A conversation with Omar Rodríguez-López is a thrilling experience, a whirlwind of non-stop ideas delivered rapidly in Caribbean Spanish that is surprisingly punctuated by ultra-Mexican expressions. Rodríguez-López, a Puerto Rican guitarist, composer and filmmaker who has spearheaded some of the most innovative projects in today’s rock scene, is describing the origins of Bosnian Rainbows, his newest musical adventure.
Rodríguez-López explains that his unusually Mexican vocabulary emerged in a childhood and youth that went from Puerto Rico to Puebla, Mexico to El Paso, Texas. Laughing, he describes how in Texas he tried to talk like a Mexican when friends made fun of his Puerto Rican accent, but then his family would make fun of him and say he was a “Mexican wannabe.” And then, says Rodríguez-López, he decided he would just speak the most perfect English possible, only to realize that was causing him to forget his Spanish. To this day, the city of El Paso symbolizes for him “an incredible metaphor for that kind of lifestyle”, he says, “an intermediate point where you aren’t really on one side or the other.”
Despite the fact that his projects are cutting-edge in every way, he affirms that his main influences are traditionally Latino: “… My family, my homeland, my roots. The music I grew up with – guajiras, guaguanco’s, boleros, with their minor keys and dark tones.” He also remembers being highly influenced by Latin movies and their soundtracks, and the way their music evoked emotions without any words at all.
Rodríguez-López brings to Chicago Bosnian Rainbows, a newly-formed band, whose music is characterized by richly dynamic grooves that rapidly veer from ethereal to fierce and visceral, as propelled by vocalist Teri Gender-Bender from the garage rock band Les Butcherettes. Bosnian Rainbows is rounded out by two other highly talented and multi-faceted artist musicians – drummer Deantoni Parks and keyboardist Nicci Kasper.
The band was formed in the wake of the dissolution of The Mars Volta, a band with which Rodriguez- Lopez had achieved resounding success and six studio recordings in the course of the last decade. Bosnian Rainbowns is a collaborative project, says Rodríguez-López, where the music is created by all four artists as a team, rather than having one leader: “We have all had our own groups. We are all composers, and we are all producers and we all know how to use the studio as an instrument. It’s like we are all in the kitchen, and we are a family, cooking up a meal together, we all want the same thing, that the process be incredible and the results reflect this process. We serve a cause way beyond our ego, and it’s also really fun!”
And the evocative name of Bosnian Rainbows? It was created by Rodríguez-López, but chosen by band members from a list they had brainstormed together. It purposefully evokes notions of hope, and overcoming adversity, and at the same time refers to exploring hidden truths, he says: “We have to go beyond our own knowledge, and learn about hidden stories, hidden loves … It’s like God. God can’t just be something given to you, it’s not about just believing what you have been told. You have to discover and create your own God”.
Bosnian Rainbows performs at the Bottom Lounge February 26.