Alternative rocker Santino Delatore is a half-breed: "Half of me is rock 'n' roll, half of me is Latino," says the Peruvian born singer-songwriter. "You see me on stage without audio, you see a rock 'n' roll dude. Put on the audio, and you hear a Latino."
Santino--his real first name and stage name--came of age as any rock 'n' roll dude growing up in Lima, Peru might. "It was very funny, because when I grew up, I was a heavy metal dude. But, at the same time, we went to parties and we were dancing salsa. It was funny to see a rock 'n' roller dude dancing salsa in my country," he recalls.
Yet, it was being true to his musical tastes that led Santino down the path of bona fide rock stardom while still in his teens. At 16, he lent his high-pitched, intense vocals to a prog-rock cover band, where he built a reputation as a sort of Latino Freddy Mercury. At 18, he was tapped by the heavy metal band Fragil and catapulted to national fame in Peru.
Now the 30-something musician, composer and arranger is a well-known entity on the L.A. scene, where he has opened for the likes of Maná, Julieta Venegas, and Concrete Blonde. When Santino migrated there a decade ago to pursue his music career, a funny thing happened. The kid who had cut his teeth on Led Zeppelin and Queen reached back into the well of his own Peruvian culture and discovered his voice as a Latino singer-songwriter.
"When I arrived in America, I started to be nostalgic. I started learning and searching a little bit more," Santino says. "I fell in love with my country again, from a different perspective."
Rejection of some of the negative 'tude he encountered in the rock world when he arrived also contributed to his transition from prog to alternative, a shift he calls "natural."
"When I came to the States I saw all my idols, my posters in my room when I was a little kid, very drunk, with a stupid rock star attitude, and I was wondering, why are these people my heroes? I was a little disappointed with these 'heroes,' and I started choosing my music. I started hanging out with Cuban musicians who played with Madonna and Phil Collins," says Santino, who became fascinated by the sounds of those players. "I thought, why not? I started doing some melodies on top, making sounds in Latino mixing with rock. It was a very natural process."
"My music doesn't have a tag," he says of the resulting fusion of elements "from Spain, from Cuba, from Jamaica, to Chile and Argentina." That's one reason he named his CD Indiocumentado and self-released it on the Internet. The neologism is deliberate and refers to aspects of immigrant experience, but also to the album's place, or lack thereof, in the record bins.
An ambitious Latin pop production bearing traces of Santana, Juanes, Andean folk music and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Indiocumentado made it into the hands of Hollywood moguls Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg, who put Santino's original tune "Infierno" into their soundtrack for War of the Worlds. Similarly, "Para Abajo y Para Arriba" got picked up last year for a cameo in the award-winning FX drama The Shield.
Maybe Hollywood's affinity for Santino was presaged by the fact that he himself was named for a Hollywood icon--James Caan's character in The Godfather. "My mom fell in love with that guy, I don't know what happened," he laughs.
Santino also sings an adapted version of one his songs in a promotional spot for the Spanish-language TV network, Univision, in North Carolina. The local connection isn't a coincidence: Santino's brother--and a member of his management team--lives in the Triangle. Pepe Delatore lives in Raleigh and works as a manager at a Lowes Foods market in Cary when he is not travelling with the band.
"There's a lot of love at work here," says Delatore, the elder of the two brothers. "When he was a kid, I bought his first guitar. Now [I'm] like father, brother, manager, all together."
The Delatores count Italian and Spanish ancestry, and even one American grandmother, which made migration to the United States from Peru that much easier. "When we were kids, we used to vacation in Disneyland every year," Pepe remembers.
Besides appearing at Festival Ritmo Latino, Santino will make a few more local appearances throughout the week, including a free public workshop on Peruvian music and culture at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center at the Town Hall Campus on Thursday, Aug. 3 at 7 p.m.
"It's going to be a workshop showing some music from my town, from my country. I'm going to bring some little exotic instruments like the charango, which is like a little ukulele, but it's from the Andes. It's a little guitar," says Santino, who will play his own songs on the traditional instruments. "I'm going to bring the instruments from the coast of my country, which is the cajon, a box [which was] played by the slaves over there. Now the Spanish people use it in flamenco.... The sound is very particular from my country."
Since his early days as a Peruvian idol, Santino's strong voice and brooding looks have attracted his share of enamored fans--bevies, you might say. Judging by his MySpace page, his 15 minutes of fame is not over yet. Sure, he'd love to sell as many records as Ricky Martin, but nowadays he thinks more about crafting good music than being a heartthrob.
"At the beginning, when all this was new for me, I'm not going to deny that it was a very crazy rock 'n' roll life. But, right now, I've passed through a lot of things in the United States, I passed through all the immigration shit, and I became a lot more serious about my career," he says. "The chicks and all that stuff, I really don't focus on all of that. It's not a lifestyle that I want to do. I'm not a sexual object. I'm a Gemini."