Rodrigo of Rodrigo Y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. perform during the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., Friday, June 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
MANCHESTER, Tenn. (AP) — Rodrigo y Gabriela believe heavy metal is a universal language.
The Ireland-based Mexican duo with the crazy-quilt melange of influences took its message to tens of thousands of fans at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, laying down a scorching set Friday night with Latin rhythms, metal riffs on acoustic guitars and a two-piece horn section swirling together into something infectiously danceable.
“Metal music belongs to the world and it is all over the world,” Gabriela Quintero said shortly before checking out Radiohead with her musical and life partner Rodrigo Sanchez. “In every corner you will find a metal guy. Anywhere you go — you go to Sahara Desert, you will find a Metallica band. That’s a phenomenon.”
Even in southern India, the couple has found more people who know about metal music than Michael Jackson.
“This is a one-music phenomenon,” Sanchez said. “You can go from Argentina to Canada, it’s in every country in different cities. You can go to India, you can go to China, you can go to Europe, you can go to Japan, you can go to East Europe …”
“Don’t forget the Muslims,” Quintero said of the democracy movement.
“It is truly the one music played all over the world,” Sanchez said.
Quintero and Sanchez took an extremely long, circuitous trip to the main stage at Bonnaroo.
They met as teen metalheads in Mexico City and eventually moved to Dublin where they were street buskers who seemed to be from another planet. From that base, they traveled around Europe, playing for tips or in small clubs.
“When we did that, it was not planned,” Quintero said. “It was out of spontaneity and it was a lot of crazy decisions, fearful moments, you know? I guess that’s what keeps you alive.”
Their passion and dedication never wavered and eventually their sound began to draw attention, thanks in part to their friend, singer-songwriter Damien Rice, who tabbed them to open for him during his rise to international fame.
Their unique style is hard to ignore. Sanchez’s fingers fly over his guitar, flat-picking with the speed of your favorite metal god as he stands in the classic rock pose, legs splayed, head banging along.
Quintero takes a different approach, using her guitar more like a percussion instrument. She runs her fingernails along the strings for effect, pounds the body for a hollow drum sound and provides a counterpoint to Sanchez’s shredding.
Alone, they are a spectacle. Accompanied by new collaborators C.U.B.A., a 13-piece collective of musicians from Cuba who accompanied them on last year’s “Area 52,” they are a force.
With five C.U.B.A. members in tow — two horn players, a bassist, keyboards and drums — on their live show, the music is transformed into something truly international. The sound had fans alternately shaking their hips and head-banging as the sun painted the sky pink, orange and purple on the western horizon.
“They all have a background of producing and recording albums and recording with other people, so it’s really amazing for us to just step into this world and then jam with them in our own way, you know,” Quintero said. “This helps us discover new things without knowing exactly what we’re doing, and these things made it more than extraordinary for us. It was like music school without going to music school.”
She smiled, and added: “And taking them on the road is crazy.”