From Busking on Grafton street to putting in blistering performances on stages all around the world, case Rodrigo Y Gabriela have won the crowds over with a unique brand of contemporary classical guitar work with all the zest of the Latin culture. Ryan Cullen caught up with Rodrigo ahead of their highly anticipated Dublin gig.

After listening to Rodrigo’s talk about his career, ampoule you simply cannot ignore his passion and flair for music. Rodrigo talks about how they got into music and how their style of music fits their energy and flair, healing slowly making them a popular choice on the Irish music scene. “We just liked the freedom of expression and movement that playing acoustic guitars gives you. So we came to Ireland and started playing in hotels, bars, and on the street, our very early Irish recordings and gigs featured other musicians; but for the most part it’s just been the two of us, both on record and on stage”. Starting off life in a metal band, Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s style has changed into the vibrant quick tempo-ed delightful concoction that these two deliver will attest to, their live shows are truly fantastic and completely unique, where Metal covers are interspersed with originally written material which features the percussive use of the guitars wooden body, quick finger work and the pairs integrated intensity. “We used to play thrash covers done in a bossa nova or latin style, it was good fun to do this while playing in hotels while no-one is really listening. As we established a name for ourselves in Ireland, we started to come up with our own melodies and introduced them into the live shows”.

Their virtuoso style, incorporating many different elements of Latin jazz, funk, folk and classical acoustic melodies make them pioneers of latin flavoured acoustic material. They tell of how they ventured for Ireland after the break-up of their previous exploits. “Me and Gab were both in a Thrash Metal band in Mexico City in the 90’s called Terra Acida. When that group split due to the usual reasons bands break up; we bought acoustic guitars and decided to leave Mexico”.

The duo’s eponymous 2006 breakthrough showcased them as musically omnivorous fans and practitioners of everything from rhythmic funk and adventurous jazz to complex Spanish, South American and Middle Eastern traditions, executed with original flair and virtuosic precision. Ireland was their preferred destination and it was in Ireland were they set the stepping stones to where they are today “As a duo yes. We were playing on Grafton Street, and then we got a chance to play a gig opening for Damien Rice; that’s where we met Niall Muckian at Rubyworks, who stills manages us now”. The duos seye- and ear-catching approach to the guitar attracted the attention of singer/songwriter Damien Rice, who invited the duo to be his opening act for a series of shows in Ireland. That turned out to be just the type of exposure that Rodrigo y Gabriela needed; the gigs kept getting bigger and the labels came calling. Their latest studio disc, titled simply Rodrigo y Gabriela, is one of the most acclaimed guitar albums in the last few decades, raising their profile higher and higher .Ireland was a scary choice explains the enthusiastic Rodrigo, and just how much of a change in their lives Ireland meant. “We knew nothing about Ireland; which was kind of key to us coming here. I think someone said it was a good place for musicians; and that was enough for us. We had a brief spell in Copenhagen as well before we settled here. Getting little gigs at hotels and at parties, and playing on the street was really important for us”. The duo also had the language barrier to cope with and they struggled to grasp the English language when they first set foot on Dublin’s hopeful street corners. “It would have been easy to go to somewhere where Spanish was widely spoken; we had no English between us when we left Mexico. Sometimes you have to put yourselves in unusual places to be creative, so that sense of the unknown was important for us”.

To make up for the lack of drums and bass, the duo have developed an exceptional method of hand percussion that relies on striking both fretted strings and carefully chosen parts of the guitar to emphasis the sounding and pounding on the beat and tempo that keeps up with their effortless quick timed plucking. Gabriela tends to be the one a woman rhythmic band whereas Rodrigo tends to do the fast paced guitar riffs that much practise and precision hailed from his metal days. Many of Rodrigo’s influence hail back from his younger days hailing many thrash metal and rock gods as his talismanic influences “We both grew up listening to classic rock – The Beatles, Led Zep, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple. Then one day my elder brother came home with ‘Masters Of Puppets’ by Metallica, which was a revelation; and we got into Slayer, Testament, Megadeth and that whole thrash metal scene”. Recently Rodrigo has claimed that he has enjoyed The newest Mars Volta record as his quintessential listening these days. Since Rodrigo y Gabriela rose in popularity, Rodrigo and Gabriela’s blistering live performances are on par with anyone in the world. They’ve made appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and their top two songs on youtube clocking up over 14 million views.

Their latest album, Area 52 serves up a variety of jaw-dropping tunes, along with many Cuban musicians who have a major influence on Quintero and Sanchez’s music. “It was a revelation, we hadn’t met the Cuban musicians before we arrived in Havana last summer; in fact neither of us had ever been to Cuba. They are such amazing players, Gab felt it was like going to music college and she was right”. The Album also was quite different to their usual recording sessions and Rodrigo hails the influence of the Cuban sound integrated into their Latin vibe. “This is the first time we have recorded with such a large group. There are thirteen other players on the tracks with us; so the sound is bigger, the arrangements are more complex; and the overall feel is a complete departure from anything we have done before”. Their live performances have set them apart from most bands on the scene at the moment and Rodrigo is keen to keep that going, citeing Tamacun and Diablo rojo as crowd pleasers almost everywhere he goes “We try and keep everything fresh in the set; ‘Tamacun’ and ‘Diablo Rojo’ always seem to go down very well with the fans”.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela are a crowd pleaser wherever they go and they captivate audiences with quick melodies and amazing deft percussion. Rodrigo talks of how really great nights onstage are always based around audience participation. “Any gig where the audience really gets what we are doing; and gets involved; clapping along with the songs; singing along with the melodies. Those nights are really special”. Already been cited as influences for many upcoming musicians Rodrigo Y Gabriela have played on many stages and shared the music with many famous musicians. “We have been very fortunate to meet with and also play with some of our musical heroes. Like Robert Trujillo from Metallica, Zack De La Rocha from Rage Against The Machine; and Al Di Meola. I wouldn’t wish to put a jinx on any future collaboration by mentioning them in print”. Rodrigo Y Gabriela are coming back to play in Dublin ahead of their new tour that coincides with the Area 52 album, And Rodrigo wouldn’t want to start anywhere else in the world. “We are coming back to Dublin to play The Olympia Theatre on February 19th. This will be the first show of the Area 52 tour, anywhere in the world; and it feels right to be starting back in Ireland.”

Ryan Cullen