To understand why Bosnian Rainbows' music stands out, you have to go back to 2007 in Guadalajara, Mexico. A singer named Teresa Suarez has taken the stage name Teri Gender Bender — adopted as a feminist statement while at the head of a band called Le Butcherettes.
With a snarl that could send Billy Idol off whimpering into a corner, she's a mesmerizing and at times terrifying performer. Her style is part Iggy Pop and part Mick Jagger, with a Mexican punk soul. "Frightening and glorious" is how one audience member described her to me. There is no woman quite like her in Latin music, but she says that early on, that seemed to work against her.
During one particularly rough gig in Guadalajara, the power went out, but the band played on. It was a good thing it did, because somewhere in the audience was a Grammy-winning producer and musician named Omar Rodriguez Lopez. He was mesmerized: She was exactly what he was looking for in a collaborator for his new project.
Lopez himself has a cult following, as leader of The Mars Volta and At the Drive In, two bands that redefined progressive rock in the past decade. The Puerto Rican musician is considered by many to be a mercurial genius — immensely talented, but also immensely difficult to work with.
"It was hard for me to work with others, I was so neurotic," he says. "And at some point, I decided to get over that neurosis, and at some point I decided I wanted to get over that neurosis. And you have to take your own steps, because no one can hand it to you."
Lopez was looking to turn a page by working with strong musicians who would keep him in check and challenge him. The band Bosnian Rainbows was born, featuring Teri Gender Bender, Deantoni Parks on drums and Nicci Kasper on keys.
The band's self-titled debut album, out this week, is hopeful and cheerful, with hints of melancholy. The song "Turtlenecks" is a lament for a distant lover, but with a surprisingly upbeat melody.
It sounds as if a burden has been lifted from Lopez, who in the past has struggled with addiction. He says that even Bosnian Rainbows' name is about finding hope in a bleak situation. Teri Gender Bender's voice sounds more powerful than ever, with "Torn Maps" bringing to mind David Bowie's anthemic vocals.
The band is currently touring the West Coast and working on its next album, which will be recorded in Spanish. The partnership continues, with Lopez making music free of his demons and Teri Gender Bender carving out a new role in Latin rock.
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