Mateo Mera: Masters of all genres

Uraguayan multi-intrumentalist Mateo Mera performs with his band members at the Thomas Pringle Hall, National Arts Festival, 4 July 2016. Mera and his band presented songs from his first album Sobre los Puentes y Las Alturas (Over the Bridges and Heights) as well as some popular covers songs from bands like the Bee Gees. (Photo: Cue/Dani O’Neill)

Mateo Mera and his band are making their mark in the Latin music industry. The foursome is the first act from Uruguay to perform at the National Arts Festival after selling out in their home country.

The band is made up of Mateo Mera, Gonzalo Diaz, Rogelio Lago and Rodrigo Baeza. Their music is unexpected and without a definite genre. They move seamlessly from Indian classical to rock to rap. Their message speaks to social issues in their country, their experiences in a modern world, love, loss, and sometimes cheeky dashes of humour.

On stage their riffs and licks take you back to the golden age of the 1960s, when bands like The Kinks dominated the industry. Mateo Mera’s drum rolls allow for a warm Hendrix-like feel. Stop what you’re imagining though – there’s no place in this image for bandanas, permed hair and round spectacles.

At the concert, Mera walks in barefoot and sits with his sitar in hand. He spent some time in India mastering the instrument. The lights are blue and the atmosphere is slightly mystical. It seems odd calling them a rock band after all. The sounds are soft, sharp and elegant. Just when you think you’re in for a classical concert, the rest of the band walks on stage and says, “Let’s play some rock ‘n roll”. They’re covering the Bee Gees and Mera plays with a yellow Fender in hand. “Genre” is a word they’ve seemed to surpass.

There is no on stage pretence with Mera. His charm is infectious and he connects with the audience despite the language barrier. He teases the crowd by playing the introduction to Bohemian Rhapsody.

Their set is creative, a mix of their new music, their old, a Beatles cover and other Uruguayan artists. Their genuine love for music is seen in the way they introduce their songs, “This is song is a cover. It’s written by George Harrison. It’s lovely”.

The band are multi-instrumental. Diaz switches from bass to drums when Lago starts rapping. During the rap Baeza plays the saxophone and Mera the keyboard. The rap is fast and fluid. The crowd is fired up.

Lago continues and invites Sakhile Moleshe on stage. Moleshe, the former Goldfish vocalist, wows the crowd by switching between Spanish and isiXhosa.

The show ends with the band in smiles and the crowd happy. The group is truly something special. Their sound is new and their hook is Uruguay in Africa. They’re new album drops in November, but we’re already hooked.

Watch our interview and jam session with the band below.

Their final show is on Wednesday 7 July at 15:00 in the Thomas Pringle Hall.

By Kuvaniah Moodley & Nadim Nyker