Finally, this hour, a Mexican guitar duo that is nearly unknown in Mexico. The duo Rodrigo y Gabriela has developed an avid following in the U.S. and Europe. Last year, their music was even featured on the soundtracks of two major Hollywood movies: "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Puss in Boots." Now, they have a new album out, and they're trying to raise their profile in their native country. NPR's Jason Beaubien caught one of their shows in Mexico.


JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: It's a Monday night at an old movie theater that's been renovated into a nightclub in the heart of Mexico City. Rodrigo y Gabriela are on stage with their signature nylon string acoustic guitars. Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero are natives of Mexico City. They started playing music together here as teenagers in a heavy metal band in the 1990s. But more than a decade ago, they went off to Europe to play in the streets. It was in Europe that they developed into Rodrigo y Gabriela, an acoustic guitar act that hit the top of the Irish music charts in 2006 and has sold more than a million albums worldwide. But they've been gone from Mexico for so long that on stage here, Rodrigo lightheartedly plays the role of a foreigner in a foreign land.

RODRIGO SANCHEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: This is not a place we're used to coming, he says. Then he adds wryly of what used to be his hometown: It's very pretty. Rodrigo y Gabriela have performed all over the world. They've sold out the Radio City Music Hall in New York. Last fall, they played the Hollywood Bowl backed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. They've been on Jay Leno and MTV. But in 2010 when they were invited to the White House for a state visit by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Calderon appeared to have no idea who they were.


BEAUBIEN: On stage in Mexico City with just two guitars, Rodrigo y Gabriela produce intricate arrangements that draw from a wide range of musical styles. Gabriela provides the percussion and what at times can be furious rhythms banged out on the strings and body of her guitar. Rodrigo's fingers fly up and down the frets, plucking out riffs and melodies. The physically grueling intensity of their playing took its toll in 2010 when under doctor's orders, they had to cancel much of their U.S. tour. They often get slotted into the world music genre, but Rodrigo says categories are something they try to avoid.

SANCHEZ: We come from a rock, you know, background, heavy metal background. We don't play heavy metal, but we don't play Latin straight music or Mexican music.

BEAUBIEN: Rodrigo calls what they do acoustic rock with a few extra twists thrown in.


BEAUBIEN: Gabby Gomez, who books the El Plaza Condesa, where Rodrigo y Gabriela are playing on this night, says it's unusual to have a rock act that's just two acoustic guitars. Until just recently, she says Rodrigo y Gabriela weren't getting any airplay on Mexican radio, and Gomez says she first heard about them in the foreign press.

GABBY GOMEZ: At least, to me, it was funny to see a Mexican or a Spanish name all over, you know, Rodrigo y Gabriela, which was kind of, mm, I don't know. It was surprising to see that they were Mexican, like where are they from that we just didn't know about them?

BEAUBIEN: And to add to their confusing cultural identity, Rodrigo y Gabriela's new album, "Area 52," was recorded in Havana with a full Cuban orchestra.


BEAUBIEN: Gabriela says the Cuban project made sense for various reasons. Their record label was pressuring them to come up with a new album. They both grew up listening to Cuban music, but they'd never been to the island.

GABRIELA QUINTERO: I remember I said to Rod, we need to go to Cuba, man. We need to go to Cuba and go there as a musical experience. One day, one day, one day, and that day, it just passed by, you know? But for us to be in this room with all these musicians, it was just incredible. We were like in heaven, you know?


BEAUBIEN: Her only regret is that they were working constantly and didn't get to see much of the country. Gabriela says they did manage to go out for dinner once in Havana for her birthday.

QUINTERO: And we got mojitos and all, but that was it.


QUINTERO: Just one night out of...

SANCHEZ: It was pretty full on, and it was like 12 hours in the studio, you know? It was crazy.

BEAUBIEN: Their musical success abroad has allowed them to buy a house in Zihuatanejo on Mexico's Pacific coast, northwest of Acapulco. But that same success also has meant that they don't spend much time there. On February 19th, Rodrigo y Gabriela kick off a four-month tour to promote their new album. Along with a Cuban orchestra, they're scheduled to play concerts across Europe, United States and Canada, but not Mexico. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.



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