Gustavo Cerati, Argentina’s much-loved and influential rock star who was the leader of the acclaimed band Soda Stereo, died Thursday, four years after lapsing into a coma. He was 55.
Widely hailed as an innovator whose popularity spanned Latin America, Cerati died in Buenos Aires, where he was brought after collapsing after a May 2010 concert in Caracas. He underwent surgery for a blood clot in his brain and never regained consciousness.
Cerati’s death was announced by doctors at the ALCLA Clinic in Buenos Aires, who said the cause was respiratory failure. Twice divorced and father of two children, Cerati was under the care of his mother, Lilian Clark, according to Spain’s El Pais newspaper.
Often described as the Latin American Police, a nod to another three-person reggae-influenced supergroup, Soda Stereo performed from 1982 to 1997. They got together in 2007 for a successful reunion tour in which they played before huge, adoring crowds in 22 countries including Chile, Colombia, Mexico and the United States.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1959, Cerati was the singer-guitarist and main songwriter for the group, whose other members were bassist Zeta Bossio and drummer Charly Alberti. Their seven studio albums, including the acclaimed “Sueno Stereo” and “Dynamo,” sold more than 7 million copies, according to Billboard.
After the group disbanded, Cerati enjoyed a successful solo career touring in the U.S. and Latin America. He released popular albums, including “Ahi Vamos” (a Latin Grammy winner) and “Bocanada,” and produced records for other artists, including “Oral Fixation” by Shakira.
He performed in Los Angeles’ Nokia Theater in April 2010, less than a month before he collapsed in Venezuela. In an interview with The Times, Cerati said he sought to convey in his last album, “Fuerza Natural,” a sense of “big storms and the sea and animals.” That album also won a Latin Grammy Award.
Cerati noted the success that Latin rockers were finding singing in their native Spanish idiom, quite a shift from when Soda Stereo started out performing in pubs in Buenos Aires. “When we began, all the people said to us, ‘No way, man, if you don’t sing in English. ... Now I think it’s changing,” Cerati said.
According to pop music industry figures in Argentina, Soda Stereo’s popularity partly was fed by the relief and optimism many felt after the brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship. Cerati’s catchy tunes and lyrics, which a Times critic described as “at times sly and satirical, at times poetic and evocative,” helped the band attract a wide following.
“There was a whole movement that was about ‘Enough with politics! Let’s go out and dance a little and enjoy ourselves while we’re still young,’” Cerati said in a 2007 interview with The Times before a Soda Stereo reunion tour stop at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
Cerati composed tunes for the soundtrack of the 2001 Argentine movie “Mas Bien,” for which he was nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best Instrumental Pop album.
Musicians paying tribute to Cerati on Thursday included Ricky Martin and Colombia’s Shakira, who dedicated a song on her “Sale el Sol” album to him. Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner also lauded the singer-guitarist.
Special correspondent Kraul is based in Bogota.