The Latin American Beatles: The Famous Band You've Never Heard Of
The 1960s are known not just as a decade of great social and political change throughout the world, but as a period of enormous evolution and development in the realm of popular music. Performers like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Frankie Avalon, Roy Orbison, and hundreds of others gave birth to an explosion in music that eventually gave birth to the likes of the Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Bee Gees, Simon & Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5 (and later Michael Jackson himself), and many others that are too numerous to name, themselves influencing the hard rock and disco of the 1970s, and every other musical genre and fashion thereafter. Perhaps the most famous band that emerged (and died) in the 1960s is the British band, the Beatles. The four Liverpudlians that joined forces in 1962 came to dominate charts worldwide – from the United States to Britain to Germany and even Japan – with their early pop and later psychedelic rock, influencing (and continuing to influence) a whole host of bands that perform today. However, you have probably never heard of Laghonia, a rock band formed in Peru in 1965.
My friend introduced me to this band in April 2015 – he found them “by accident”. After reading what I could find on the Internet (all of it is basically in Spanish), I've gathered this: Laghonia formed in 1965 in the Peruvian capital of Lima, originally under the name “The Minstrels”. This name, with five members (Saul Cornejo on guitar & vocals, Alberto Miller on guitar, Eddy Zarauz on bass, Manuel Cornejo on drums, and Alex Abad on alternate percussion) lasted for a short while: before the end of the year the group had renamed itself to “The New Juggler Sound”. Inspired by the sounds of the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Kinks, and many other British bands – most importantly the Beatles – they led what many began calling the “hippie invasion of Peru”.
Miller was not a member for long; he left by June 1968 and was replaced by Zarauz' friend, Davey Levene, who brought influences of soul and blues to the band. The group still felt somewhat empty; they filled this emptiness with Carlos Salom on organ.
In late 1969, after recording their first album, the New Juggler Sound decided to rename itself to “Laghonia”. Around this time, the Beatles, the band’s greatest influence, seemed to be on the verge of breaking up, and a new era of popular music seemed to be on the horizon – and so, the band itself felt it had to change. Releasing its new album, Glue, that year (coincidentally the year that Santana released its debut Latin rock record to the West), Laghonia took the Latin American rock scene by storm. One single from this album, “Bahia”, perfectly exemplifies their early sound: obviously influenced by the psychedelic rock then prevalent in the West, along with its own local influences (hand drums and the like).
Riding on their immense popularity in Peru and other Western Latin American countries, they began to expand their sound, too. Drawing from the new progressive rock movement in the United Kingdom and United States, their songwriting became more complex than it ever had been before. When Zarauz left in 1970, Ernesto Samamé replaced him. In 1971, Laghonia released its second – and ultimately last – album, Etcétera. The album features, like Glue, a prominent organ, and advanced and insanely catchy vocal parts. The cover of the album itself is a collage of drawings and photographs collected by Cornejo. Shortly after the album was released, Levene left to live in the United States and Abad left to join another group. Feeling that it could not continue playing under the name of Laghonia, the group disbanded.
Though it may seem trivial or even nonexistent from our point of view, Laghonia had an enormous impact on rock music in Western Latin America. It introduced new musical genres to the public, combined them together, and made its own unique sound. What is perhaps the strangest thing about Laghonia’s career, from start to finish, is that the band did not perform a single song in Spanish; every one of its songs was written and performed in English, perhaps in an attempt to emulate their British heroes. Still, despite having only recorded and released 19 songs altogether, Laghonia continues to influence a huge number of performers in Peru and neighboring countries today, and they still sound great. Personally, my favorite song of theirs is “My Love”.
“My Love”, 1969.
The band’s most popular song, “Bahia”, may borrow the name of some province in Brazil, but what the group is really saying (in my opinion) is to get going in life: that Bahia is, in fact, unique to everyone – it is someone's soul, it is what gives people happiness. When you feel stressed, tired, or find yourself struggling, just remember the lyrics: “Move all your body, don't stay like a rock / Bahia is all that you need!”