Close your eyes and listen to him, and you'd never believe the angelic tenor singing in Spanish belongs to a short 50-ish guy from the East Coast who looks like an accountant. I saw him perform at La Parilla restaurant in East L.A. back in 2008 and interviewed him for Off-Ramp. I was apparently the first Anglo journalist to do so, although he'd been a regular on Spanish-language TV.
Then, the L.A. Times picked up the story, did a criminal background check and found that Mateo didn't learn to sing in Spanish and play the guitar on Olvera Street, as he told me, but in prison. He'd been jailed for armed robbery.
Now, he's the star of a film documentary called "Mateo" screened at South By Southwest, picked as a "best of the fest" by Rolling Stone...
So how did a ... Caucausian redhead from New Hampshire end up becoming a minor Latino music sensation? And where can we get the soundtrack to this documentary?
By Vanity Fair ...
Aaron Naar, Mateo’s director, points out, Stoneman was never afraid of his honest portrayal in the film: “Once I discovered there were precarious sides to his story, I said, ‘Matthew, you know you’re not the most sympathetic character in all respects.’ He said, ‘There’s nothing off-limits, whatever you find appealing . . . ’ and that included women.”
With bright orange hair and skin so fair it runs the risk of spontaneously combusting beneath the Caribbean sun, Matthew Stoneman doesn't exactly blend in around the decaying streets of Cuba, the island he currently calls home. But when he whips out his guitar and starts singing, mouths start to drop.
"Mateo" reveals even more twists and turns, from a troubled childhood to a possible baby son in Cuba, where he recorded the album that's the focal point of the documentary. For the update, I reached Mateo and filmmaker Aaron Naar at their hotel room in Austin this week, where they were screening the film.
A telling detail: Mateo says he hasn't seen "Mateo." Maybe it peels back too many layers.
"Mateo" is directed by Aaron Naar, and produced by Benjamin Dohrmann and Aaron Naar. Executive producers: Andrew Lauren, Louis Venezia, & Adam Schlesinger. Cinematography by Seth Cuddeback. Edited by Nicole Vaskell & Aaron Naar. Stay tuned for screenings in Los Angeles.