Gustavo Santaolalla - Biography
By J Poet
Gustavo Santaolalla is a Grammy and Oscar winning composer, songwriter, producer, and pianist from Argentina best known in the US for his eclectic soundtracks for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros (2000 Uni Latino) and Babel (2006 Concord) and Brokeback Mountain (2005 Verve Forecast). In 2005 he received the Konex Award (Argentina’s Mercury prize equivalent) as Argentine producer of the decade.
Santaolalla was born in Buenos Aries in 1951 and was playing piano the minute his feet could reach the pedals. He founded the successful Argentinean jazz/rock band Arco Iris in 1967 with Ara Tokatlian. Santaolalla was only 16. They called their music rock nacional and based their music on traditional Argentinean folk songs. He made several albums with them including Arco Iris (1970 BMG International) with the hit “Mañanas Campestres” and Sudamérica o el Regreso a la Aurora (1972 Music Hall.) The group was part of a commune/cult run by Ara Tokatlian and his wife Danais Wynnycka; Santaolalla disliked their rules against meat, alcohol, drugs, and sex and left the cult and the band in 1975.
Santaolalla’s next project was Soluna, a band with pianist/singer Alejandro Lerner and four female vocalists. They made one album Energia Natural (2008 Sony International) before Santaolalla moved to Los Angeles. His first US based band was the punk outfit Wet Picnic. In the early 80s, he produced Pensar en Nada (1981 Orfeon Argentina) for folk rocker Leon Gieco as well as his first solo album Santaolalla (1981 RCA International). Santaolalla (the album) was one of the first Argentinean new wave albums and was quite successful. With Gieco assisting him, Santaolalla produced De Ushuahia a La Quiaca (1985 EMI International), field recordings of folk musicians that helped revitalize interest in Argentinean folk music.
Santaolalla’s production of Pensar en Nada brought him to the attention of Latin rockers in Mexico. He produced Café Tacuba’s debut Café Tacuba (1992 WEA Latino), which went double gold in Mexico almost on its release, although the band was largely unknown. He later won a Best Latin Pop Production Grammy for Tacuba’s Cuatro Caminos (2003 MCA/Geffen). He also helmed projects for Molotov, Maldita Vecindad, Julieta Venegas, and Los Prisioneros. His second solo album Gas (1995 RCA International) was a folk rock record; he later used some of the music on Gas for the soundtrack of Brokeback Mountain (2005 Verve Forecast).
Santaolalla started to concentrate on film music in the 90s, although his record label, Surco, released quite a few successful rock en Españole albums including Molotov’s million selling debut Dónde Jugarán las Niñas? (1997 Surco/Uni Latino). Santaolalla’s third solo album Ronroco (1998 Island) featured the charango a folk instrument and its lush arrangements prefigured his soundtrack work. “Iguazu,” a tune from Ronroco was used in Michael Mann’s The Insider in 1999 and led to his work with Alejandro González Iñárritu. Santaolalla wrote the scores for his films Amores Perros (2000 Uni Latino), 21 Grams (2003 Varese Sarabande), and Babel (2006 Concord), which won a Best Original Score for a Film Oscar. Santaolalla’s other movie projects include The Motorcycle Diaries (2004 Deutsche Gramophone) the Walter Salles Che Guevara biopic, Niki Caro’s North Country (2005 Epic), and Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005 Verve Forecast), which won him a Best Original Score for a Film Oscar. He also scored Susanne Bier’s Things We Lost in the Fire (2007 Lakeside). In 2008 he took home another Best Latin Pop Production Grammy for Juanes’ La Vida …es en Ratico (2007 Uni Latino.) In 2008 he scored the Louis Vuitton “Where will life take you?” commercial.