Demonstrating ingenuity and heart, these plucky Uruguayans sit deservedly alongside some of Latin America’s greatest ska-rockers such as Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Maldita Vecindad.
As most massive football fans will be aware, since the start of global football competitions, Uruguay has managed to surpass all expectations for a country of its size. As four-time world champions of the sport, winning two World Cups and two Olympic Games, with a population of less than 3.5 million people, the very fact that the nation has managed to have such success on the world stage, gaining a terrifying reputation along the way as masters of the dark arts for their ‘take no prisoners’ approach to tackling, is truly impressive. And yet, like in so many other aspects of life, even in football they cannot help but be perceived in the shadow of their noisy neighbours Argentina. If Uruguay produce the likes of Schiaffino and Suarez, Argentina will always be ready to one-up them with Maradona and Messi.
“Perhaps most impressive though are the catchiness of these softer songs, which is in part due to their incredible talent as rockers who clearly understand the ins and outs of melody, bringing emotion and talent in equal measure to songs like Dice, De Atar and Va Escampar.”
The big brother/little brother syndrome that exists between the two countries is fierce, with most of Argentine society considering Uruguay to be a glorified village of sorts, rather than a prospering country in its own right. When it comes to music, particularly rock, Argentina has understandably gained a unique representation on the global stage, much like it has done with football. Though Uruguay’s biggest musical export Jorge Drexler has truly managed to conquer the Spanish-speaking world, we cannot pretend that he is a rockstar by any means, thus leaving Uruguay again in the shadows of their cousins on the other side of the Río de la Plata. Then came La Vela Puerca’s third album, A Contraluz, challenging all preconceptions about Uruguayan rock inferiority.
A Contraluz is a rich and varied album that grounds itself in two key principles – ‘party’ and ‘reflection’. The way in which it achieves this is by using ska-inflected rhythms to put the listener in party-mode, whilst slowing down those more jovial melodies with some rather introspective lyricism. The album begins in pure ska-rock mode, indicating to the listener that they are in for a good time on Llenos de Magia. This type of thumping percussion that carries the tune through is added to with an amazing horn section on the next track, and arguably the pick of the bunch, Sin Palabras. The other pure ska numbers that one cannot help but skank out to are the infinitely fun Escobas and Haciéndose Pasar por Luz, which I particularly love as it reminds me of my favourite Spanish ska artist Ska-P, as they channel the energy of the working classes’ gripes serving as almost a call to arms.
Though there are other ska-inflected numbers, these often veer into the punk realm with the noisiness of Doble Filo and Caldo Precoz, which includes the repetition of the hilariously ironic lyric ‘¡Callate por favor!’ meaning ‘shut up, please!’ The rest of the album tends to move away from its roots with a variety of sound that is bound to keep the listener hooked. From the ominous Un Frasco to the selection of stripped back introspective ballads like Clarobscuro and En el Limbo which feature a gorgeous guitar and violin interlude respectively. Perhaps most impressive though are the catchiness of these softer songs, which is in part due to their incredible talent as rockers who clearly understand the ins and outs of melody, bringing emotion and talent in equal measure to songs like Dice, De Atar and Va Escampar.
Two songs of particular note are Zafar and the final track A Lo Verde. The former is understandably one of the biggest songs on the album as singer-songwriter Sebastián Teysera’s voice shines here. It is by far the most reggae-adjacent tune, with some heavy basslines pairing with the snare in a classic reggae fashion, separating it from the rest of the album. Meanwhile the closer A Lo Verde is produced beautifully by legend of the game Gustavo Santaolalla. The track starts with chattering amidst a backdrop of beautiful guitar strumming, before entering the most dream-like and hippieish style that the album has to offer, both lyrically and musically. Overall, La Vela Puerca firmly place themselves in the conversation amongst Argentine rock behemoths, which is no mean feat; they would clearly be an amazing band to see live.