Chuz Estrada is on the up and up. His Mexico City—based pop band, Jesse & Joy, has wracked up 2.8 million views for the video “Corre” and their shows sell out all over Mexico. Signed to Warner music with plans for an English-language release next year, Estrada – boasting enough chops to play in any project he wants – has to hustle just to maintain. The drummer’s tale is no bitch-fest, just a litany of obstacles faced by all too many musicians south of the border.
There was a time in Mexico when everybody wanted to play like Mike Portnoy. Then once people find out about Thomas Lang, everyone wants to play like Thomas Lang – or Marco Minnemann. It’s like, “That’s a really cool lick, but that’s a Dave Weckl lick.” And then everyone was doing gospel chops style to play like Eric Moore or Thomas Pridgen. Now everybody is emulating Mark Guiliana and Chris Dave’s style. So it has been difficult in Mexico for drummers to have their own voice. Maná are still one of the biggest bands. That drummer [Alex González] is the one that everyone many years ago here was trying to sound like, including myself, but what we didn’t know is that he was extremely influenced by Stewart Copeland already, so it’s like a copy of a copy. It’s rare you have someone like Antonio Sanchez, who is amazing and doing his own thing.
Not just in Mexico but all over Latin America, drummers come to Mexico City because the recording industry is here. When I moved to here I got some gigs thanks to my own project, Kinetic. We’re just three guys – it’s like prog fusion. But if you want to make a living in Mexico you’re going to be playing salsa on Friday night. Or cumbia. Even if you don’t like it. You are expected to know all the different styles. I still have my goal in having my own music and projects – Kinetic and my solo album, which I started to record. It’s going be an electronic jazz-fusion—oriented album. I’m doing all the writing. I think I will put it out next year. But that’s the way it is. If you want to make a living here you put your own project on the sideline.
Whenever a Mexican drummer goes to the States, they bring back Moongel because we can’t get it here. All my sticks, drumheads, all of it I can’t get here. My sticks, I use Vater 3A, and they’re impossible to get here. A lot of drummers one time wanted [Brazilian brand] RMV drums but somebody in Mexico figured out how to replicate them – they sold many drum sets but they started to become unglued. That ended RMV [’s distribution] in Mexico. Drummers here see Zildjian and Paiste and that’s what we want because that’s the equipment we see growing up as drummers. My main goal [as an endorser] is not free stuff. When I play abroad I want to have the right gear waiting for me. TRX has a rep in Mexico and they asked me to play their cymbals. I was saying to them, “I have to hear them first. I’m not going to sign just because you give me free stuff.” I was like “Okay, these two are nice but I need to hear some more.” Later on I went to the NAMM show and met David Levine, and I tried out more cymbals. And then finally I found the relationship I was looking for.
I had an amazing student. We moved to Mexico City together. He was doing advanced concepts after only four months of playing, but then he was going to have a baby. Now he has to look for another job and quit his drumming career. People start families and then suddenly they cannot play in their own projects, travel, or go to the States or Europe or where they need to get exposure. We have a lot of social issues in Mexico. I know in the States it’s very different, but here that is a common problem. It’s a very Catholic country. There is a big problem with the border. I have a work visa; I am very lucky, but that is not typical at all. A lot of times a drummer who wants to go to the States is turned down and you won’t even get a reason. It does not matter how good they are.
There is one drummer here, he is such a great player and everyone says to him, “Man, you’re so talented. You have the level of a top American drummer. Why don’t you go to the States?” And he goes, “Well, I don’t speak English.” You see a lot of online video instruction in Spanish but they just show you the lick; they don’t explain it so you can internalize it and know the vocabulary. I saw one instruction DVD [in Spanish] and the teacher had the terminology all wrong. I say to students, “You have to diddle that.” And they say, “I don’t know what that means.” If I am talking about grip, they don’t know what the fulcrum is. So that’s what I want to do is provide instruction in Spanish but correctly translated. In drumming, language has been a barrier, but with time I hope that changes forever.
For Jesse & Joy, I didn’t know any of the music when I came to the audition because there was no time. Mexico City is big; it’s like 20 million people, and just to find the band on that day was hard. When I get to the place, there were other drummers there with blonde hair and tattoos, and I was thinking, “Maybe I am not who they are looking for.” I played the songs the way I felt them and after three or four they asked me if I want to be in the band – it was as simple as that. Later Jesse told me, “You played the fills exactly as they were on the CD.”