Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Alex Anwandter Interview

Photo: Alex Anwandter by Rocío Aguirre (posted by permission)

The amazing album "Rebeldes" by Alex Anwandter can be purchased on iTunes here
Original version and remixes of "¿Como puedes vivir contigo mismo?" can be downloaded for free after you join his record lablel's mailing list here
Follow Alex Anwandter on Twitter here
Follow Alex on Facebook here

When a young gay man named Daniel Zamudio was brutally attacked for being gay in Chile in March of this year and later died from the injuries he sustained, the outrage his murder elicited throughout Latin America was something I had never seen.  The closest thing to it was the way thousands of people reacted and went out to the streets after a similarly brutal attack against a young gay man in 1998 named Matthew Sheppard. Similarly, when Zamudio was mourned in a public burial on March 30th, thousands of people took to the streets of Santiago carrying rainbow flags and demanding justice.

Word of the vicious attack traveled mostly through social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter and one of the phenomenons I still remember was the number of music artists who helped to spread the word.

Ricky Martin got the ball rolling on March 25th when he took to his Twitter account to dedicate an award he had gotten from GLAAD to Zamudio as Zamudio still laid on a hospital bed.  Two days later, upon finding out Zamudio had passed away he simply wrote "Daniel Zamudio RIP" and sent it to the more than five million accounts that followed him at the time.

Others followed including openly gay singers Boy George, Andy Bell and Christian Chávez. Some Latin American bands and singers added their voices including Choquibtown, Gloria Trevi, Beto Cuevas, We Are The Grand, Maria Colores, Ana Tijoux, Javiera Mena and Alex Anwanter, the last six being from Chile.

For Anwandter in particular Zamudio's murder hit close to home.  Zamudio's parents revealed to media that Anwandter was Daniel's favorite singer and the singer himself said that he remembered online conversations he had with Daniel.  Performing at Lollapalooza Chile a week after Zamudio's death, Anwandter stunned the crowd by dedicating two songs at the end of the set to Daniel and introducing them with the following speech:
Midway through last year a guy very much like many of you sent me a very nice video. I spoke to him through online chats a few times, just a really great guy.  This year he was accosted at a park, they broke his legs, they extinguished cigarettes on him, they marked his stomach with swastikas. He was Daniel Zamudio.

Of course, this topic is incredibly relevant today. Let's hope we don't just leave it as some anecdote about what his favorite song was. Or a sense of revenge against the criminals who will be eventually judged. I just ask that we rise above and try to change something that is much greater and general about ourselves and our day to day lives.

We laugh at jokes about men with men and women with women, homophobic jokes on television, when we say fleto or we say maricón, so let's stop discriminating each other so that something like this will never happen again.
I wasn't sure I was going to bring this up. I wanted to write about the exceptional talent that Alex Anwandter is and his upcoming performances in Brooklyn and didn't want the Zamudio story to overshadow what might be an introduction to his work for many who stumble upon this post but ultimately felt that I would give additional context.

He'll be in New York as part of the annual Latin Alternative Music Conference and introduce his great new album "Rebeldes" to the U.S. market. It is currently available on iTunes for $7.99.

I was lucky to be able to send him a few questions on the eve of his NYC debut and get some thoughtful responses.

"Casa Latina / Latin House" - Alex Anwandter under the odiSEA moniker

Blabbeando: People in the United States love stories of artists who emerge from nowhere and become an overnight sensation. Obviously you have a long trajectory having recorded with different bands and under different names including Teleradio Donoso, Fother Muckers, and odiSEA. Now you arrive in New York under your own name, Alex Anwandter, with a striking sound that makes people take notice at first listen. How do you feel at this moment in your career? What are your hopes when you peform in New York?

Alex Anwandter: I'm really looking forward to it. Chile's so far away, so I feel I'm being invited to play with the big boys. I feel like the rookie who's gonna dazzle... hopefully!

Blabbeando: "Rebeldes" was released in Chile on October of 2011 and is only now being released in the United States. Are these the only planned performances in the United States or are there plans for a formal tour? And if that's the case will you still be promoting this material or are there ideas for a follow up?

Alex Anwandter: My idea is to come back before the end of year and do a somewhat more extensive tour. I'm always planning ahead though and am already working on two new records.

Blabbeando: In your production notes you say the video for your new single "¿Como puedes vivir contigo mismo?" is meant to be a homage to the seminal 1990 Jennie Livingston documentary "Paris Is Burning". How did that idea emerge?

"¿Como puedes vivir contigo mismo? / How can you live with yourself?" from the album "Rebeldes"

Alex Anwandter: I saw Livingston's documentary sometime ago and thought it was beautiful. People, women and men being themselves, beautiful and fun. At the same time, their backgrounds were very marginal. The sound of "¿Como puedes vivir contigo mismo?" is influenced mainly by Chicago House and 90's Euro-dance-ish house so I did relate it to the documentary and its soundtrack. But I also thought a tribute to the Livingston film would also allow me to further introduce something that practically doesn't yet exist in my country: Strong role models or icons that represent sexual diversity in mainstream media or pop culture.

In a way, I wasn't doing a tribute to the documentary in itself but rather to the original impact I believe it had back in the day: The validation of the lives of people who were being marginalized or discriminated against.

In other words, to date we still do not have a "Paris Is Burning" of our own and in that sense we are far behind. But I felt I could do something positive by producing this video and showing similar scenes to a country that doesn't have access to these type of images and still create a tribute to its artistic merit.  The recent hate-motivated torture and murder of a gay kid shows there is a tremendous need to accept our diversity.

Also, Jennie Livingston said she loved the video, which was very reassuring to me.

Blabbeando: Speaking of a queer underground life, you allude to the violent murder of Daniel Zamudio at the hands of a few young gang members.  And when it comes to Latin America, I have never seen a nation react in the way that Chileans repudiated his murder. Modern Chile, at least in my mind, continues to be a very conservative country but I cannot help but think that Daniel's murder created a tectonic shift in Chilean society, a great earthquake.  And I know that his death moved you deeply because you had some contact with him as one of your fans. On a personal level, how do you perceive the before and after in terms of Chilean society and what were your thoughts after dedicating him two of your songs at Lollapalooza?

"Como Una Estrella / Like A Star" from "Rebeldes'. Allegedly Daniel Zamudio's favorite song.

Alex Anwandter: Unfortunately, Daniel became both a milestone and a martyr. It is really very sad that someone has to die, specially a kid that his whole life ahead of him, to make a country move forward on these issues.

I realize there has to be a long process of cultural change that might even last decades.  To go from a society that widely embraces a homophobic and discriminatory sense of humor where effeminate hair-dresser sketches still dominate popular 'comic' shows to one that will respect equal rights will probably take some time.

I guess we are moving forward and that's something that should be appreciated but, at the same time - and we found out in the worst possible way - it's something that you cannot take your eye off for even a second or else someone might die.

On a more personal note, his death was very shocking to me because I knew him and also because I kept thinking it could have been a friend of mine or anyone who was dear to me. It was also incredibly intense to me when his brothers told me how much my music had meant to him and how they played my songs to him while he was dying and urged me to keep on speaking on behalf of people like Daniel. It's something that in a really tragic way makes me think that my job actually matters and that I should never stop fighting again discrimination.

Blabbeando: To end, a recent tweet of yours: "I already loved Frank Ocean, but now... ‪#superlove". Anything you want to add that is longer than 140 characters?

Alex Anwandter: Not really! I think he's a great artist and he did a very beautiful thing opening up like that. I like him more now because he did something that he himself found very hard to do and wrote a beautiful letter about it. I don't care that he "came out" or is gay or bisexual. He can fall in love with anyone and he'll still be amazing.

End note: And that, as they say, is the end. I truly appreciate Alex taking some time to answer these questions and leave you with one last video from the first single of his current album.

"Tatuaje / Tattoo" from "Rebeldes"


1 comment:

cybergrace said...

Amazing and well-written story, thank you, Blabbeando.