Multinational rockers lead Latin Grammy pack

Tuesday, September 2nd 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ The chorus of Bacilos' hit song ``Mi Primer Millon'' makes it clear: ``I only want to hit it on the radio, so I can have my first million.''

The multinational rockers could have their first Latin Grammy when the awards show is broadcast live Wednesday on CBS at 9 p.m. EDT.

``Mi Primer Millon'' is a story about Bacilos' success, highlighting the risks of dropping everything to chase fame without compromising art. It's become an inside joke in the Latin music industry _ because the song did indeed become Bacilos' first U.S. radio breakthrough.

``It's realistic and it's really honest,'' said Jorge Villamizar, who wrote the song with producer Sergio George. ``It's so honest, it's beyond being tacky or hip. More than the market, it has touched the industry.''

The Miami-based band is Colombian guitarist and lead singer Villamizar, 32, Brazilian bassist Andre Lopes, 26, and Puerto Rican percussionist Jose Javier ``JJ'' Freire, 31. They have three nominations, and Villamizar has three more on his own for his work as a songwriter. George, a native New Yorker who produced two songs on the album, leads all nominees with six.

``Mi Primer Millon'' is from the eclectic CD ``Caraluna,'' which won a mainstream Grammy in 2002 for best Latin pop album. Bacilos' debut eponymous album, released in 2001, netted two Latin Grammy nominations.

The name Bacilos literally means ``bacillus,'' or bacterium in English, though there's also a reference to a ``vacilon,'' or a big, wild party.

Despite their recent success, the trio hasn't reaped big money yet. Still, critics fawn over their acoustic fusion, an alternative to the homogenized, prepackaged sounds of Ricky Martin-inspired Latin pop.

``We're still alternative. We're not fully members of the top 10 club yet,'' Villamizar said.

While Bacilos has joined Juanes, Molotov, and acts from Surco records as part of a wave of alternative Latin rock, they began eight years ago as three young guys in a hard-sounding power trio. That's a far cry from their more mature, organic sound of today.

``The whiskey, the beer, and the electric guitar tends to bring out a more raw and punkish sound,'' Freire said.

But they soon adjusted to the venues they were playing _ restaurants and bars with little need for huge drum sets or loud amplifiers _ by going acoustic.

``People would tell us that when we played acoustically, we had this special energy,'' Freire said. ``Yeah, it's softer, it's different, but there's still intensity and it's still fresh. We revealed and projected our Latin roots more effectively.''

The band was forming a base that today fuses several musical styles _ rock, cumbia, ska, reggae, soca, bossa nova and others _ with layered sounds of the violin, cello and brass instruments.

Bacilos' musical diversity is born from the nuances of their cultures and the mixed salad of Latin American influences that permeate Miami.

``Each one of us brings their own roots,'' Lopes said. ``More than that, because we live in Miami, there's no way you can turn on a radio and not listen to maybe a Mexican ballad, Argentinian or Mexican rock, then there's a salsa or a merengue, then some pop. It's very hard not to be influenced by everything you listen to and hear.''

Examples of their multicultural influences and teamwork are all over ``Caraluna.'' There's the pop ballad ``Solo Un Segundo,'' (Just One Second), the flamenco and bossa nova influenced ``Barcelona,'' and the English-language, ska-inspired ``Elena.'' Villamizar penned that song for a Greek woman he knew while living in London who didn't speak English.

The album turned into a Grammy, which ``closed the phase of the unknown musician, the underdog trying to prove a point,'' said Villamizar, the only married Bacilos member.

``It made me feel at peace with the sacrifices I've made in my life,'' he said.

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