About 20 years ago, guitarist, producer and Black Pumas co-founder Adrian Quesada was driving in Austin when the 1975 balada classic “Esclavo y Amo” by Peruvian band Los Pasteles Verdes played on a local AM station. Quesada was mesmerized by the song’s dark, baroque melodrama.
Now, Quesada has penned a love letter to that golden era through Boleros Psicodélicos, a stunning album that lovingly recreates the specificity of the balada sound, adding a stellar list of guest vocalists, intriguing contemporary touches and just a hint of irony.
“I always wanted to pay tribute to that sound that I was already hearing in my head without realizing that people had already done it,” he explains. “I've been obsessed since I heard Pasteles Verdes, compiling anything I could collect, but since the beginning of the pandemic I really went through a rabbit hole, finding stuff that I had never heard before. The sound of bands like Los Pasteles Verdes and Los Ángeles Negros was somewhat limited to guitar with reverb and combo organ. Artists like Sandro and José José used a more baroque instrumentation that sounds like a telenovela. I devoured those albums and picked up elements like the harpsichords and the orchestral arrangements. There is so much drama in those songs, and I had to express that musically.”
The process of compiling the list of vocalists was entirely organic. “I had already recorded a version of ‘Esclavo y Amo’ with Natalia Clavier a long time ago,” he recalls. “I knew that I wanted to revisit it with her because when Natalia sings about something, you believe her. I also collaborated with Gaby Moreno and knew she would be into this concept after we discussed a love for La Lupe. I made a list of people, and gravitated to the ones who understood right away and could find the drama in the music.”
From the combination of vintage organ and achingly beautiful guitar of “El Paraguas,” with Gabriel Garzón-Montano, and the bravado in Gaby Moreno’s delivery on the La Lupe cover “Puedes Decir De Mí” to the vulnerable nostalgia of Tita (Moreno) and “El Muchacho De Los Ojos Tristes” – a cool version of the 1981 classic by Spanish chanteuse Jeanette - Boleros Psicodélicos pulsates with Quesada’s genuine affection for the genre. An original composition, opening track “Mentiras Con Cariño” boasts an elegant performance by Puerto Rico’s iLe, former vocalist with Calle 13 and a Grammy-winning champion of Latin revivalism.
“Working with iLe was great because she was very specific about what she wanted to do,” he says. “As soon as we began talking, she sent me a number of tracks that she found inspiring in their songwriting and instrumentation. She was the first one who turned me into [Argentine crooner] Sandro. iLe is a perfectionist. She took me out of my comfort zone and the album benefited by that.”
Quesada is still in awe of this glorious pan-American genre that changed the face of Latin music forever. “If something like that happened today, it would be normal because everyone’s connected on Instagram,” he says. “Think how powerful this sound had to be for everyone to be connected through the songs. As someone who grew up speaking two languages and living on both sides of the border, I love how much music can transcend barriers and boundaries. It really is a universal language, especially back then.”