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Gustavo Santaolalla - Biography of Brokeback Mountain, Babel Composer


Gustavo Santaolalla

Gustavo Santaolalla


El Palomar, Buenos Aires province, 1952

Newest Goal:

To produce Argentinean Malbec wines named after his son, Don Juan Nahuel.
The first thing that surprised me when reading about Gustavo Santaolalla was that he was the founder, songwriter, singer and guitarist of Arco Iris. I’ve always loved that group. The second surprise was that he was the president of Surco records, which I knew was the label that produced the music of Coumbian superstar Juanes. The third (and actually there are easily more than three) was that Santaolalla had scored the films 21 Grams, The Motorcyle Diaries, Brokeback Mountain and Babel.

The Early Years:

Santaolalla, a native of Argentina, was one of the early pioneers of Argentinean rock. With a passionate love for both Rock ‘n’ Roll and his native Latin influences, Santaolalla (pronounced ‘San-ta-oh-lah-yah’) started playing the ‘charango’ and ‘ronroco’ – two variations of an Argentinean guitar made from the shell of an armadillo – as a teenager.

At the age of 16, he was asked to provide music for his first film, a hometown production about statues coming alive at night called Las Estatuas (The Statues). While the term “score” barely applied to the sounds of brushed drums and symbols, they marked the road of things to come.

Arco Iris and Soluna:

In the late 1960s, a bearded, hippie-looking Santaolalla started Arco Iris (Rainbow), mixing rock, jazz, and folk music into a distinctive and commercial sound. He continued riding the wave with his 1970s group Soluna. During this time, Santaolalla was jailed several times by the military government for subversive behavior in introducing rock ‘n’ roll to a country controlled by forces dedicated to preserving ‘homeland values’.

A New Start in Los Angeles:

Santaolalla moved to Los Angeles in 1978. Maintaining his Argentinean ties, he proceeded to release a series of albums that centered on his Latin folk roots and the charanga and ronroco guitars that started his musical quest.

He became involved in the punk and new wave movement, serving as the bandleader of Wet Picnic and as a producer of some of the promising, new Latin alternative groups. He also produced for Café Tacuba, the premier group of the new Mexican rock movement of the 1980s.

Surco Records:

In 1997, he started his Surco label which later became a joint venture with the Universal Music Group. That same year, Molotov, one of the label’s first bands, sold over a million copies worldwide of their album Donde Jugaran Las Ninas?. Surco records also has produced albums for artists like Caifanes, Maldita Vecinidad, Bersuit, Bajofondo Tango Club and, of course, Juanes.

Movie Soundtracks:

Moving on to movie soundtracks in the 1990s, Santaolalla scored Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 21 Grams, The Motorcycle Diariesand 2005's North Country.

Winner of the 2007 Oscar for the original score of the motion picture Babel and the 2006 Oscar for the score of Brokeback Mountain as well as a Golden Globe (Best Original Song) for Brokeback's "A Love that Will Never Grow Old", Santaolalla is a name that we're all going to learn how to pronounce in the future.


Gustavo Santaolalla recording:

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