"We realized it was more punk to play cumbia than to start another punk band," said Ali "Guagua" Gardoki, Mexican front woman of Kumbia Queers, the band that emerged from the brainstorming session to challenge rock-and-roll prejudices against Latin dance music.
The six-member group set Ramones, Black Sabbath and Cure tunes to bouncy cumbia dance music with lesbian lyrics and the lampoon on both rock and cumbia soon became a success on the alternative music scene in Argentina, Mexico and Chile.
Every Latin American country has its version of cumbia -- a sort of a salsa for the masses -- from Argentina's expletive-laden Cumbia Villera to Colombia's traditional orchestras.
The cumbia image is of a chorus line of men in double-breasted suits, executing precise dance steps and scraping rhythmically on a notched gourd instrument called a guiro.
Guagua turns that all upside down: she strips off her sailor-stripe shirt to display anchor tattoos, and rolls of fat bulge over the strap of her red bra as she bangs on the guiro, with the beer she dumped over her head dripping down her aviator glasses.
"She is my metal girl, my ideal girl, even if she can't dance," she wails to the tune of Black Sabbath's Iron Man -- with a cumbia rhythm of course -- while hundreds of ecstatic rockers jump in unison pumping their fists and chanting with her.
Guagua, 42, sees the band as a life transformation from the perpetual adolescent anger of punk to the hedonistic "life's a beach" aesthetic of cumbia.
"The message is euphoria, love and diversity," she said. The group's members embrace a range of sexual identities, she said. At a recent Kumbia Queers show in Buenos Aires, dreadlocked rockers in sneakers mixed with lesbian couples in the crowd.
CUMBIA TAKES OVER
Kumbia Queers, originally seen as a side project, has taken over its members' lives. They recorded an album, Kumbia Nena and a song for the soundtrack of Mexican hit movie "Rudo y Cursi."
The Argentine musicians in the band have trouble finding time for their original group, She Devils.
On stage, Guagua dresses as a sailor, guitarist Pilar Arrese as a cowboy and Andean charango-player Juana Chang as a tennis player, in a sort of Village People-meets-New York Dolls spoof on presumably shallow cumbia lyrics.
"A lot of people see the band as a joke... but it's not a pose for the band members. The sound has slowly taken them over and that's why it's authentic. It's something they feel," said Leonardo Tarifeno, an Argentine cultural writer and an early fan of the band.
Combining punk and cumbia "could be totally forced but they make it completely natural," he added.
Chang admits she thought of cumbia as plastic pop music.
"The first rehearsals were pretty funny because we didn't know how to play cumbia," she said.
Drummer Ines Laurencena had to add percussion instruments to her kit and guitarist Arrese brushed up with the wah pedal.
Over two years including shows in Canada and the United States, their cumbia playing has become very polished, even though they have only six members and most cumbia bands have at least a dozen.
Their first album was mostly covers. But the new album they are currently making will be mostly originals as they have gotten into composing their own cumbias.
True to its infections rhythms, cumbia seems to be taking over the Kumbia Queers, pushing punk into the background.
"Cumbia is the pulse of Latin America," said Chang.
Argentine/Mexican Women Rockers Convert To Cumbia
When a group of Argentine and Mexican veterans of girl-punk bands got together two years ago to start a new group, they decided rock-and-roll had lost any outrage for them.
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