Rock En Espanol Takes Hold In North Carolina

Scandalos, a club on the southeastern edge of Charlotte

Scandalos, a club on the southeastern edge of Charlotte, usually features reggaeton or Mexican norteño, but the Carlotan Rock Festival brought out hundreds to dance to rock en Español. Catalina Kulczar Marin hide caption

itoggle caption Catalina Kulczar Marin
The band Eva Fina formed from the ashes of La Rua

The band Eva Fina formed from the ashes of La Rua, one of the first rock en Español bands in Charlotte. Catalina Kulczar Marin hide caption

itoggle caption Catalina Kulczar Marin

Set List

(all songs by Eva Fina, except where indicated)

"Si te vas"

"Sur de tu vida"

"Te pido"

"Such Great Heights" (Postal Service)

"Loco" (Andres Calamaro)

"Tu necesitas" (Alek Syntek)

"Para no olvidarte" (Andres Calamaro)

"Tricolor"

"Me Conoces"

Hear an Interview

La Rua wasn't the first band to sing rock in Spanish in Charlotte, but it's become one of the most influential bands from that scene.

In this interview, the core members of La Rua (Tony Arreaza on guitar, Juan Miguel Marin on vocals, Herman Marin on bass) talk about how the band got started and describe what it's been like creating a rock en Español scene there with other talented local musicians.

The three members of La Rua are also the promoters of the Carlotan Rock Festival featured in this story.

Scandalos is a Latin club on the southeastern edge of Charlotte, N.C. People usually come here to dance to hip-hop-influenced reggaeton or the accordions of Mexican norteño. But tonight, 300 or so people have come to rock. Six bands are on the bill for the fifth annual Carlotan Rock Festival. The music is rock en Español, and it could be the soundtrack for Charlotte's racial and cultural revolution.

Bakalao Stars play rock en Español at Charlotte club Scandalos.

The band Bakalao Stars plays rock en Español at the Charlotte club Scandalos. Catalina Kulczar Marin hide caption

itoggle caption Catalina Kulczar Marin

Like many other parts of the country, North Carolina has seen its population grow, and much of that has come from Latino immigrants. The transition, though, hasn't always been smooth. Immigration has spawned a curious music scene in Charlotte that may help ease tensions.

Jess George, the associate director of the Latin American Coalition — a social service agency that administers to Charlotte's most needy immigrants — says of her town, "It's one of the fastest growing in the U.S. It's changed from a small Southern town." George adds that census statistics show an almost 800 percent increase in Charlotte's Latino population over the last two decades, and she says that many in the area were not ready for the change.

"I guess there was some invisible breaking point when the mainstream Charlotte community said, 'Well, I saw the maid and my room is clean, but she doesn't speak the same language as me and doesn't look like me,'" George says. "The people started to feel uncomfortable with the differences about the people around them."

Rock Star By Night

In a warehouse near the airport, Daniel Alvarado supervises a room full of mostly Mexican immigrants. He moved to Charlotte from Venezuela with his family five years ago, and he serves as the bilingual link between his Spanish-speaking assembly-line crew and management. A little more than 12 hours from now, he'll trade his clipboard for a microphone.

"They see me here as their manager, and they see me in the paper as someone else," says Alvarado, the lead singer for the band Bakalao Stars. "It's like having two lives: During the day, I'm a supervisor; and at night, I'm a rock star. It's cool."

Alvarado says that most of his warehouse crew listen to traditional Mexican music. The rock en Español he prefers got its start in the mid-1960s in Mexico and Argentina. Once it arrived in the U.S., rock 'n' roll themes of self-identity and alienation took on deeper meaning.

Playing What You Know

Writer Mark Kemp was born and raised in Charlotte, and came back in 2002 to be the music editor for The Charlotte Observer. "They are playing basic rock en Español," he says, "but the themes are about things going on here like immigration issues."

Kemp says that when he heard a band called La Rua, it reminded him of the rock en Español explosion he witnessed back in California in the early 1990s. This time, however, the music is about the experience of being Latino south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

"They have this song about this guy working to get money so he can bring his girlfriend over," Kemp says. "That is brand new for the South — it's not for them. For the South and the Midwest, it's brand new."

The Evening Muse

Charlotte's rock en Español bands are starting to reach a white audience, in large part because a club in a neighborhood rarely visited by Latinos decided to take a chance on the music.

The Evening Muse is owned by Joe Kuhlmann and his wife Lea. He is a transplant from New York, and they have run the club since 2001. Kuhlmann says he took a financial risk by hiring La Rua, but he says it wasn't about the money. He saw a chance to bridge cultural and language barriers.

"Music as a medium itself ... it is a higher form of communication than speech when it's done really well," Kuhlmann says. "When the music and thought and the passion is there, you'll come away from it with something."

A Mixed Audience

Two years ago, the Carlotan Rock Festival attracted a large mixed audience when it moved to a theater across town. Last year, many Latinos stayed away from a nearby open-air venue out of fear of immigration sweeps. So this year, it's back at Scandalos, where it started, and it's Anglos who have stayed away. Tonight, the club is packed almost entirely with Latinos.

Catalina Marin has come to hear her husband's band. She's from Venezuela and has been in Charlotte for 11 years. She wants white people to hear this music, but she says it also plays an essential role for Hispanics like her, who have been here for a while.

"I think there's nostalgia for home," she says. "My husband started his band because he played in bands his whole life growing up in Ecuador, and there wasn't anything like that here. So he really longed for it. And we want to be continued to be surrounded by music of our childhood. More and more young kids are forming bands and sing songs from Mana and Enanitos Verdes — all this music we all grew up with."

Some of the musicians performing tonight are the children of the area's first wave of Latino immigrants, like Pilar Carillo's nephew. Carillo came from Chile 10 years ago. She's not really a fan of the music, but she recognizes its potential in her adopted home.

"We are very happy that Latin music is growing here in Charlotte," she says. "And many Americans have heard this music, and it unites us if they don't know much about Latino culture. It is a big step forward for us all."

Charlotte's rock en Español musicians and fans acknowledge that Anglo support for the music is still small, and the racial and cultural divisions are still wide. But they're counting on rock 'n' roll's tried-and-true secret weapon — three chords and a great melody — to inspire a change.

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