Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero are an acoustic guitar duo from Mexico. Their music is built on harnessing the flash, power, and speed of death metal and filtering it through the passion, soul, technique, and discipline of nuevo flamenco. Their showy, emotional sound is marked by Quintero's syncopated, hooky percussive rhythms and rapid-fire strummed vamps, and Sanchez's incendiary, single- and dual-string melodic leads. That unique approach has taken them to the world's stages in bars, concert halls, and festivals, ultimately earning their recordings a prominent place on the international charts. Their eponymously titled 2007 album topped the charts in Ireland, while in the U.S., five of their recordings (including 11:11 and 9 Dead Alive) placed in the upper half of the Top 200, and they appeared on more than a dozen other charts as well. In 2019, in addition to a Top 20 chart placement, their sixth studio album, Mettavolution, earned a Grammy nomination.
Before becoming the most visible acoustic guitar duo in the world, Rodrigo y Gabriela -- who met when they were 15 -- bonded over heavy metal while growing up in Mexico City. Since delivering their self-released, self-titled debut in 1997 -- featuring tunes by everyone from Tito Puente to Dave Brubeck to Metallica (their greatest musical influence) -- they've been world travelers, appearing on stages with indie rockers and metallers, orchestras, jazz groups, singers, and more. On their recordings, they touch on numerous genres, with charts that range from just two nylon-string guitars to electro-acoustic collaborations with superstar metal guitar players, Hans Zimmer on a Pirates of the Caribbean score, the joint performance with the C.U.B.A. orchestra on 2012's Area 52, and an attempt to abandon flamenco for an all-rock (yet still acoustic) approach on 2014's 9 Dead Alive that brought them full circle to their pre-recording roots in heavy metal, selling literally millions of records in the process.
They combined their talents for a time in the metal group Tierra Acida, playing around Mexico City in the roughest clubs the city had to offer. Though they recorded some material, Tierra Acida never hit it big, and an album was never released. Instead, Sanchez and Quintero concentrated on learning more guitar styles, teaching lessons during the day, and playing bossa novas in hotel bars at night. Bored and frustrated with their chances in the Americas, the two decided to try their luck in Europe instead.
Rodrigo y Gabriela traveled to Dublin, where a friend had offered them a place to stay. The musicians spoke no English, carried little money, and upon their arrival found that the offer of European hospitality had vanished. The pair soon turned toward busking on the streets of Dublin, a move that enhanced their reputation and helped land them several contacts. Among their newfound friends was fellow busker Damien Rice, who soon asked them to accompany him on tour. The Mexican duo had, by this time, developed a large repertoire of original material in a variety of styles, and they released their international debut record with 2003's Re-Foc. A concert album, Live: Manchester and Dublin, followed one year later.
Rodrigo y Gabriela became the newest fixture of the world music circuit, known for their nimble-fingered guitar work and diverse background (few flamenco guitarists could boast a background in metal music). Their third album, Rodrigo y Gabriela, was released in 2006 and debuted atop the Irish charts, beating out Arctic Monkeys for the number one spot. They continued to tour, making their way through Japan (as evidenced by their second live album Live in Japan) and America, and 11:11 expanded their discography upon its 2009 release. The duo went on a touring hiatus in September 2010 due to stress injuries to Quintero's hand. In January of 2011, they collaborated with film composer Hans Zimmer on the score for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which was released in May of that year, followed by Live in France, a document from the 11:11 tour that, like the studio album, mixed Rodrigo y Gabriela's dazzling nylon-string guitar chops with electric six-strings for a dueling shredfest.
Since their inception, the pair had always envisioned working in Cuba. They recruited pianist and arranger Alex Wilson to come up with charts for a new set of songs. Wilson and the duo worked out a set of tunes, rhythms, and charts in three days in Mexico City, and Wilson went on to Cuba to hire a band. From June through September, the duo recorded with Wilson and C.U.B.A. (Collective Universal Band Association) in Havana with producer Peter Asher. A number of special guests joined the proceedings as well, including Anoushka Shankar, flamenco and jazz bass legend Carlos Benavent, former Testament and White Zombie drummer John Tempesta, Le Trio Joubran, and Los Van Van drummer Samuel Formell Alfonso. The resulting album, Area 52, was released in January of 2012, and the duo toured the globe in support. They were the subject of an Alejandro Franco documentary film on their formation and early years entitled For Those About to Rock: The Story of Rodrigo y Gabriela, which debuted at SXSW in March of 2014, just in time for their next studio album, 9 Dead Alive, which appeared in April.
After two world tours and several high-profile media appearances, the pair took a break, emerging in 2016 to begin writing before touring to test-fire the new material. In February of 2019, they appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live to debut the title track from their fifth long-player Mettavolution, accompanied by dancers choreographed by David Byrne and Annie-B Parson. The music was conceived and composed in their studio in Ixtapa on the Mexican Pacific Coast, and road-tested before recording in late 2018 in Los Angeles with Grammy-winning producer Dave Sardy (Oasis, LCD Soundsystem, A Perfect Circle) behind the board. Released in March of 2019, Mettavolution's contents were comprised of six originals that acknowledged the duo's thrash-metal roots, plus a 21-minute cover version of Pink Floyd's sprawling "Echoes" -- from 1971's Meddle -- audaciously reimagined for two acoustic guitars. The album landed in the Top Ten of the Billboard World, Folk, and Rock Albums chart. It also took home the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.
The duo toured the globe in support of the album, recording most of the shows. They had planned on continuing their touring adventures in 2020, only to be sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic. In October of 2020, they did the next best thing: They issued Mettavolution Live, a double-length set that includes performances of the entire Grammy-winning studio album -- including a show-stopping, 22-minute version of "Echoes" -- as well as select tracks from their catalog including "Hanuman," "11:11," and "The Soundmaker."
© Evan C. Gutierrez /TiVo