How Ecuador's rock bands found their voice

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Ecuadorean band NinosauriosImage source, Romina Ycaza
Image caption,
Ninosaurios, one of Guayaquil's top bands, rock their fans

In the 1990s, Ecuador's biggest city, Guayaquil, was not exactly a party town.

It had no bars and no live music venues. Young people drank in the streets and played music in their homes or at secret locations.

Tapes recorded in garages were exchanged at improvised performances and musicians played for free.

But today, the city is home to dozens of bands playing original music and has a burgeoning rock music scene that, if not exactly mainstream, is no longer underground.

"I am proud of Guayaquil's bands," says Estefania Duran, a 23-year-old university student.

"They are original, and have good lyrics," she says. "I like going to their concerts."

For local musician and music producer Carlos Bohorquez, today's boom can be traced back to the lack of opportunities during the 1990s.

"When there are no resources, and there is creativity, unpredictable things can happen," he said.

Clean - and quiet

The lack of music venues stemmed from policies implemented by Leon Febres Cordero who became mayor in 1992.

When he came into power, Guayaquil had a reputation as a dirty, crime-ridden port with a bar on every corner.

Mr Febres Cordero, a controversial conservative politician, who was Ecuador's president between 1984 and 1988, started a campaign to make the city clean and safe.

Authorities closed most bars because they lacked licences. They imposed strict laws that made it impossible for new bars to open up.

All shows, including cinema screenings, had to be approved by local authorities to comply with what were deemed "ethical and moral" standards.

But in the early 2000s, a new administration in Guayaquil created a district where bars could be located and started handing out new licences.

Omar Sotomayor, 37, a singer and bass player, remembers the first time his band Ultratumba was paid to perform.

It was 2006, the band had already been around for 10 years, and it was about to launch its first album.

Media caption,

Music by Ecuadorean pop rock band Cadaver Exquisito

"Things are different now," says Mr Sotomayor.

"New bands record their music from the very beginning, and they have a chance to grow and learn faster."

New technologies and social networks have also made local music more widely available.

Boom time

Ermitano Records, an independent music label created by Carlos Bohorquez in 2011, has played a key role.

Bohorquez owns a recording studio and a small cafe where local artists can perform. He also plays with Mama soy Demente, a band with a large following on social networks.

"There has always been creativity here, but there was no (music) industry," he said.

"The recording studio is our blessing," says Victor Andrade, a singer and music writer, who plays with Ninosaurios, one of Guayaquil's top bands.

Ninosaurios, who have been around for more than 10 years, have decided to spend the next two years recording 80 original songs that form part of their repertoire.

Image caption,
Carlos Bohorquez believes Guayaquil bands have to be creative to survive

Other bands are doing the same and more than 10 CDs are about to be released.

"We are at a level of production and quality that other countries in Latin America reached in the 1990s," says Bohorquez.

This boom was highlighted in October by the release of Sin Otono, Sin Primavera (No Autumn, No Spring), a film with a soundtrack consisting exclusively of Guayaquil artists.

Director Ivan Mora, who is also a musician, says he wanted to capture the city's innovative music scene.

"There's a really interesting movement in Guayaquil. There are 20 great bands, that's never happened before," says Mora.

But local musicians still face big challenges.

Bohorquez funds his recording studio by doing other work.

"Bands don't have money to pay for the work they record here," he says.

"The new generation is not being taken into account. We need more support from the government."

In 2012 Ecuador's culture ministry funded a competition to help local musicians produce their CDs. A total of $130,000 (£80,000) was distributed among nine winners, including Ivan Mora with the soundtrack of Sin Otono, Sin Primavera.

"There is huge musical potential in this country," says Daniela Fuentes, under-secretary at the culture ministry.

The competition, known as Fondo Fonografico, aimed to provide support for post-production and distribution.

There is no company in Ecuador that can mass-produce CDs, so copies are usually done in Colombia, adding to the cost.

It is also a challenge for local bands to reach wider audiences. Currently less than 5% of music played on Ecuador's radio stations is home-produced, although the government is considering legislation to make stations devote about half their airtime to Ecuadorean performers.

And Guayaquil still has just a few bars and music venues, leading some bands to conclude that their future lies elsewhere.

Cadaver Exquisito, a pop rock band, are going to Mexico in April, after signing a contract with a producer there.

Image source, Fabiola Trujillo
Image caption,
Guayaquil's Cadaver Exquisito are going to try their luck in Mexico

"Our career is not going anywhere here in Ecuador," says Daniel Vinueza, 23, the band's lead singer.

It took the band $11,000 (£6,800) and four months to organise a farewell concert in December, but they only earned $2,000.

"Nobody is interested in knowing what young people are up to musically," says Vinueza.

But other musicians feel that it is precisely Guayaquil's challenges that give their music an extra dimension.

"Bands here don't make music for fame and fortune," says Mr Bohorquez.

"There are so many obstacles that those who keep at it do it because they love it, because they have a real passion.

"This is what makes true musicians."