April 11, 2003

MACUILXOCHITL: “Five Flower”, the Aztec god of music and dance

A Conversation with Chucho Merchán

By Francisco Ciriza

The following is the first in a series of writings based upon a personal interview with Chucho Merchán an accomplished Latino musician and wonderful human being. He is currently the bassist in Mexico’s rock outfit Jaguares.

Excitedly thumbing through a music magazine, Chucho Merchán suddenly stops and sets the magazine on the tabletop; a picture of an electric bass guitar fills the visible page. “John’s bass…” he says in a voice that winds down a trail of memories, crossing streams of tears…and again there comes a surprising halt. “I was the musical director for The Who’s 25th Anniversary Tour,” he continues, emotion spilling into his every word and glance. He begins to laugh, “Pete wouldn’t want to be anywhere near John’s amp. He’d say put John over there and put me way over there on the other side…” continues Merchán as a comforting smile eases across his face and his eyes rediscover their sparkle.

The Bogotá, Colombia native has played alongside a virtual who’s who of alternative music’s elite including Thomas Dolby, Pete Townsend, The Pretenders, The Eurythmics, David Gilmore are but a few of the artists he’s joined on stage and in the recording studio.

April 30, 2003- An unusually light layer of gray colors the air blanketing the anxious crowd of about 4,000 at Tijuana’s Municipal Auditorium; Proof concertgoers actually read and observed the banner hung, with duct-tape, at the venue’s entrance. The banner’s message asks audience members to be mindful of the performer’s health by refraining from smoking. Their adherence to this request is representative of the unusually high-level respect and dedication that exists between Mexican rock music fans’ and their beloved rockeros, Jaguares.

The Mexico City-based band takes the stage after bandleader, Saul Hernández, once voted the most popular man in the country (easily topping current president Vicente Fox), has lead the entire arena in a group-sung rendition of a classic tune from his storied and brilliant past. Hernández looks to his band mates and singles out the figure furthest to his left. The diminutive object of his attention springs to life as if collecting static electricity from each step taken on stage.

He smiles and refers to the band’s bassist as “an angel who has fallen into their lives from above,” then leads his legendary group through an amazing 120-minute set. Jagaures, a reincarnation of the pioneering Mexico City outfit, Caifanes, plays songs spanning its career ranging from 2002’s, El Primer Instinto [BMG Latin], to Caifanes’ earliest recordings from 1988.

Chucho Merchán, bassist and part-time angel, has made a career of properly falling into and out of situations with remarkable ease. He’s the man responsible, at least partially, for Jaguares’ newfound stability. His life as a musician began after having seen Jimi Hendrix for the first time. A fourteen-year-old Merchán found a dream to chase. “After that, I told myself I was going to be a musician. I wasn’t even sure exactly why… I think it was just something about Hendrix’s sound,” says Merchán in San Diego the day following the band’s Tijuana concert.

Between 1970 and 1972, playing what is referred to today as Latin rock, Merchán lead his own group playing his original compositions. Formal education came hand in hand with a trip abroad to California thus expanding his scope of experience as well as his mind. This preceded Merchán’s eventual flight from his drug and corruption riddled homeland. ”The situation in Colombia was really starting to get pretty bad with all the drugs and finally I decided I wanted to get out of there. I left for London, but not because I wanted to go to London necessarily, granted I did have my musical ambitions…it was more so a matter of my desire to leave Colombia,” he explains.

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