Kelenken: The Bird Men of Comodoro (Part II)


During a recent trip to Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina, I had the chance to sit down with 4 members of Patagonian metal band Kelenken to discuss their music and plans for the future.

Note: This is part two of a two-part interview. Read part I first! A Spanish language version of this article is available upon request.

How is Patagonian heavy metal different from heavy metal in other places?

Ema: Patagonia has a unique way of making heavy metal, because we have different values. We know each other, we have this Patagonian camaraderie that if you are going to come and play, we are going to welcome you with a barbecue, we are going to share, because beyond just the playing part there is the sharing part.

Leandro: It’s the most important part. When we travel to play somewhere else there’s always the barbecue, getting together with local people. We’ll play some songs after, of course, but getting together is the most beautiful part.

Ema: And doing all this the opposite way of Buenos Aires. All eyes are on what is being created there. And from the moment we started the band, we said we were going to do things the other way around. We’re going to make them look at us. We’re not going to fall into the trap of recording there or anything. Our music is always self-created here in our home, supporting our own people.

Leandro: Our sound engineers. Our recording studios.

Ema: It’s much easier with today’s technology. And because of that, what is known as “Patagonian metal” has been created. Patagonian metal now has its place at the national level. That includes all the bands in the region, from Esquel, from Madryn, from Trelew, from Truncado, from Neuquén. It’s a big movement. We are separated by many kilometers, but the most representative ones all know each other. And we have close ties, even with people that we never see, and if we have the opportunity, we play together.

Leandro: And then we catch up. “How are you doing?”

Ema: Yes, despite the distance. By listening to the lyrics, you realize that we all have a shared identity.

Artwork created for the band by their friend Félix. He passed away last year, and the song “Küme rüpü” is dedicated to him.

Besides Kelenken, who are the most important Patagonian metal bands?

Gusta: I would say Werken and Razzia.

Emiliano: Aionikenk was the one that most brought Patagonian metal to international attention.

Ema: They focused on singing southern folklore songs through the most basic heavy metal, almost more similar to a fast punk.

Leandro: That would be Patagonian metal, the exact definition of Patagonian metal. What Aonikenk did was following the way that the folklore song was originally constructed, they added double pedal distortion and played it that way. Straight and even. Which is something I personally never wanted to do. (Laughter). They looked for a different way to compose and that is what came out of that.

Gusta: I can also name Neyen Mapu, a band from Paso de Indios that is a friend of ours. They were lucky enough, well it wasn’t just luck but also merit, that one of their songs was used as a theme song in national boxing fights. So that got many people to listen to them.

Ema: I think Patagonian metal is categorized by what the lyrics are and what the rhythms are. Our approach uses native folklore, but other bands do it differently. Like Werken for example. They play power metal, but their lyrics are clearly referring to Patagonian history, the connection to the land and all of those things. So, on one hand there are the lyrics and on the other hand there is the music.

Gusta: Yes, definitely. The regional identity of where the band comes through in the themes, the lyrics. Because the music itself varies a lot. Razzia does the same. For example, Razzia might release a song that talks about the same things that Werken talks about, but one is power metal and the other is thrash.

Ema: But the lyrics are referring to that Patagonian feeling. It’s like we are all very…

Leandro: Very proud.

Ema: It’s a revindication of the land, there’s a lot of this.

Leandro: Of feeling Patagonian.

Ema: Of being southern. Patagonian metal sings a lot about native peoples and the lands where we live. Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but we are all based in cities and the countryside is empty. And all the owners are foreigners. So we are all crowded together. We all feel the same way, that our land has been stolen from us and that we have been left stranded at the bottom.

And then the emotions towards the Malvinas (better known by most English speakers as the Falkland Islands), because we are from the south and that war touched us so closely. We hadn’t been born yet. But..

Leandro: But our parents had.

Ema: Yes, our parents, acquaintances, friends, relatives. We grew up knowing about the Malvinas since childhood.

Leandro: So that’s something that we also incorporate in the things we write.

Ema: And that Patagonian feeling is born that is very different from the rest of the country, more than anything from Buenos Aires, right? Buenos Aires keeps singing the same thing, about the social problems that people there suffer. We go beyond that. For example, the guys in Neyen Mapu sing to the rural laborer, because they themselves are rural laborers, they know what it’s like to walk in the fields, to shear sheep. We sing other things that we know. And that’s how it all comes together, and it’s a beautiful circuit.

What was the process of recording Iaik like? You recorded most of that album during the pandemic lockdown, right?

Gusta: I recorded the bass here (in the house where we recorded the interview) because I bought an audio interface. I took a week off and recorded one song per day. And then I sent everything to Nico Navárez, who was the one who did all the sound editing. Later, the vocals, the winds, the charango, all of that was recorded in the studio, and the drums too. And I think Ema also recorded the guitar part, the solos, at home.

It was different from how we recorded the first album in the studio. And truthfully this recording was much better for me, because going to the studio and playing, you’re making mistakes and time passes and you feel pressure. Here, I handled the recording alone. I made a mistake and I listened to it, I deleted it. If something didn’t come out, I said well, that’s fine. I took a shower, had a mate, watched TV for a while, and then I came back and recorded whenever I wanted. So it was much more relaxed.

And if I had to highlight a track for the way that we wrote it, it would be “Embrujo,” because it was a track that we didn’t practice in rehearsals. Because we were in the pandemic it was practically composed online, you could say. Ema created the guitar base and more or less how it would be sung. And then I composed the bass myself. And the winds, I don’t know how Naza composed it, but well, everyone did their own part.

Leandro: Right. And I started to practice “Embrujo” two days before I recorded. Yep, I practiced it the day before.

Gusta: That can’t be true! I’m shocked.

Leandro: Yes, yes, I’m sorry. (Laughter). 

Gusta: More because I’m just finding out now, I’m thinking, “oh no, really?” (Laughter). 

Leandro: I didn’t practice much, because I was going to sing the lyrics that were given to us by Razzia’s vocalist, which were really good. It all happened quickly. Hey, I’m ready, give me a turn to record, they gave me a turn the following week and well, I practiced and recorded it.

Tell me about some of your favorite memories or experiences as a band.

Gusta: If I have to say my favorite moment, it would be the show for our 10th anniversary as a band. Because there were many emotions. That was in June. We turned 10 in May, and the performance was in June. It was a lot of work. And it was emotional because, for example, my daughter was able to go see me play. There was a lot of family there.

Leandro: My mom came to see us for the first time.

Gusta: The first time his mother came to see us, for example. She was probably surprised, because…

Leandro: Yes. My daughter was amazed. My brother too. And my little nephews. For me it felt like the first show we played all over again. Besides that, what Emi mentioned a while ago, the recording of the “Chancho Colorado” video was a very cool experience. Really the experience itself of working as a team, getting there and working all day together. We arrived around noon, we stayed until 1am. 12 hours of recording. Well 6 hours of recording, but 12 in total. And when the sun went down and we started to record, there was lots of laughter.

Gusta: We ate empanadas too, right? 

Leandro: The girls had made a stew.

Gusta: Oh yeah, that’s right.

Leandro: I think they made a lentil stew.

Emiliano: We had also made some choripan.

Leandro: At noon we made some chori.

Gusta: Yes, that was an important part of our success. (Laughter). 

Leandro: And also our trips. There’s always some anecdote from the trips. And really, even those that went poorly ended up being good for us.

Gusta: Or taught us things too.

Leandro: They serve as learning experiences for us because, for example, the recital we gave in Buenos Aires was a fiasco, it was horrible, but we had a good time. I mean, we enjoyed it, we laughed our asses off. We had gone to Buenos Aires a few days before, we were visiting there and traveling around and that was great. Aside from the organization of the recital, the rest was awesome. An experience.

Gusta: Yes. But always the best recitals, the best trips, have been here in Patagonia. Here we know for sure that we are going to have a good time. Because people are good hosts, they treat you well. Even though we pay for the trip there since we know that there isn’t money for us to play, we still have a good time because people are so welcoming.

What are your plans for the future? What are you currently working on?

Leandro: We continue composing. We have three or four songs in the pipeline, one finished, which is our interpretation of “Pucará de Malvinas” by Roberto Rimoldi Fraga. We took this folklore song and created our own version out of it. We also changed some of the lyrics.

Gusta: And besides that we have three or four more that are decided. If we get down to business, I think that…

Leandro: We’d finish in a day.

Gusta: In 2025 we’ll be recording the next album. Or the end of 2024.

I think we’re going to start that album with a heavy metal version of “Embrujo.” We’re thinking of doing the same thing that we did with “Sangre Gaucha.” “Sangre Gaucha” is the song that closes the first album, in a folkloric version, and opens the second album in a metal version. And with “Embrujo,” we are going to do the same.

Leandro: We’re also going to do the same with the names of the albums. For example, Aoni Kosten was our first album. The name “Aioni Kosten” is southern wind. The second album is Iaik. Fire. And for the third album we want to do something also related to one of the elements. Water.

Gusta: Yes, it’s going to be water. “Ko” (in Mapuzugun).

Leandro: Water, yes. To follow a theme, so that it’s connected in some way. Wind, fire, water. It has its appeal.

Gusta: It’s logic.

Leandro: It’s also good for that reason. Let’s see, what else is on the third album?

Gusta: Well, speaking of water, one of the tracks we’re writing is about drought. We have a lake here, Lake Colhué Huapi, that the petroleum companies took water from. It’s a very shallow lake. It ended up drying up.

Leandro: The oil companies dried it up.

Gusta: And when the wind comes from the west, it’s like there’s fog, created by the sand from the lake. Well, one of the tracks on the album talks about that. If we are going to talk about water, we have to talk about the lack of water.

One of the problems that we have here is the mining industry. As a province, mining is prohibited. But it is something that the government wants to impose with foreign companies, like the Canadian company Pan American Silver. This company is prohibited from operating in Canada, because they have caused disasters in many places in the world. Here, they are just waiting for the legislation to change. They even have it on their website. So that they can exploit us like any other third world country, going over our heads and ignoring the rights of the people.

Leandro: The issue is that in the plains where they plan to put mining, there are many people, many towns nearby that get their supplies from the rivers, from the lakes that are there. I don’t know, it would screw up life in half the province.

Gusta: And on the other hand, those towns tend to be very small. They don’t have many sources of work, because the government doesn’t promote any other activity so that they’re pushed to need an activity like mining. And well, here in Comodoro we already have an example of what happens. The oil companies do their work, extract oil, take the profit, and there is not much profit left for us. Comodoro is a city that should be like Dubai, because of the number of years that they have extracted oil and have benefited from it. Here we have Cerro Dragón, which was the most important extraction site in Argentina for a long time. We have Panamericana, which is partly nationally owned and then a large part of the shareholders are from British Petroleum. So the benefits don’t stay here.

If you see the streets, the hospital, we don’t have an infrastructure corresponding to an oil city like maybe what you see back home in cities in Texas. We should have a good infrastructure, but hey, who knows where the money is. So we are not doing well as a society. We lack many things and soon water is going to be one of those things because it’s already starting. We have intermittent water cuts now, especially in summer.

Leandro: We have 24 hour water cuts, 2 days a week .

Gusta: Because the lake where we get water from, Lake Musters, it loses water. And when the levels go down, they can’t supply this city or any other city. In sum, the track we’re working on talks about how we ask the ancestors for strength so that we can protect this territory from those who want to plunder it and are turning it into a desert due to the lack of water.

Is there anything else that you’d like to share about the band?

Gusta: When we started with the band, it was a dream of mine to go play outside of this city, which was something very crazy for me to imagine. And then to record an album. After we made the first album I said wow, everything that comes after is a gift. It’s very crazy. I can’t comprehend it because, I don’t know, it was never the idea to have a band that…

Leandro: I don’t know, played at Wacken.

Gusta: Right! The idea was always to make a band of friends, nothing more. So suddenly having some relevance was kind of crazy. The fact that you listened to us and that you were interested in coming here for your thesis, for me, that’s really crazy. For someone from another country to be interested in something that we started doing just because we liked it, it’s incredible.

Leandro: When we released the first album, we found some review of the album in Russian! And another from the United States.

Gusta: Yes, and one in English. A pair.

Leandro: And they criticized my voice, they said it was a “drunk voice.” I don’t even know how that guy found it. He spoke very highly about the music part, but the guy really liked power metal. Of course he didn’t like the harsh vocals. “The raspy drunk voice,” he said, something like that.

Gusta:  If you know who it was, tell us. (Laughter). 

Leandro: Yeah if you know that dude, let me know. (Laughter).

Don’t worry, I promise I won’t write something criticizing your vocals.

Leandro: Well you know me now, so it’s harder to write something bad. (Laughter).

Gusta: And you can see that we aren’t drunk here! We drank hardly anything. (Laughter).

No, but music is beautiful. As a goal, we always say that our music serves to unite. And since we are playing fusion music, bringing together different things, that’s the political vision that’s there. Our identity comes from all of these pieces. The idea always, with our music, was to share.

To finish up, how would you define the band in one word or phrase?

Gusta: Patagonian. That’s what I would say.

Leandro: You could say Patagonian, raw, direct. And strange. (Laughter). 

Gusta: I would say metal with Patagonian identity.

Emiliano: Patagionian metal.

Leandro: How classic.

Gusta: But that’s what it is. The identity is well defined.

Leandro: And well, that’s Kelenken.

Read part I of the interview here.

Listen to Kelenken’s music on Spotify and YouTube.

Follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

Kelenken is: Emanuel Montecino (guitars); Leandro “Wini” Rima (vocals); Gustavo Jelusich (bass); Julio Cheuque (drums); Nazareno Casas (winds); Emiliano Soto (manager).

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