Chile's Gondwanda Preach Second Coming

Reggae en español band's sophomore album mixes peace and love with tales of the Pinochet era.

Reggae has become a truly global music during its 30-year history, spreading its roots message of peace and love from Jamaica to Britain, Africa and nearly everywhere else. Even the Latin countries, with their own strong musical traditions, have absorbed the beat, as Chile's Gondwana demonstrate on their sophomore album, Second Coming (RAS).

The album's reggae, Latin rhythms and rock guitar add up to a sound highly reminiscent of reggae's classic 1970s era.

"We don't calculate how we want to sound," said dreadlocked singer Quique Neira, frontman for the eight-piece band. "We just let it flow. We're very rockish, but we also use South American traditional rhythms, like the bolero."

Neira is the most recent member of the 13-year-old Gondwana, having joined four years ago, before they recorded their debut, Together. Based in Santiago, Chile's capital, the bandmembers hail from the nation's various regions. "We represent all the different peoples and parts of the place," Neira said.

Like nearly all roots reggae bands, Gondwana (not to be confused with the Australian band of the same name) preach the Rastafarian gospel of peace and love. But they've also lived through the political upheavals and trauma of their nation, including the often brutal regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, and thus speak out for the Latin American underclasses.

"We've been downtrodden for too long," Neira said, "and victimized by military governments. Our new album is about those times. We have to know our past in order to grow."

That past, including the Pinochet years, is recalled on songs such as "Libertad" (Freedom) (RealAudio excerpt), in which Neira writes of "blind politicians" and "military goons thirsting to kill."

Gondwana lead a Chilean reggae wave that didn't exist five years ago. Now, Neira said, "the knowledge and consciousness are growing. People are forming reggae bands and learning about Rasta."

Gondwana's popularity was demonstrated by the release of Second Coming (called Alabanza [Praise] in Chile). The album quickly reached the top of Chile's pop charts and its first single, "Antonia" (RealAudio excerpt), did the same.

"We tried to write some radio-friendly songs for a more serious album," Neira said. "But we want to bring joy. We're blessed."

The band also is part of the global Latin-music movement, which ranges from traditional sounds to rock en español and Latin pop. Neira is proud to play a part in its dissemination because, he said, "Latin people need to insert themselves into the world. The Latin people are one people, one part of humankind, and what the world needs is unity. If our music can help that, we're happy."