ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In the 1960s, as rock and roll became this country's most popular music, it also took hold in countries like Argentina, Mexico and Chile. A new documentary series called "Break Everything: The History Of Rock In Latin America" is now on Netflix. Betto Arcos reports.
BETTO ARCOS, BYLINE: "Break Everything" - "Rompan Todo" in Spanish - begins in the early 1960s in Mexico, when bands like Los Teen Tops started covering American hits.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POPOTITOS REMASTERIZADO")
LOS TEEN TOPS: (Singing in Spanish).
ARCOS: Los Teen Tops were not alone. The Mexican band Los Locos del Ritmo and Los Shakers from Uruguay inspired many young musicians across Latin America to play their own version of rock.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROMPAN TODO BREAK IT ALL")
LOS SHAKERS: (Singing) We want you to come. We want you to hear. We want you to dance, dance all night long.
NICOLAS ENTEL: In many, many ways, we're not telling the story of rock in Latin America, but we're telling the story of Latin America from the point of view of rock.
ARCOS: Nicolas Entel is the series' creator. He says when he started writing, he saw two different timelines - one with the history of rock...
ENTEL: And the second timeline with a history of the most important events in politics and economy and crime and arts in Latin America.
ARCOS: That timeline includes the student movement in Mexico City and the subsequent massacre of student protesters in 1968 at the hands of the government. Guitarist and singer Sergio Arau was 16 years old and a high school student.
SERGIO ARAU: (Through interpreter) It was very tragic, very violent. This was a very intense period everywhere.
ARCOS: The counterculture went underground until 1971, when rock reappeared at the Avandaro music festival held in the countryside outside Mexico City.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing) I like marijuana. You like marijuana. We like marijuana (unintelligible).
ARCOS: Inspired by Woodstock, it had the same problems. Organizers expected a few thousand to attend. More than 200,000 showed up. There was drug use, sex and nudity, and the media jumped on it. Arau played at the festival with his first band.
ARAU: (Through interpreter) There was a news media campaign on newspapers, radio and television calling us degenerate, drug addicts and all kinds of names. After that, there was repression. All the rock clubs had to close or change their music programming to salsa or folk music, and rock disappeared.
ARCOS: But in Argentina, the rock scene flourished - cautiously.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CANCION DE ALICIA EN EL PAIS")
SERU GIRAN: (Singing in Spanish).
ARCOS: Then, in the mid-'70s, the country's military dictatorship cracked down, arresting, beating, jailing or disappearing anyone who organized, protested or simply appeared to pose a threat against the government, including musicians. Gustavo Santaolalla was one of those arrested.
GUSTAVO SANTAOLALLA: And I didn't do anything. I didn't belong to a political party. So what was the reason? They called it averiguacion de antecedentes (ph) - dude, check your record.
ARCOS: Santaolalla, a two-time Oscar and multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy winner, is one of the executive producers and narrators of the series. He says the same kind of repression carried out in Argentina was also happening in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship.
SANTAOLALLA: At the time, you know, we were living very similar realities, and we were much more similar than we perhaps could have thought at the time. That's a great thing that you can see in the documentary.
PICKY TALARICO: So it's the story of a continent.
ARCOS: Argentina's Picky Talarico directed the six-part series.
TALARICO: You know, it's not only music. It's about working through crises together and how rock took a very important role in all of that.
ARCOS: You can also see that most of the musicians were men.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOLERO FALAZ")
ATERCIOPELADOS: (Singing in Spanish).
ARCOS: In the film, Colombia's Andrea Echeverri of the band Aterciopelados recounts her experience during the 1999 U.S. tour with other bands. She says there were 90 people on the tour.
ANDREA ACHEVERRI: (Through interpreter) There were 88 men and two women - an American woman doing production and me. That's how my life was for a long time. And it was horrible seeing all the men, how they start to transform after a few days without their women, and they turn into horrible beasts, drooling. I would see that, and I'd run to my room.
ARCOS: As the series points out today, women are increasingly more visible in the rock scene across Latin America, adding new voices and new sounds to the music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MANIKARNICA VERSION ALBUM")
PASCUALA ILABACA Y FAUNA: (Singing in Spanish).
ARCOS: That's one of the strengths of the series, says Sergio Arau. It shows how rock grew to offer Latin American musicians and audiences a voice to talk about their own problems.
ARAU: (Through interpreter) It wasn't about translating and doing covers of American rock tunes. Musicians were talking about what they were living every day in the streets - the social conflicts, the government abuses, the police brutality.
ARCOS: All the things rock is meant to address.
For NPR News, I'm Betto Arcos.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The audio version of this story incorrectly referred to the series as “Break Everything: The History of Rock in Latin America.” The name of the series is “Break It All: The History of Rock in Latin America.”]
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