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Contracorriente: From Dive Bars to Rock Stars

By Edited Feb 14, 2016 1 1

Contracorriente

The Beginning

Contracorriente started off as just another punk rock band in 1995 Lima, Peru. The founding members were Enrique de Vinatea (drums) and Alex Signori (vocals). They recruited Kale Biggerson (guitar) and Neto Bohorquez (bassist) to round out the group. With the enthusiasm common to teenagers who are fresh out of high school, they set out to conquer the world with their music. Well, we all know things rarely ever go as smoothly as we hope.

Contracorriente
Credit: Joao Guerreiro

Current (left to right): Jesus Parra, Ricardo Mendez, Ahmed Alcantara, "Gringo" Dias, Enrique de Vinatea

Off to a Rough Start

The punk band did write and compose their own songs, so they were able to successfully land gigs at the usual dive bars and a variety of other small venues where many bands get their start. They became regulars in the underground movement occurring in Peru’s music scene.

Citing personal reasons, Biggerson left the group in 1997. Lucho Gutarra, a guitarist from Spain, was recruited to fill the empty spot. A few months into 1998, things just weren’t going well and the band decided to break up. Despite the break up, Contracorriente remained alive in the hearts of de Vinatea and Signori so they recruited new members in the beginning of 1999. Juan Manuel “Gringo” Dias, a transplant from New York, filled the role of bassist. Arriving on his heels was guitarist Marco Salazar.

The new lineup participated in live shows and went right to work on an album.  They released their self-titled debut album, Contracorriente, by 2001. The album was relatively well received in local markets. Towards the end of 2001, Alex Signori announced he was leaving for personal reasons. Armando “Mandy” Valez replaced Signori on vocals. Tensions between Velez and Salazar led to guitarist Salazar’s departure. Gary “Murray” Mendoza filled the vacated position.

The punk rockers went back to work writing new material and performing at various events. The venues were of better quality and the crowds were larger. A national radio station began playing their music and they developed an ever-growing, solid fan base. There was even a group of fans who followed them from show to show. These fans were called "Mutantes".

In 2003, Peru’s National Institute of Culture recognized Contracorriente for their contribution to the Peruvian music scene and they released Contra Todo -- a live album. Mendoza left the group in 2003. His departure proved to be yet another pivotal point for the group. Jesus Parra, a guitar teacher, temporarily joined the band. Due to fan response, Parra became a permanent member. 2003 also brought the addition of a second guitarist, Ricardo Mendez.

Early Years
Credit: Ana Maria Echeverria

From left to right: Ricardo Mendez, "Mandy" Velez, Juan "Gringo" Dias, Enrique de Vinatea, Jesus Parra

Climbing Uphill

Another album, Honor Y Rebeldia was released in 2004. The musicians participated in most music festivals held in the country and by 2005 released their second live album, Conectado. During 2005, Contracorriente celebrated its 10-year anniversary with the release of the DVD documentary 1995 - 2005.  Footage includes televised appearances, concert footage, promotional videos and interviews. They shared a stage with groups such as: A.N.I.M.A.L., D.R.I., Rata Blanca, Sepultura, The Exploited, 2 Minutos, Agnostic Front and Iron Maiden, among many others. When they weren’t performing, they individually pursued side interests -- most involved other music projects.

"Fatal"

Temporary Change

2010 brought the brief departure of Enrique de Vinatea while he pursued another project in Canada. This was not the first time he had been involved in other ventures, he also spent some time as the drummer for Paul Di’Anno;  you may recall Di’Anno as Iron Maiden’s original vocalist. He also stepped back in as the drummer when Contracorriente opened for Iron Maiden’s 2011 show in Peru.

During de Vinatea’s absence, Nachi Benza took over as the drummer.  The musicians continued to perform throughout the country but the band stagnated. During this time, the band took on a soundman who goes by the name “Mapache”. For all intents and purposes, Mapache is the sixth member of the band due to his dedication, loyalty and skill. Mapache is pictured here with (left to right): Ahmed Alcantara, Jesus Parra, Paula Abdul, Ricardo Mendez and Enrique de Vinatea. 

Contracorriente in Russia
Now, we’re at the point in their story where things really start to get good. Before de Vinatea’s temporary departure, work had begun on a new album. The project was never abandoned, but it did take eight years to release the album due to a series of events and a major lineup change.

"Contra el Tiempo"

Contra El Tiempo

The new album was to be named Contra el Tiempo. De Vinatea wrote the vast majority of the material with significant contributions from Dias. The album, produced by de Vinatea and Mendez, did make it to the pre-production stage with little interference. However, as mentioned, a big change was on the way. “Mandy” Velez, the vocalist, left the band in 2011. This meant the vocals would have to be re-recorded with a new vocalist.

The change was desperately needed, Velez had a great stage presence but did not have the vocal range, professionalism or maturity required of a frontman for a successful band. Contracorriente had evolved and matured over the years. They were no longer strictly a young punk band. Their sound had broadened to include touches of hard core, heavy metal and melodic hard rock. They were incredibly talented, professional and polished musicians who needed a vocalist with the same qualities.

 

Alcantara


Velez was replaced by Ahmed Alcantara. Alcantara had the vocal range, charisma, maturity and professionalism the band needed in a vocalist. After his addition in 2011, the musicians revisited their new material. Some minor adjustments were made so the music and vocals fit perfectly together and included Alcantara’s input. At that point, the album was quickly finished but not released.

The group chose to do some live shows despite negative reactions from fans who insisted Velez should be the vocalist. But, Alcantara won the majority of them over. Sure, there are some “hangers-on” that won’t accept reality, but not even they can’t deny that the band is enjoying far, far more success these days. Along with live shows, they released a video of one of their new songs -- “Aniquilar”. This proved to be yet another wise choice, the video won Peru’s Video of the Year in 2012. They didn’t want to release the album online, so they stuck it out until Icarus Music, an Argentinian label, signed the band. When it was released, Contra el Tiempo exceeded expectations and thrilled fans.

 

"Aniquilar"

Peru's Video of the Year 2013

White Nights of St. Petersburg

Russia

2013 has been a very good year for Contracorriente. Icarus released Contra el Tiempo. Dean Guitars endorsed Jesus Parra as one of their International Representatives and the band was invited to play at the White Nights Of St. Petersburg International Music Festival from June 13 through the 15th, in St. Petersburg Russia.

Oh, you didn’t think these underdogs would get an easy happy ending, did you? Nope, not these guys. How would this be a good underdog story if it were easy?

During a layover in Germany, one of Dias’ bags was stolen. It just happened to be the one containing his identification, passport, money -- you know, all the things he needed to travel. He’s not Edward Snowden, no one let him hang around untouched. He was detained, returned to South America and detained again due to an unscheduled landing in Rio de Janiero before finally being sent back to Peru. To add insult to injury, Jesus Parra’s luggage didn’t arrive in Russia until the day they were leaving Russia. He had no clothes and none of his guitar pedals. None of that stopped them, they went on to win first place by a landslide.

"Aniquilar" Live in Russia

Triumphant Return to Peru

This band would do well anywhere in the world. Even though they sing in Spanish, the music pulls you right in. But, considering Spanish is the first language for 406 million people, second language for 60 million people and approximately 20 million people are in the process of learning the language at any point in time[2], I think it’s safe to say they will find plenty of fans throughout the world.

Once they all arrived back in Peru they were inundated with interview requests from radio stations, newspapers, magazines and television shows. Despite all of that, they also made several live appearances at music festivals and took the time to answer questions from people like me, they also made sure to get me permissions to use images. They truly love to perform and interact with fans. That’s evident in the energy in their live performances and their genuine happiness when they get to interact with fans. I just wonder if Contracorriente understand that they really have gone from playing the dive bars to being rock stars?

Cover of "My Generation" by The Who

Performed in English in Russia

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Comments

Aug 3, 2013 11:55pm
Imprimatur
Wonderful article and introduction to "Contracorriente".
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Bibliography

  1. "News." White Nights Festival. 28/07/2013 <Web >
  2. "Spanish Language." Wikipedia. 28/07/2013 <Web >
  3. "Contracorriente Tube." YouTube. 28/07/2013 <Web >
  4. "Fan Page." Contracorriente's Facebook Page. 28/07/2013 <Web >

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