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Rodrigo Y Gabriela Interview

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Manchester Academy 26 November 2006

I have recently been watching an early series of Sky Guitar Heroes Competition on TV, which we originally promoted here on Shakenstir. I was impressed with the talent on display, playing an instrument I have real affection for. Watching the series took me back to some of the many guitarists I have witnessed perform live over the years including my favourites John McLaughlin and the fabulous duo of Rodrigo Y Gabriela. Back in 2006 I was covering my third Rodrigo Y Gabriela concert and was fortunate enough to secure an interview with Gabriela before the show. It was fascinating and I was struck by her infectious enthusiasm for the instrument she loved. Over the years her string and percussive skills have grown to the point that she is now regarded as one of the world’s major exponents. So here it is including my earlier introduction. ENJOY!

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When Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela (RYG) topped the Irish album chart with their first studio album, it caused something of a stir – hardly surprising. After all, can you remember when an acoustic guitar act last topped a pop album chart, or even came within sniffing distance of it? I certainly can’t and I’m pretty sure it has never happened in the USA or UK before. We were made aware of the duo several months before this historic event through a free cover CD of live RYG performances in Manchester and Dublin, courtesy of Ireland’s top music magazine Hotpress. The CD contained a style of acoustic guitar music that reminded me of the classic live recording by John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola and Paco De Lucia called FRIDAY NIGHT IN SAN FRANCISCO.

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The new self-titled studio album arrived some time later together with the news of its Irish success. Both events prompted our demand to review the live performance which followed in Manchester within weeks. Who provided that intense percussive sound present on several album tracks? What size and sort of UK audience would attend the show? These and several more questions were answered during a dynamic and exciting sell-out show. The percussive sounds were provided by Gabriela beating her guitar; the style of playing combined jazz, rock, and classical. RYG performed their own wonderful compositions and stunning interpretations of songs from their favourite heavy metal rock bands. It was a memorable show (reviewed in the ‘live’ section) and preceded a string of tours across the world which generated massive acclaim, including from the all-important, challenging USA territory.

Our coverage of the duo culminated with this interview conducted just before another Manchester gig a few days ago. I spoke to Gabriela while Rodrigo sound-checked.

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I’d like to go back in time and ask about what sparked your interest in music?

As far as I can remember there was always music in my home. There was always music. My mum was a music lover and her collection of music was fantastic. She had jazz, classical; to the Beatles, Rolling Stones; to Salsa (very good Salsa), to Mexican Boleros. It was quite a wide range of music which she played and I always loved guitar and drums. But nobody in my family played music except I think for my granddad. He was very musical, open minded about music, and would listen to anything. When I was just eleven or so I wanted to play an instrument.

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Did you watch anybody play?

No. We were more into cinema because Mexico City is a big city and many acts played in Mexico City and we came from the suburbs which are quite far away, and it’s not like in Ireland where music is played everywhere, in every pub. Traditional Mexican music is played at restaurants where everybody is drunk, like Mariachi. So unfortunately it was not a good place for me to see music played.

So when did you start playing?

I started when I was fifteen, sixteen years old. I wanted to play guitar and there was this very cheesy boyfriend of my sister who played guitar. He was a sort of Christian and played chords for Jesus Christ. Anyway he wanted my sister to play guitar so my sister managed to borrow his guitar for two days and he wrote some chords for her, and I learned the chords. After that he went mad when I broke one of his guitar strings. I then told my mother I really wanted a guitar and found someone who gave guitar lessons in a little place and walked in and told him I really needed to play. So he showed me two or three guitar chords and he said I would have to be very patient, but I wanted to play the fuckin’ blues, and I loved Jimi Hendrix. At that time I was like in love with the 60’s (I hadn’t discovered Metallica) and people like David Gilmour and Eric Clapton, and I really wanted to play. Well this guy just showed me D minor while I really wanted to play rock and roll. So I never actually followed that school learning system.

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