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World Music Features

Los Amigos Invisibles

By Enrique Levin
Published January 26, 2006

Going from small weekly gigs at discotheques to appearing on MTV and filling 5,000-capacity arenas, Los Amigos were an overnight sensation with their unique tropical/disco wizardry.

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At one of their first gigs of the year, Los Amigos Invisibles took their trademark ass-shaking brand of tropical funk onto the stage of S.O.B.’s in New York City and tried something new. Subtly, the six-man Venezuelan band stretched out their already infectiously sweaty songs, engaging the crowd with their universal language of sexy goo-goo talk and tenacious instrumentalism.
   Los Amigos’ magic is concocting love and dance potions, but on that night, thanks to the influence of their new producers, the songs were longer. Crooner Julio Briceño seduced bouncing dancers in the front row with hip jolts and puckered lips, casting a spell: “Cuchi-cuchi, baby, cuchi-cuchi, ah-aow!” The cult hit off Los Amigos’ 2000 Grammy-nominated Arepa 3000 album, "Cuchi Cuchi," is one among a string of sex-obsessed numbers penned by acid jazz guitarist and bandleader José Luis Pardo.
   After the Latin playboys played the bedroom favorites “Ponerté En Cuatro (Put You On All Fours)” and “El Disco Anal” off their debut album, The New Sound Of The Venezuelan Gozadera, the floor needed a mopping, but that didn’t stop them. Briceño introduced the next generation of aphrodisiacs, including “Bruja (Witch)” and “Superfucker,” off their latest release, The Venezuelan Zinga Sound–multivitamins and sex-addiction therapy coupons were not handed out.
   “Superfucker is the newest member of the League Of Justice,” a mischievous Briceño told a group of people backstage, including alternative music icon David Byrne, who signed the six-piece combo to his Luaka Bop label in 1996. “Whenever you call for him, he comes very fast.” 
   Humor is an integral part of the Amigos’ sound and sentiment. With their lascivious lyrics and party mix sampled from dance music—disco, funk, pop, jazz and house–the Amigos scored big in their native South America with “Ponerté En Cuatro” in the late ’90s. The group of neighborhood and college friends, completed by keyboardist Armando Figueredo, drummer Juan Manuel Roura, bassist José Rafael Torres and percussionist Mauricio Arcas, couldn’t walk down the streets of Caracas without being recognized.
   “Julio is a sex symbol there. He can’t go into a McDonald’s without being stopped by people,” Pardo says.
   Los Amigos Invisibles took their name from the greeting used by a popular Venezuelan TV personality to address viewers: “Hello, my invisible friends,” he’d say. But Pardo and company were seen everywhere, especially after the buzz generated from signing with Byrne. Going from small weekly gigs at discotheques built during the country’s oil boom to appearing on MTV and filling 5,000-capacity arenas, Los Amigos were an overnight sensation with their unique tropical/disco wizardry, raising hopes for the emerging Caracas alternative music scene.  
   After a while the group got tired of the overexposure, if you can believe that. “We’re not sex symbols, we’re musicians,” says Pardo, who is also the group’s opening act, spinning vinyl of retro/futuro dance music under the alias DJ Afro. “We want to be respected for our music, and we didn’t want to become known as one-hit wonders.”
   So the group did a disappearing act, and turned up in Brooklyn. It’s been nearly two years since they relocated to America, and Pardo says it’s one of the best professional and spiritual moves the band has made. Byrne helped the group with legal work papers, allowing them to soak up New York City’s music vibe and meet new, like-minded people.
   It’s early summer, and The Venezuelan Zinga Sound is about to get pressed onto CDs.