A popular, independent Spanish rock band points to the Triangle's international growth and needs | Music Feature | Indy Week
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A popular, independent Spanish rock band points to the Triangle's international growth and needs 

Pau Donés will take his songs wherever they are welcomed. Last year, Donés' popular Spanish rock band, Jarabe de Palo, traveled to Tokyo, where they played the Blue Note Jazz Festival, one of many surprising and exotic stops for the band during their two decades. They delivered six concerts in Tokyo and filmed a music video. They are already plotting their return.

"You think, 'Jarabe de Palo in Japan?' Yes!," the songwriter and vocalist says. "We went, and we will be back next year."

Jarabe de Palo appears regularly in larger American cities. But in the Triangle, they've created a recent stir in the Spanish-speaking community with an upcoming gig at the mid-sized rock club The Pour House. It's a coup for Raleigh Sonica, a local promotional company that's attempting to connect the area's growing Latin American population to other scenes in the region with music.

Jarabe de Palo toured America during the spring to promote Somos, or "We Are," their ninth studio album and third issued by their own independent label, Tronco Records. They left for Mexico a few weeks ago and will return to the States for a tour that will take them back home, to Spain, by the end of November. The Spanish economy plummeted into recession in 2008, which has impacted Jarabe de Palo's ability to work in their homeland. The situation became a catalyst, though, as it's driven the group to explore increased opportunities throughout the rest of Europe and the Americas.

"The leftover time we experience while in Spain is dedicated and invested into continuing to develop our career in America," the singer says. "It has gone very well for us."

Upon their departure from Spain last month, the Latin Grammys announced that Jarabe de Palo had been nominated for three awards, bringing them to 15 Latin Grammy nominations in 18 years. Jarabe de Palo exploded into notice with their first single, "La Flaca," in 1996, but they've only improved since.

Somos, for instance, brings a new focus for the band: the individual power of the human being. Our place in society haunts all of us at some point, but we must take the time to figure out how we hope to be perceived.

To emphasize the universality of his point, the Spaniard even switches to English toward the second half of the title track. "We are what we are," he sings, "not what we wanna be."

"We are too worried about being something that will make us successful, stand out or receive social recognition," Donés says. "It's clear that all of us can be what we truly want to be, but we end up being who we are and not what we want to, due to our surrounding influences."

Donés is a fearless, outspoken songwriter who delivers his most intimate emotions and specific social concerns with his tunes. Each of Jarabe de Palo's records have included at least one track challenging some form of the media. This time, it's called "Buenas Noticias."

"There is always a song in protest, transgressive in the sense of media communications and the manipulation to which we are exposed," he says. "I express it not so much as an artist but as a human being in a society in which I live. Music for me has always been a good catalyst element of all of that restlessness."

Late in Somos, Donés sings "A mi novia le gustan las chicas," or "My girlfriend likes girls." He functions as an activist for all human rights; in singing this song or explaining it, he demands more respect for the LGBT community.

"We are in the 21st century, living in a theoretically modern society. Homosexuality is still a subject of debate, which, to me, is a tremendous lack of intelligence," he says. "The problem does not lie in sexual preference. The problem lies in whether we know how to love ourselves, if we know how to love others, if we truly know how to fall in love and really enjoy it."

In the United States, many Latin Americans often travel long distances to see a band like Jarabe de Palo. Though the Triangle's market for Latin American music has grown during the past decade, with large concerts at venues like The Ritz, seeing some of the best bands often meant trips to Charlotte or Atlanta.

But Jorge Zuluaga and Juan Chávez, the creators of the world-music dance party Achilifunk, decided to expand Spanish-speaking programming in the Triangle. They created a production company called Raleigh Sonica. The Jarabe de Palo show, their second at The Pour House, is a product of the same intentions that sparked Achilifunk—to provide a multicultural gathering for friends while showing that variety exists within the Spanish-speaking world.

"Latin American culture is growing significantly in the area. The public is no longer the same," says Zuluaga, a Colombia native. "The public was asking for something like Jarabe de Palo. As Latin Americans, it's important to us not to be labeled, to be placed within one specific genre or something in particular believed about Latinos.

So, Zuluaga and Chávez teamed up with another friend, Leonel Vega, to invest their own money in hopes of sharing a different part of their culture with the Triangle. The concert sold out a week in advance, and according to The Pour House's Adam Lindstaedt, the company added a second show at Durham's Motorco to meet the demand. The success speaks to the area's need for such programming within the Spanish-speaking community. But it's important for Zuluaga that others come, too.

"It's very easy for the North American ear to process. It's appetizing music," he says "That's also part of the purpose—sharing it with the English-speaking community and not focusing on the Latin American public. Everyone is welcome."

Donés has adopted the globe as a showcase for his music. And Zuluaga, Chávez and Vega have adopted Raleigh to show that a Latin American scene doesn't always require a particular kind of dancing. A project that has always taken a stand for the people, Donés and his team would be pleased to know that Latino residents of Raleigh made their performance a reality for reasons other than cash on hand.

"People think we're becoming millionaires at the cost of the people. We are not making any money," says Zuluaga. "Before making money, I want to provide a good show, something that will really make the people happy."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Foreign relations."

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