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Sunday, January 25, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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The fight for Rock en Español: DJ Mexkalito pushes for local acceptance of a stigmatized genre
González: 'People who listen to rock are thought of as people who don't work or people who do drugs.'
Credit:Nick Ratha-Berard

It's pretty easy to find a salsa band or flamenco guitarist in Madison, but what about other types of Spanish music? Geovani González wants to make sure the answer is "yes." As DJ Mexkalito, he's been adding Spanish ska, reggae and alt-rock to local clubs and airwaves for a decade.

González came to love these genres while growing up in Mexico City. Now he brings them to local listeners on a Monday-night show on the Spanish-language Internet radio station La Sabrosa, a Wednesday-night WORT program called "Rock en Español," and the monthly Rock en Español event at Cardinal Bar.

On La Sabrosa, González plays music from all over Latin America and Spain. And at Cardinal Bar, he performs live, immersing Madisonians in Spanish alt-rock, a genre that gained definition in the early '90s with the arrival of MTV Latin America.

"Rock music has always been in my life," González says through an interpreter. "My family loves rock; I was raised around it."

He started his music career at a university radio station in Mexico City, where he assisted a friend's alt-rock show.

"I grew up mostly with alternative rock, but my favorites are ska and reggae. Part of the reason I started with the radio was to supplement that," he says.

González came to Madison 10 years ago, at age 20. At first it seemed "a lot slower" than busy Mexico City, he says with a laugh, but he also found it "very peaceful, with a lot of opportunities."

While Madison itself felt serene, bringing Spanish rock to Madison wasn't a very peaceful process. González says the biggest challenge comes from within the Latino community, where rock often carries negative connotations.

"People who listen to rock are thought of as people who don't work or people who do drugs, and even in Latin culture here [in the U.S.], there are those stereotypes," González explains. "I've actually seen more acceptance with the American people here who speak Spanish than with the Latino community."

This stigma has hindered his search for local performance venues.

"It's been harder within the places where you would normally see the Latino community, [which] have been more resistant to having rock shows," he says, explaining that the management often thinks extra security will be needed "because of the stigma." But Cardinal Bar, owned by Cuban American Ricardo Gonzalez, has been "very consistent and supportive."

Madison isn't the only place Spanish rock is gaining a foothold. It's slowly building a following throughout the Midwest, especially in Chicago and Milwaukee.

"In the last four or five years, you see more [Spanish rock] bands playing in Milwaukee, where they used to just play in Chicago or Beloit," González says. "Bands that are kind of underground in Mexico are able to come here; that didn't used to happen. In Chicago, it used to be maybe four shows a year that were really great. There are like 12 or 15 this year, and it's November."

And the fan base isn't the only thing that's growing. Spanish rock bands have started forming locally, too.

"Within the last few months, we've seen the first local Spanish rock band, called M.A.L.," González says.

González has helped groups such as Chicago ska band Malafacha and Beloit act Dragones by supporting them early through "Rock en Español." He says his ultimate goal is to share a scene and a culture, not just a musical style.

"We've been trying to bring the culture of Spanish rock to Madison that it's more than the stigma," he says. "WORT continues supporting [us]. This idea of bringing this culture to Madison and maybe challenging the way people think about that culture is very important to the show."

It's been a fight, he adds, but it's one he and fellow Spanish rock fans are willing to take on.

"People who have been on the show — myself included — tend to have been rebels back in their home countries," he says. "This idea that they're going to continue fighting for rock as a culture is another important value of the show."

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