Maybe you've never heard of Jaguares. When the band drew more than 3,000 people to a July in-store appearance in Los Angeles, though, it was clear that the Mexican rockers' appeal goes far outside their country's borders.
In fact, Cuando la Sangre Galopa, the band's third album, debuted at #1 on both the Billboard Latin albums chart and on the magazine's Heatseekers chart, which lists best-selling artists who've never hit the top 100. That's a first for a Latin act.
The group's straight-up rock sound doesn't necessarily peg it as a Latin band, but drummer Alfonso André who formed the group with singer Saúl Hernández in 1995 after their old group, Mexico City rockers Los Caifanes, broke up said they don't want to be pigeonholed.
"We are what we are. We are Mexican, and that's a large part of our identity and our music," André said. "But we don't want to be limited to any one thing."
With little radio play in either Mexico or the U.S., Jaguares still managed to sell 350,000 copies of their last album, 1999's double-disc Bajo el Azul e Tu Misterio, in the States. Between their two bands, André and Hernández have sold more than 5 million albums worldwide, according to their publicist.
André attributes their success to their unique relationship with their fans.
"When we play, it's like we and the fans are one," André said. "We don't see any separation between us, and they can feel that."
Cuando la Sangre Galopa takes a harder, more aggressive approach than their previous work, creating a sound that can best be described as Megadeth meets U2. Guitarist César "Vampiro" López's metallic riffs and solos lay down the foundation for a lush, anthemic sound that complements Hernández's poetic lyrics.
André said Jaguares' decision not to include English translations of lyrics with the album is a direct result of their own experience listening to American and British rock and roll when they were growing up.
"We didn't understand the lyrics, and so had to come up with our own meanings when we listened to the Beatles or Rolling Stones," he said. "We hope that English-speaking listeners can have the same experience when they hear our songs."
Indeed, you don't have to speak Spanish to feel the aching in Hernández's voice on "Como Tu" or to know that something heavy's going on in "Viaje Astral," a song about the human spirit's ability to rise above repression that features a particularly stinging solo from López.
"Saúl writes in a lot of metaphors, so even a Spanish-speaking fan will come up with their own interpretations," André said, acknowledging that even if the band's songs don't address specific political issues, the struggle for justice and human rights underlies much of what they sing about.
In March, Jaguares teamed with Mexican pop act Maná for a Mexico City concert to increase the awareness of the Zapatista movement in the country. "That concert was special, because it demonstrated unity," André said. "Our bands are very different, and to show that we could come together was important."
Jaguares regularly sell out arenas and amphitheaters north of the border, and are planning a full U.S. tour to kick off in October.