Thirty years ago, an Argentinean hippie who'd been jailed in his home country for playing subversive rock and roll immigrated to Los Angeles. That hippie's become a clean-cut, influential record producer with two Academy Awards under his belt. This week, says KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, L.A. City Hall honored his career.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: In 1970 the Argentinean band Arco Iris, or Rainbow, implored listeners to open their minds "to the cosmos and see how everything transforms."
[Song: "Abre Tu Mente" (Open Your Mind), by Arco Iris]
Guzman-Lopez: That's singer and guitar player Gustavo Santaolalla. In the late 1970s, Argentina's new military dictatorship harbored no patience for this kind of music. Police jailed Santaolalla and other artists. Santaolalla escaped the country with his wife and settled in L.A. He remembered that as a very difficult time.
Gustavo Santaolalla: Hard in Argentina because of the political situation, and hard here because I was an immigrant like any other immigrant. It was very hard, but I think in the end, with passion and determination and without quitting your dream, you're able to achieve it.
Guzman-Lopez: Part of that dream came true a couple of years ago when Santaolalla won an Academy Award for the score he composed for the film "Brokeback Mountain."
[Song: "Snow" from the "Brokeback Mountain" score]
Guzman-Lopez: He picked up a second Oscar last year for his score for the film "Babel."
[Song: "Deportation/Iguazu," from the "Babel" score]
Guzman-Lopez: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told a packed City Council chamber he recalled how Gustavo Santaolalla glowed at the Academy Awards ceremony two years ago.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: There was a sense of pride in knowing of the tremendous, tremendous journey that this individual had to traverse to get here today. And so it's my pleasure to present to you the 2007 Latino Heritage Month Dream of Los Angeles award.
Guzman-Lopez: The mayor also honored actor Edward James Olmos and Mexican "ranchera" singer Pepe Aguilar. Santaolalla believes the mayor's recognizing artists who maintain strong roots in their heritage.
Santaolalla: It has to do a lot with some of my principles that have to do with identity, of knowing who we are and where we come from. I think that's the only way that you can peek into who could you be and how far could you go, you know.
Guzman-Lopez: So how does Santaolalla identify himself? Argentino, first. Latino, second. It's evident in his compositions.
[Song: "Gaucho" from the album "Roncoco"]
Guzman-Lopez: This song pays tribute to the Roncoco, a guitar with five sets of strings. It's popular among folkloric musicians in Argentina's Andes mountain region. Five years ago, on the album "Bajofondo Tangoclub," Santaolalla married dance club beats with the national music of Argentina, tango.
[Song: "Montserrat" from the album "Bajofondo Tangoclub"]
Guzman-Lopez: Santaolalla continues on a musical road to his pan-American dream. He's been hired to compose the score for a film based on the life of beat writer Jack Kerouac.