The Mavericks, the eclectic rock and country group known for crisscrossing musical boundaries with abandon, has gone through three distinct phases since it was founded in Miami in 1989. An initial period of heady success marked by big hits and critical acclaim in the ‘90s. A long hiatus starting 2003 when the musicians each went their own way. And finally, a triumphant reunion in 2012 which held long enough for them to recently celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary.
En Español flips the band’s usual fusion formula, which adds a striking assortment of genres – salsa, ska, norteño, mariachi, and much more – to its sturdy rock/country base. Now, the foundation is solidly Latin with streaks of irreverent rock and twangy guitars running through it, all branded with the unmistakable Mavericks style.
The inspiration for this labor of love is rooted in the immigrant experience of the band’s founder. He was christened Raúl Francisco Martínez-Malo Jr., the son of Cuban exiles who was born and raised in the stimulating immigrant environment of Miami’s Little Havana.
His parents, Raul Sr. and Norma, both came to the United States in the early 60s, fleeing Fidel Castro’s communist revolution. They met after arriving in Miami, got married and bought a home in the shadow of the old Orange Bowl, west of downtown. The hub of the growing clan was the abode of Malo’s maternal grandfather, who himself had immigrated from Spain to Cuba, later bringing his family to Florida.
As Malo entered adolescence in the 1970s, the Latin music industry was flourishing in the United States. Pop and folk music from many countries flooded Latin communities. Recordings from many countries were distributed domestically by major labels, sold in neighborhood discotecas, and broadcast on television and radio via a booming network of Spanish-language media.
Malo’s musical milieu was a mind-expanding cultural mashup. At home, there was a family piano to play at family gatherings, and his grandfather regaled guests with his “beautiful baritone,” Malo recalls. And there was a stream of music always in the air. Songs by Cuba’s venerable Omara Portuondo, Mexico’s romantic Trio Los Panchos, and brash mariachi superstar Vicente Fernandez. But his father also loved Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, while his mother exposed him to the refined art of opera and classical music.
The budding musician soaked in the sounds, unlike many first-generation teenagers who reject their parents’ music as corny or old-fashioned.
“I was never one of those kids who were like, ‘Ah, I hate that music,’” says Malo. “I liked it all, and I would take it all in. To me, it was just part of the vocabulary, part of the DNA.”