Latin Alternative's Big Cheese: Gustavo Santaolalla

Gustavo Santaolalla

Gustavo Santaolalla says the trick to being a good producer is to get inside the musicians' heads. hide caption

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One of the biggest names in Latin music is not some hot young pop star, but a bearded 54-year-old producer. Gustavo Santaolalla was behind the boards for hit albums by many of the biggest pop and rock musicians in Latin America, including Julieta Venegas and Juanes.

He has composed music for such films as Amores Perros and The Motorcycle Diaries and just won an Oscar for his Brokeback Mountain score. But Santaolalla has also built a reputation for guiding and producing some of the most adventurous bands in the genre of music called Latin Alternative.

Santaolalla began playing guitar at age 5 in his native Argentina. By age 10, he was composing, though he admits he still can't read music. At 16, he made his first record with his rock band, Arco Iris.

He fled a hostile political climate in Argentina for Los Angeles in 1978 and began producing other musicians such as the Mexican band Maldita Vecindad y Los Hijos del Quinto Patio. Santaolalla is often referred to as the fifth member of another seminal Latin Alternative band, Cafe Tacuba.

While Santaolalla's most recent successes have been composing film scores, he continues to search for alternative musicians. "I'm always looking for something that surprises me," he says, "that brings something different, something new."

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