Latin American Reggae-Rock: Juanchi Baleiron and Los Pericos

I first met Juanchi back in the mid 80’s when I was living in Buenos Aires. I was a rebel “punk / new romantic” teenager, the black sheep. All my girlfriends at catholic high school looked the same: blonde, straight long hair, cool bright colored skinny jeans with ankle zippers, and rugby players for boyfriends. Me on the other hand, would dress in black, had spiky bleached blonde hair a la Billy Idol, and had musicians, rockers and artists for friends. I was only interested in one thing: music. My mother kind of believed in me even though the conservative Argentine society was scolding her for being so liberal. But she must have seen something in me because she finally got me an electric guitar teacher: Juanchi.

Juanchi was extremely talented. He could play anything on his guitar: he could switch from blues, to a rock n roll riff, and to reggae. He was also very humble. Everyone else in our group of friends had big personalities and aspirations. Juanchi on the other hand, was always in a good mood, always smiling, and always super talented. In the end, he was the only one who made it as a rock star in Latin America with his reggae band “Los Pericos”.

In 1986 a group of friends who used to get together to play music, became Los Pericos, the first Latin American reggae-rock band in Argentina. Their records sold quickly and caused a surge in popularity across Latin American countries. Their fresh approach to music also catapulted them into international stardom. The man and the voice behind the band that swept Latin America is Juanchi Baleiron.

He was already an extremely talented guitar player when I first met him in the eighties. During my rebel punk days in Argentina, I was only interested in one thing: music. So my mother arranged for me to take electric guitar lessons with Juanchi, who could skillfully play blues to rock ‘n roll riff. What a sight to see him rise to rockstar status with Los Pericos.

Juanchi and his band recently toured the U.S., stopping in San Francisco, Miami, New York and Chicago among other cities. We haven’t seen each other for over 20 years, but I had the unique chance of talking to him about his amazing career.

If you and your loved one are looking for reggae with Latin influences, purchase the latest Los Pericos album on iTunes here.

Juanchi, what are your best memories of growing up in Argentina?

I have great memories of my adolescence. Surrounded by friends, music, vinyls and playing my first Argentine rock songs in a nylon acoustic guitar. I grew up listening to hard rock and the virtuoso guitar players of those times, such as Eddie Van Halen. Then I started my first band with my good childhood friend Topo. He and I have been playing together for the last 30 years.

When did you guys decide that you wanted to play reggae? 

Reggae found us, chose us. The guy who started the band, Ale Pericos Zarate, wanted to incorporate reggae in a fun, cool way. We never intended to imitate the Jamaicans, but to adapt their music and play it in our own Latin American way. In our first album, we used the rasta theme as a tribute to those Jamaican musicians who inspired us. A lot of the music we listened to in the 80’s also influenced our band: British pop, punk, post punk, and classic rock from the 60’s and 70’s. Reggae was a vehicle that took us to more than one destination.

How did you take you band from humble beginnings to the success story it is now in Latin America?

I think the reason for our success was exactly what we were just talking about: Being restless and embracing many different influences and diversity in music helped us to flow. We did not rest on the easy, comfortable method of making music that just works. We have our own identity, our own sound, but what matters the most are the songs themselves… that may resonate with someone from Canada as well as with someone from Tierra del Fuego. If you only worry about having great sound style but not about reaching your public with songs, you will not get very far.

What is your message to the new generation of bands popping up in Latin America?

Work hard, rehearse, compose, find and choose new paths. Record, be objective with yourself, connect to what’s happening in your city, country and region. Always be in motion is what will make you stand out from the rest. Then your songs will reach whoever they reach. Do not think only about making it. That will come later, on its own. It should never be your immediate or ultimate goal.

Do you think Latin American rock is now stronger and more diverse than rock in the US?

After the 90s, it is obvious that Latin America planted its flag with its new and unique style of rock ‘n roll in the world. It needs to continue to evolve, by mixing different styles and genres which form its essence. It also carries a very strong message about the current political and social

How did you get Anthony Bourdain to host his show No Reservations – Argentina from your home? What is your impression of him?

A good friend of mine was in contact with Anthony’s producer. And when they had to choose a band to co-host their show, they did not hesitate to call us! I am also a big fan, I have read all of his books. When we were touring in New York City, we had dinner at Les Halles a couple of times.When the producer called us and told us we were going to co-host No Reservations, we were ecstatic. He is such a great guy.

I agree 100% with his life philosophy and his approach to world cuisine. He is definitely a rocker who lacks a guitar and a microphone, but who carries two very sharp knives.

photo credit: Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires via photopin cc

Consuelo Lyonnet

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