In a world full of stereotypes, Latinos listen to nothing other than tropical rhythms with heavy percussion. But, the reality is that heavy metal is one of the biggest genres of music across Latin America, with bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest selling out huge arenas whenever they tour in the region.

“It sounds like for many people that is noise, but it’s not. You have to be a very accomplished musician,” says Rodrigo Sanchez of the guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, who have been known to make virtuosic acoustic covers of metal songs.

Heavy metal began in the late 60s, early 70s in Great Britain, in part as a reaction to economic crisis that was gripping the country at the time. Many young people were unemployed and angry, and looking for a place to express themselves. They created a sound even more rebellious than plain old rock and roll.

That sound spread throughout Europe, to the United States, and to Latin America—a region where many had their own reasons to be angry at the world. Metal bands sprung up around Latin America in the late 70s and early 80s with their own sound and their own things to say.

“That music was like perfect for a third world pissed off kid. It was like the best,” says Max Cavalera, founding member of the legendary Brazilian metal band Sepultura, which became popular all over the world in the 1990s. “The poverty, the violence of the country. We took hold of that music. It became something that we could count on it to get through. It was like a weapon.”

On today’s “Breakdown,” we take a look at the extreme fandom for heavy metal across Latin America and discuss the story behind the ground-breaking band, Sepultura—who not only broke barriers for metal coming out of the region, but also changed the sound of metal music around the world.

Featured photo by AP Photo/Leo Correa.

This episode originally aired in December 2019. 

Latino USA is celebrating 30 years, 30 años, and we would love to hear from our listeners. Would you share with us your favorite Latino USA episode? Maybe it’s the one you remember the most, the one that kept you company during a road trip or the one you most shared with others. Or maybe you just have a birthday wish for us. Please leave us a voicemail at 646-571-1224 and we might feature your message in an upcoming show. Gracias.

Related posts:

One thought on “The Breakdown: Heavy Metal Edition

  1. Your story about the popularity of metal in Latino culture was really interesting.I wish you had talked with a music journalist who could explain the musical appeal of the music. As generous as the story was, I still felt a sense of condescension. I was a music journalist for 15 years and covered metal for the L.A. Times and various national magazines. I interviewed Max Cavalera (as well as many other metal and hard rock musicians). You miss the appeal of the actual musicianship of great metal bands. I grew up listening to jazz and classical (and playing piano) and could instantly connect with the chops that these rock musicians have. That’s what appeals to Bjork and Dave Grohl… and classically trained musicians like Rodrigo Y Gabriella and Apocalyptica, the classical string quartet who play sting arrangements of Metallica songs. Metal has always been antiestablishment, and the emotional connection unites people everywhere who feel disenfranchised. You made it seem surprising that huge numbers of metal fans are Latino, but I saw that first hand when I was there at Black Sabbath, Metalica, Megadeth, Korn, and, yes, Sepultura shows in Los Angeles and other cities. I guess it’s good that polite society (NPR) still looks askance at metal. That means it is still part of the underground and connecting with people who need a voice. Thanks for the partial props. Rock on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.