Señor Coconut Heats Up Chilly Kraftwerk Classics

Arranger's El Baile Alemán fuses German group's mechanical music with steamy Latin grooves.

German machine-music pioneers Kraftwerk go cha-cha-cha?

It's not as unlikely a combination as it might sound, especially to Chilean arranger Uwe Schmidt, performing under the name Señor Coconut. Schmidt has just released El Baile Alemán (The German Dance) on the Emperor Norton label. The album is nothing less than a set of Kraftwerk tunes gone Latin, performed as cumbias, merengues and, of course, cha-cha-chas.

"It's not just a covers album," explained Schmidt, who's also known as Atom Heart. "It also unveils quite a lot about the original compositions and their significance, along with causing a huge question mark to pop up in your mind."

As Atom Heart and Lassigue Bendthaus (yet another handle), Schmidt recorded in Germany with such luminaries as dub producer/bassist Bill Laswell and composer Pete Namlook. He also began the Rather Interesting label "out of the desire to release music outside of the established dancefloor market."

Bored with the European dance scene, Schmidt moved to Chile to explore the possibilities of Latin music, which, he said, was "an undiscovered planet to me." Under the Señor Coconut banner, he released El Gran Baile (an album of electronic Latin music) and a remixed single for former Deee-Lite turntablist Towa Tei before serving up this steaming hot version of chilly Teutonic music.

Programmed With A Latin Heart

Although the disc is credited to Señor Coconut y Su Conjunto, it's entirely the work of Schmidt on keyboards and samplers, assisted by three vocalists. "Since the entire album is programmed and not played by real musicians," he said, "it contains the simulation aspect and questions authenticity."

To get to the music's heart, however, he tried to imagine how a real Latin band would do them. The light and lively Latin styles he worked with create a wonderfully absurd juxtaposition with what Schmidt called "the Kraftwerkian coolness." But while the remake might be as machine-made as the original, tunes such as "Trans Europe Express" (RealAudio excerpt) swing as they never did before.

"The fusion of Kraftwerk and Latin music sounded completely ridiculous when I was mentally composing the titles," Schmidt admitted. Kraftwerk composers Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider wanted their music to sound cold and detached, the opposite of steamy Latin dance grooves. But, Schmidt said, Kraftwerk songs "contain a strong musical content even if freed from their electronic arrangements. And I don't think the band is as serious as people think they are."

Laughs And More

Schmidt pushed the humor quotient into the red on "Autobahn" (RealAudio excerpt), for example, by transforming the original purring engine and icy synthesizers into a car that won't start and bouncy accordions.

Beyond the yucks, Schmidt said he hopes the record raises some deeper issues, "such as the First World/Third World topic." Schmidt intended its German and Latin mixture to create something "musically pleasant that works on a pure entertainment level but contains profound content at the same time."

Yet while reinterpreting "Homecomputer" (RealAudio excerpt) as a merengue may raise a smile, it doesn't necessarily kick the brain into high gear.

Schmidt is looking ahead to something different, but with his tongue still embedded firmly in his cheek. "Next," he announced, "will be a pornographic hip-hop album recorded with a Chilean rapper."