Interview: Mateo Mera

It is obvious that bandmates from Mateo Mera are ready to capture the NAF audience by storm. The band hails from Uruguay in South America, is known for its fresh take on music and won wide acclaim with their first album Sobre los puentes y las alturas.

“We have come to make a noise.” Before their first concert we talked about their love for football, mate and music. An early morning conversation with Mateo Mera, Gonzalo Dias, Rogelio Lago and Rodrigo Baeza, a band of joyful friends. They grew up with the traditional music of Uruguay as well as records of Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones. In a wave of American and British charts they come with their own sound.

CULTURESHOCK: Welcome to South Africa. It is your first time here. What do you except at the NAF?

Mateo Mera: We hope that people like our music, because we don’t hear anything similar to our style. We are a bit nervous. Our music is a mix of genres: typical music of Uruguay and other places and we do not know how it will be received here. But we have come to make a lot of noise (all laugh).

CS: You play the sitar, that is not a Uruguayan instrument?

Mateo: It is indeed an Indian instrument. I was in India last month. Music and culture is very tight there, like in every country. But in India it is very different from our culture. I learned many things, not only about the sitar, but also about life. It was great for me. Sometimes when I am sleeping I still dream  I am in India. I studied uner Ushtan Safartan, a great master of the sitar. It was a great opportunity for me to learn from such a huge sitar player and he was awesome. I learned to play the sitar from a famous musician in our country, and he travelles to India a lot. So I studied with his first master in India.

CS: But you not only play the sitar?

Mateo: We all play different instruments. I play guitar, sitar, sing and the bass case, that is a suitcase we built ourselves to kick it like a drum.

Rogelio Lago: Yes we rotate during the show

Rodrigo Baeza: I play sax and the guitar and scratch with my mouth wriggle wriggle (all laugh).

Gonzala Dias: I play the drums and guitar

Rogelio: I drum and rap and all of as sing. They will teach me how to sing.

CS: What do you know about the festival?

Mateo: That is awesome and really important in South Africa. It is an honour for us that they invited us. We are having a great time. We saw some great jazz artists playing and yesterday we saw Tigerlilly, two girls playing, and they were great. I think we will have a challenge here.

CS: A lot of the music in South Africa was born out of oppression. How is that in your country?

Mateo: There are also a lot of problems in our country: gender violence, the rights of minority groups (Jews, gays, …). We don’t like only to sing songs about “Girl I love you”. They are important when you feel it. But we want to share some of our experiences and our culture. Uruguay is a particular country. We are few, only 3 million people and we are always complaining about something, about ourselves. We love football, we think we are the greatest in the world.

Rogelio: We have four world cups!

Rodrigo: We have fifteen South American world cups!

Mateo Mera: On the one hand we are very liberal. Gay people can marry. Marihuana is legal. On the other hand we are really conservative. Especially concerning music. Conservative is that the right word? Old-fashioned? People are used to listen to the same music. Something different is a little shocking at first. People liked our music.

Rogelio: A lot of young people listen to shitty music. It is hard to get to them with our music.

Rodrigo: There is a lot of traditional, tropical music.

Mateo: Yes it is fun, but not really our style.

CS: Your music is quite unique then?

Mateo: In our show tonight there will be a sitar, a raga tune from India, then some funk and rock and rap. And than we grew quieter with ukulele and bass suitcase. A lot of moments in the show.

After the festival we will go back to Pretoria (they played with musicians at UNISA before) and play at a restaurant. Then we go back to Uruguay to finish our new record and send it to you!

CS: Can you tell us more about the new record?

Mateo: Tonight we will play a lot of songs. It has two sides. One is folk and the other more rock ‘n roll. All the instruments will be in there. They do not appear on the first record.

CS: There are some beautiful videos online?

Mateo: Did you the live ones? They were done during a concert at a famous theatre in Uruguay. It was a sold out show and because of that show we are here. The Embassy saw our video and the press release and saw that we were good.

Rodrigo: There is a lot of influence from North American music, but also traditional music. It is similar to African music. We have candombe, a rhythm that comes from Africa and that mixed with rock ‘n roll gives us superpower (all laugh).

Rodrigo: Tango is in the blood of Argentina

Mateo: Do South African people like rock ‘n roll? We only saw one rock band.

CS: Thanks a lot!

Photography: Ignacio Davies
Interview: Niels Vandereyken