In the 1960s, Colombia produced quite a few teen-oriented tropical pop bands that were equally influenced by Elvis, the twist, and the British Invasion as they were by the music of their own coastal regions and the Latin Antilles. These groups appeared before and around the same time as the requisite “ye-ye” and “go-go” groups like Los Yetis and Los Flippers that played only rock. Both types of groups were staffed primarily by white and light-skinned mestizo youth, and always sported at least one electric guitar and keyboard in their line-ups. The first and arguably the most successful of the primarily tropical-inspired artists were Los Teen Agers, but others were also quite popular and long-lasting, like Los Hispanos, Los Black Stars, Los Graduados, Los Éxitos, Los Bobby Soxers, Los Falcons, and Los Golden Boys, most of whom recorded for Discos Fuentes at some point in their career, selling many records in the interior and abroad. Though they played their share of cumbias, porros, and mapalés, these bands mostly hailed from the land-locked Andean north, having been founded in the industrialized cities of Medellín and Bogotá, many coming from the ranks of the privileged university-educated bourgeoisie. Their recordings were seen by many costeño purists as being watered-down commercial versions of the real Afro-Colombian thing, ripped-off by poseur ‘paisa’ (antioqueño) middle-class boys and their scheming producers who only wanted to maximize profit, initiating a type of bubblegum-flavored “modernizing” process that simplified the originals into repetitive pop hits easily digested by high-school kids and screaming college girls from the big, cold cities of the interior, far from the steamy Caribbean and Atlantic coasts. It was often dismissively referred to in La Costa as “música gallega” (white music), “raspa” (scrape) or “chucu-chucu” for its simplified, regular rhythm and ‘whitened’ sound, and consequently was not too popular there. While it is arguable that there is some truth to these accusations, the reality was far more subtle and complex as Colombians from all classes and regions liked both Costeño/Afro-Cuban music on the one hand and pop-raspa on the other; and conjuntos like Los Teen Agers did more to innovate/update instrumental approaches to tropical music in Colombia in the late 50s and early 60s than any costeño artist did (aside from Alfredo Gutiérrez). It was really more of a case of groups like Los Teen Agers being associated with a certain region, class and age group in the popular consciousness, but it must also be admitted that these teen-oriented conjuntos could make some amazingly gritty, tough-sounding and hot tropical music nonetheless. When they blended indigenous roots with garage-rock and surf, a unique, modernized sound resulted, a happy experiment that only grows better with age, making these distinctions of authenticity and agency less important to today’s listener. Issues of authenticity are further complicated by the fact that some members of these bands like Rodolfo Aicardi (Galeras, Sucre, 1946 – Medellín, 2007) and Gabriel Romero (Sabanagrande, Atlántico, 1943) were in fact originally from the coastal regions and brought authentic flavors to the proceedings. Interestingly enough, this strain of Colombian middle-class pop music even came to be seen by foreigners as being representative of the country by the 1980s, due to its intensive exportation to places like France and Mexico, so the point could be made that Los Teen Agers and the others they spawned did more to popularize Colombian tropical music in the following decades than any folkloric recording ever did; that would of course change with the rise in popularity of the more “authentic” vallenato in the 1980s. But again, if it weren’t for that particular genre being adopted and updated by soap-opera heartthrob Carlos Vives, it would not have become the international sensation it became in the 1990s.
Los Teen Agers were founded in Medellín in 1957 by Aníbal Ángel (aka Anán), who hailed from the Antioquía region but was as equally interested in cumbia as he was in classical composition and rock. They were arguably the first, before the rock groups, to introduce electric keyboard and guitar to Colombian music. The “unruly teenagers” (most were only 17 or 18 years of age) recorded for Zeida (a division of Codiscos), with César Giraldo as their original vocalist, performing as many beat, twist and “a go-go” tunes as they did Latin numbers. One minute they might cover Elvis, the next a song in Hebrew or Italian. They were kept so busy by Zeida, churning out several records a year, that at first they had no idea how popular they were becoming, but that would soon change when they got a taste of their own Beatlemania type of treatment from crazed, screaming fans during early TV appearances. A few years later they got a makeover courtesy of Antonio Fuentes, recording their debut full-length for him called “Nuevos ritmos” in 1961. Fuentes was sincerely interested in reigning in their juvenile rock antics and updating their sound, while also making it more rhythmically complex, closer to the authenticity of his beloved Caribbean genres. Fuentes achieved some interesting results, not the least of which was the science-fiction-inspired novelty cumbia, ‘La gaita marciana’ (The Martian Bagpipe), a wacky gem he wrote expressly for the band. At the time they signed with Fuentes, the bandleader was drummer Luis Fernando Jaramillo and the as yet unknown Gustavo “El Loko” Quintero had just joined as a percussionist, later moving to the bass, and finally becoming lead vocalist. In his role as front man for the group he went on to become one of the most popular figures in the genre. Although Quintero was quite the showman, with a reputation for living a bohemian lifestyle and clowning excessively on stage (hence being called “loco - crazy”), he did have a serious appreciation for costeño music due to frequent visits as a child to his family’s plantation on the coast, so his firsthand knowledge was an important contribution to the band. The impulsive singer became increasingly identified as the main heartthrob within the group, and yet, seemingly at the height of his popularity, he left in 1964 to “retire” and become a businessman after getting married. Quintero and his wife moved to Cali, where soon the music bug bit him again. This time he tried his hand at singing sugary ballads with Los Gatos before joining Los Hispanos in 1967, with whom he recorded five hit albums. Two years later, while on a trip to Mexico to participate in the first Festival de la Canción Latina at the behest of Codiscos, Quintero co-founded Los Graduados, where he would reign supreme among the raspa-pop bands for decades, going on to even greater heights of fame and influencing many Colombian pop artists of today.
Los Teen Ager’s distinctive sound when they signed with Fuentes was owed mainly to Anán’s replacement, Francisco “Pacho” Zapata, who joined the band in 1960. In addition to being the band’s arranger and pianist, Pacho also played the Hammond Solovox electric organ. Juan José Velez added some wild effects on electric guitar, with Hernán Vélez on sax, and, from Barranquilla, Enrique Aguilar on bass. By the time they cut “Nuevo ambiente!” in 1967 they were no longer doing rock songs at all, their abilities maturing and their sound diversifying by leaps and bounds so they were able to include two hot descargas, a guaracha, a pachanga, a pompo and a merengue. They achieved this in part by touring ceaselessly and by expanding to an eight-piece mini-orchestra adding another sax, a trombone, and percussion to the lineup and featuring an alternating batch of vocalists that had been chosen to replace Quintero, including Vicente Villa, Edwin Betancur, Julio Erazo and Tony Zúñiga (the latter two were also with Los Corraleros de Majagual). By 1968, with 18 LPs under their belt, Los Teen Agers were certainly no longer teenagers; several members had left and been replaced, and then, while on tour in Buenos Aires, Argentina, they received an official message from the Argentine government (under the military dictatorship of General Onganía) requiring them to change their band name because it was illegal for any musical artists to perform under a moniker in a foreign language (“teenager” being an imported concept as well as word) – thus putting an end to the brand. Newly renamed Los Ocho de Colombia by the stage manager of the venue where they were performing, they returned to Colombia in triumph and the new name stuck with them. Los Ocho de Colombia went on to perform to large adoring crowds at La Feria de Cali that same year, headlining again two years later in 1970, appearing opposite their old vocalist Quintero and Los Graduados. At that time, there was a rivalry between different camps that supported raspa on the one hand, and salsa on the other; many times popular raspa bands like Los Ocho or Los Graduados would be pitted against foreign stars like Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, who would ridicule Gustavo Quintero’s ridiculous stage antics and call their style of music weak and ineffectual. However, Los Ocho were able to stay popular, even after salsa became more accepted and mainstream in the late 70s. More than 50 years later, the band still continues, though under a new leader, Luis Eduardo Peñuela, and of course their sound has evolved over the years to keep up with the latest trends, including the addition of the once rival salsa genre to their repertoire.