was there, and we randomly ran into each other. We introduced ourselves and started talking to each other about music, guitars and stuff. She told me she was in a girl band that was playing covers. Right off the bat, we kind of hooked up with our music and it was really cool.”
After their first meeting, the two were inseparable. Both having a huge interest in heavy metal and rock ‘n’ roll, they vibed off one another and began jamming together regularly. They also began creating acoustic music that wasn’t a part of Tierra Acida. In 1993 Quintero joined up with Tierra Acida. After only four hard years, the band dismantled when a record label fell through. After the band’s breakup, they decided to move to a different location in Mexico to showcase their skills, but quickly realized Mexico wasn’t the place to bring their music to life.
A friend who used to live in Dublin suggested Sanchez and Quintero take their talent to the Irish city, hailing it as a location ripe with musicality. The duo booked a flight and headed to Dublin.
“It was as simple as that; we didn’t really think twice,” Sanchez tells. “We both decided that when we went to Ireland, we were going to do nothing but play music.”
Being new to Dublin and having traveled without their former outfit, they were unable to immediately start playing in hotels and other venues. Instead, they had to establish themselves by playing in the streets. “It was funny because we had been [playing acoustic music] for many years,” Sanchez comments, “but it wasn’t until we went to Dublin that we really started playing this music together. We were no longer in another band, and the duo was the only thing we had. That is where we [Rodrigo y Gabriela] started really.”
They spent a full year busking the streets. “It was probably some of the best moments in our lives ,” Sanchez describes. They met a host of locals, and forged relationships with businesses around the city. Eventually, they began playing in stores and coffee shops.“It was amazing,” he adds.
Immediately, they realized they worked well as a duo. Sanchez and Quintero continued to grow and expand their musical repertoire. Their sound, composed of a variety of rock ‘n’ roll vibrations, Irish guitar percussion and simple Latino grooves, morphed into a collage of rare creative music.
“We really stuck to our guns,” Sanchez says. “We told ourselves we were not going to do anything else but play music, and we didn’t feel ashamed at all to be playing on the streets. It was probably the best thing we could have chosen to do.”
The two grew as a team and gained a cult following around Dublin. They released their first demo, “re-Foc” in 2001. Rodrigo y Gabriela were swept under the wing of the popular Irish folksinger Damien Rice. He requested the duo open for him on his tour across the United Kingdom, turning their life of busking into a life of touring.
Around 2005, Rodrigo y Gabriela began touring alongside the likes of Damien Rice and British singer-songwriter David Gray, The two Mexican instrumentalists continued to pop, slap and pick apart their nylon-strung classical guitars. In 2006 they released their second studio album—self-titled “Rodrigo y Gabriela”—which debuted at number one on the Irish charts and generated a great deal of attention. Following these albums, the duo continued to gain recognition globally. Releasing eight albums total (five in studio and three live), the two received radio play on NPR and airtime with David Letterman and Jay Leno. As well, they were featured in a number of television shows and movies. In May of 2010, the duo even performed live in the White House for President Barack Obama.
Earlier this year, the musicians released their latest, much-anticipated record, “9 Dead Alive.” It was produced by Rubyworks Records in Ireland. After reading “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodore Dostoyevsky, Sanchez was inspired to compose a song titled “The Russian Messenger” as an homage to the novelist. Dostoyevsky’s mental anguish and morality is obvious in the intense rhythm and jarring slaps and jams that make up this song.
“We made our music, then we figured out which song fit with the different people,” Sanchez says. “We made our own links to it. It isn’t easy but you can tell why each song is for each person. Each is a very personal idea of our perception of each song. Like a baby, we named each song after it was born. ”
From there he composed eight other songs, attributing each to a specific individual who is no longer alive but still remembered for their words and lives. Among the nine legends are the likes of Chilean poet-diplomat Gabriela Mistral and African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
“We had a list of a lot of names,” he describes, “but we decided not to go with the usual suspects, so we introduced a lot of great people to different cultures who probably never had heard of any of these people before. We thought if the listeners didn’t like the music,” Sanchez states. “At least they would gain some knowledge from the album.”
With over 1.5 million records sold, the world-famous duo Rodrigo y Gabriela will play at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on Tuesday, August 5th. Standing across from one another, the two are sure to unleash a collision of metal, acoustic, jazz, and timeless instrumental music upon anyone ready for the movement that is: Rodrigo y Gabriela.
“There is this special trick in life when you have found your purpose,” Sanchez vouches, “but you still have to live with other shadows. That is where the mind gets funny and tries to trick you, but you just have to not hear any of the negative stuff. You have to practice, know life is always going to give you good and bad times, and keep all those emotions balanced. We know we are lucky to be in our position, but we also are conscious of the fact this is not always going to give us real happiness. You have to balance things out and share them all with other people and enjoy them. That is the challenge.”
Rodrigo y Gabriela
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
1941 Amphitheater Dr.
Tues., Aug. 5th
Doors: 5:30 p.m.; Show: 6 p.m.