To Enjoy

Los Amigos Invisibles just want everybody to have fun

The spirit of gozadera throbs through the highly infectious dance music of Venezuelan band Los Amigos Invisibles. In fact, the group named its second album The New Sound of Venezuelan Gozadera, and its independent label is now called Gozadera Records.

What is gozadera, anyway?

"It basically means a lot of enjoyment," said Los Amigos bass player José Rafael Torres last week.

"I know the way we put it on that album made people think that it is a genre of music--and, well, maybe it is," Torres said in excellent, though heavily accented, English.

"But, really gozadera--it comes from the verb gozar, which means 'to enjoy.'"

Gozadera in part describes the attitude of your typical Venezuelan, Torres said.

"Venezuelans have a sense of humor about everything. To live in our society is to be joyful and not get too deep about things. I think that is part of our core, and I think gozadera is a word that describes pretty well that personality of our people."

Torres was talking on the phone from his home in New York City, where he was enjoying a very brief break from touring.

"I can tell you that we are almost every year on the road almost every day. We don't have structure where we record an album and then (go) away on tour and promote it. ... We try to always be playing and then try and record albums around that."

The joy of Los Amigos Invisibles will come to Tucson for the first time when the six-piece band--the personnel of which has remained solid for more than 13 years--performs Friday, May 18, at the Rialto Theatre.

Los Amigos Invisibles is promoting its fifth and most recent album, Superpop Venezuela, on which the band plays Venezuelan hits from the 1960s, '70s and '80s in homage to the original artists.

These songs range from the cheesy "Miss Venezuela" to the carnival-style traditional tune "All Day Today"; from the breezy Europop of "No Es Facil Amar a Una Mujer" to the funky dance rock of "Yo Soy Asi"; from the kitschy novelty of "Caramelo y Chocolate" to the romantic salsa of "Amar es Algo Mas."

But LAI performs these South American classics in its inimitable style--a combination of R&B, disco, Latin, lounge, house, jazz, hip-hop and rock.

Torres said Superpop Venezuela is meant to be a tribute to the songs members of LAI grew up on.

"Actually, when we started playing in Venezuela, we always did our own songs, but even back in the mid-1990s, at every show, we started the show with a cover. Whether it was done in an ironic sense or in a respectful sense, we always had a cover at the beginning; it was like a trademark for us.

"It was easy then. What we did was to record songs that we already did in the past in our live shows. For us, it was like a logical move to make, you know, like conceptually."

It turns out that the inspiration behind Superpop Venezuela--to share the cool music of the past with contemporary audiences--also was the motivating factor in the formation of the band.

According to Torres, "In the 1980s, when Venezuela used to have a healthy economy, and we had a stable country, the music industry was very healthy. A top artist would sell like 500,000 copies of an album, which was huge. The Police, Queen, Journey, everybody was going to Venezuela because of all the music fans there.

"Suddenly, the country went into a huge crisis, and it all disappeared. The healthy economic times didn't exist anymore, and we remembered them with melancholy, or with sadness sometimes. Now the music industry was all about indie bands and dark, angry music, and we wanted to bring back the fun music of the past. We showed kids the music that was happening when times were good. We wanted to make people dance."

Early on, even before they knew how to play music well, the members of LAI were focused on goals, Torres said.

"I would say that since the very beginning, Los Amigos took very seriously the idea of being in a band. It wasn't like a band that the people in it have to kill their free time with, and then suddenly, they make it. Even though some of us didn't know how to do it, or what we were doing, we knew where we wanted to (go). We just didn't know the path we would take to get there."

After making several albums, when Los Amigos started making Superpop Venezuela, they knew they wanted a distinct sound. So they called upon DJ Dimitri From Paris to produce it.

A nonmusician producer and recording artist of Greek and Turkish origins, Dimitri has released several solo albums of modern lounge and disco music, and he has produced such artists as Brand New Heavies, New Order and Björk.

Dimitri brought a unique outlook to his work with LAI, Torres said.

"He's a very talented guy. Even though he doesn't play an instrument, he is capable of getting the ideas we told to him and transforming them into songs, or simply into basslines, keyboard parts or arrangements. He has a very good way of explaining what he hears in his mind. In that sense, he is an extremely talented guy, and perfect for this project."

In the late-1990s, Los Amigos Invisibles moved collectively to New York to broaden their cultural horizons and learn more about the music industry, Torres said.

"We've been able to see how the greatest people make music and work with musicians we never imagined."

For instance, relocating to the Big Apple has allowed Los Amigos to collaborate with artists as diverse as the production team Masters at Work, jazz vibraphonist Roy Ayers and soul goddess Chaka Khan.

"To us, being in New York was our university. It has made us a professional band."