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Rock en Español Group Rabanes Talks About Their Album and Their Controversial Lyrics.
Photos & Interview by Luther Orrick-Guzman

Latin Grammy nominee Rabanes is a rock en español group who is seeing their success grow and grow! Their self-titled album was recently nominated for a Latin Grammy in the Best Rock Album category, and the group just finished a highly successful concert tour. They even played a special performance with Sting in January 2001 in their home country of Panama. But is their music causing controversy?

Forming in Chitre, Panama in 1992, the group’s three members, Emilio Rigueira, Christian Torres, and Javier Saavedra, began playing at parties and bars on the weekends. After a lot of hard work, the group gained a wide audience with their eclectic fusion of sounds and controversial lyrics. By 1995, they had their first album and eventually joined three top Panamanian bands for their first national rock music tour.

Over the years, Rabanes’ musical style has evolved. Emilio, the lead vocalist, explains, “Our current style is quite different from our previous material. This album is more of a reflection of the current trend of reggae and Panamanian hip hop. Our previous albums were more rock fused with a little Calypso. We also use a lot of ‘Chomba’ (Spanglish lyrics) on our current album.”

Christian, the bass player, adds, “We consider ourselves a fusion band. We enjoy all musical varieties. In Panama, we listened to a lot of grunge music, but at the same time, we always heard salsa, Calypso, and reggae—and our sound started to shape itself based on those influences.”

Emilio agrees and adds, “A lot of that influence has to do with growing up in Chitre because it was somewhat of a boring town. That awakened the desire for something more for someone like me. In Chitre, there are a lot of old danceable folk rhythms. I think we’ve always unconsciously incorporated those rhythms.”

Lyrically, Rabanes’ songs are filled with decadent, party-fueled lyrics. As a result, the band has often received a lot of criticism from many social groups. Emilio emphasizes it’s all in fun, saying, “We’ve gotten a lot of flack from almost all groups—including conservatives, QVs, and especially women. The songs lean towards being ‘Machista,’ but that’s like the root of rap. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. I consider this album a little bit more obscene than the rest, but that’s how this album was written. For the next album, there will be something else. We are not a band who repeats itself.

You can expect some nice tracks dedicated to the young ladies in the good sense of the word.”

Rabanes greatest love is performing live. On stage, they love joking around and playing to people who want to have good time. Javier, the drummer, explains, “The livelihood of an audience is a rush! There’s a lot of improvisation and sometimes that makes it a challenge.” Emilio and Christian nod in agreement.

Because Rabanes’ stage presence is full of wild, raw energy, their audience tends to react with the same wild vibe. In fact, a lot of crazy things happen at their concerts. Javier recalls, “People get crazy, and they start throwing things onstage—shoes, accessories, and even underwear!”

In spite of the outrageousness that occurs at Rabanes’ concerts, over the years, they’ve toured with a who’s who of rock en español bands including Cafe Tacuba, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Aterciopelados. From those bands, Rabanes has learned a great deal about performing including the importance of audience interaction and the ability to focus. Emilio explains, “I used to be very disoriented when I was starting out. I would play to get to smoke out or to get women. But now, I’ve learned a sense of responsibility. I believe we’ve changed, but for good.”

Currently, Rabanes’ music can be heard on Latin radio stations throughout the US, Latin America, and Spain. These stations are playing tracks like “Señorita A Mi Me Gusta Su Style,” “Perfidia,” “No Hay Manera,” and “My Commanding Wife.”

Emilio, being the only married member of the group, is quick to clarify that the song “My Commanding Wife” has nothing to do with his marriage. The group laughs.

When we asked them for advice to give to our qvReaders, Emilio steps in and says, “Whatever you decide to do in life, make sure you’re being true to yourself. Just like music, it has a soul when it’s done with real feelings. Always discover what your calling is and follow your true feelings. If you love music, be a musician. If you love hammering nails, be a carpenter.”

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