Gepe—as the Chilean songwriter Daniel Riveros is known in the music world—is renowned in Latin American indie circles for how seamlessly he combines styles. On the records he has been putting out under this name since 2004, he has successfully fused his pop aesthetic with various Latin American genres, in particular those associated with the folklore of the South American Andes, such as Bolivian sayas and Peruvian huayños.
But maybe he has garnered more fame from his lively, eclectic live shows. On stage, he plays drums and guitars with the same unrelenting energy he displays while he dances around as he sings. He is accompanied by charangos, drum machines, and dancers who are sometimes clad in traditional indigenous clothes, sometimes in the more revealing outfits usually associated with a pop concert, but usually in something in between.
He has headlined the Viña del Mar Festival, the biggest festival in Chile, and has become a regular feature of the schedule in festivals in the region, such as the Vive Latino in Mexico, or Nrmal in San José, Costa Rica. Now he is embarking on a tour of the U.S., so I caught up with him before his first stop in New York City to talk about his sound and the place of the huge Chilean scene in Latin America.
PTM: Where does that mix of sounds in your music come from?
Gepe: I’m very interested in taking things from the music I listen to, from the places I connect with. I like a lot of Latin American music, and I also like American rap, English experimental music, and so on, everything is in the same pot for me. The Andean folk I use is not some sort of a “B-side” for me, I use it because I listen to it, because I like it. I don’t see it as a need to “rescue my roots,” for me it’s on the same level as everything else I listen to, there no “first” and “third” worlds in artistic terms.
PTM: So where do you find the music that you like?
Gepe: I think Peru is the country where I’ve found the biggest amount of stuff that I like. I like a lot of their folklore, such as Los Hijos de Lamas, and I like the Peruvian jungle music. I find these things in a very clumsy, gross way, I simply use YouTube and follow its recommendations, or I get recommendations from my friends.
PTM: Your latest album, Estilo libre (2015), seems to be very diverse, genre-wise. What music influenced its sound?
Gepe: This record was heavily influenced by my past, by my early childhood, by everything that I listened to then. [Dominican merenguero] Juan Luis Guerra was a big presence back then for me, and you can hear his influence in the song “Invierno”. You can also hear the influence of [Argentinian ska/jazz band] Los Fabulous Cadillacs, [Colombian pop-rocker and vallenatero] Carlos Vives, [Spanish 80s synthpop group] Locomía, and a lot of things that I listened to as a kid. There’s even a nod to Carlos Vives’ song “La tierra del olvido” in my song “Tkm”, as both have the lyric “tú tienes la llave de mi corazón…” [“you have the key to my heart”].
PTM: Why is your new album called “Estilo Libre” [“Free Style”]?
Gepe: I feel the album is just like that, it has a free style, it’s a mix of a lot of rhythms, it has rock, folk, some of [Chilean folk group] Los Jaivas in there. I also feel that my career has been like that: a blank page waiting to be filled, and in this record I was more conscious of that.
PTM: Your first single from Estilo libre was “Hambre,” a song featuring the Peruvian Wendy Sulca, who became infamous and then famous thanks to her odd YouTube videos. How did you end up working with her?
Gepe: I met her in Santiago a while ago and we hit it off really well. Later, as I was finishing “Hambre,” which was the last song I composed for the record, I sensed it was still lacking something. It was missing someone who could impersonate the Andean spirit, so I thought of her and we ended up doing it, and it turned out great.
PTM: You are part of a generation of Chilean musicians who have done particularly well outside of Chile. Why do you think Chile has seen a surge of popular acts that do well in the country and in the rest of Latin America?
Gepe: We are a small country. We are 18 million people, but there are a lot of musicians per square meter. One in 10 people is a musician, and I think a lot of bands have come to be lately because there’s a lot of space for everything. There are big scenes all over the country; Santiago is huge for rap, as is Concepción for metal. Besides, there is not a defined “Chilean” sound, though there is definitely a sensibility and thus many possibilities to explore. There are few overarching referents in Chilean music—maybe [folk singers] Violeta Parra and Víctor Jara—but those few we have in common were people who approached their music devoid of prejudice. We learnt from them that the only thing you have to do in order to succeed is to push through, to keep going because there is nothing to lose.
PTM: Ok, finally, why the name Gepe?
Gepe: It was all very unconscious. About 12 years ago, when I was doing different kinds of songs, I wanted to create a fantasy, something with an undefined number and gender. I wanted to create a space in which my artistic life was separated from my personal life. So, I was looking for stuff in the air, whatever that fell my way, and I happened to find a box of slides with the inscription “G.P.” [which in Spanish is pronounced “HEH-Peh,” like is Gepe] and that was that.
Pablo Medina Uribe is a multimedia writer covering a wide variety of topics from Music, to politics. For more information on Pablo visit his site here.