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Pop / Rock 14/10/2002

Las Ketchup: Stars for a Season

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MADRID (Las Ketchup Fans Website) - When Lola Muñoz says that she's 2,500 years old, you can't help but think that she's looking good for her age. Then the Spanish singer points at her sister Lucia: "She is 1,765 ... and I'm sure I was a bird at one time." Yes, there's the confirmation: Lola Muñoz is clearly bonkers.

Which is just what her native Spain - and much of the rest of the world - seems to love. Lola, Lucia and their older sister Pilar - all twentysomethings, if you don't count their past lives - are collectively known as Las Ketchup. Their zany single Asereje has become an unexpected chart-topper not only at home, where it spent 13 weeks at No. 1, but also all across the Continent; it holds the top spot in the pan-European chart. That's quite an achievement for the quirky trio and their deliriously silly song, which, more than any other piece of pop music in recent memory, vindicates the rants of all who turn on the radio and complain that they can't understand a word that's being sung.

Asereje is mostly gibberish. The title doesn't mean anything. The comprehensible parts of the lyrics tell the story of Diego, a young gypsy with Rastafarian leanings who likes clothes, dancing and music. But look at the chorus: "Asereje ja de je be jebe tu de jebere sebiunouva majabi an de bugui an de buididipi." This isn't Spanish. This is not even Spanglish, as the export version claims to be. Though he loves hip hop, Diego "can't speak English," explains Lucia. So he improvises, and much of the song is written in "a kind of universal language." Universal, in that nobody has any idea what it means.

That doesn't seem to bother the millions who bought the single and learned the moves to what has become this year's Macarena. Asereje is No. 1 in France, Germany and at least six other countries. In Spain, it's still at No. 3 in its 19th week on the charts. Las Ketchup's album, Hijas del Tomate - Asereje plus "nine other songs just to fill up the CD," says Iñigo López Palacios, a pop critic for the Madrid newspaper El País - has gone platinum.

All this success has surprised even Las Ketchup, who grew up in a big musical family but never expected to have a hit with Asereje - or any song at all. Just a year ago, the three sisters from Córdoba had never performed as a group in public. They didn't even have a demo tape. Pilar, who insists, "I am an actress above all," was focused on her stage and screen career. Lola was studying industrial relations at a local college. only Lucia, a flamenco singer and the youngest of the three, had recorded an album and was set on a music career.

Then they came up with the name Las Ketchup, a nod to their father, Juan, a flamenco guitarist known as El Tomate. ("You know - Tomate, Ketchup," says Lola. "It sounds funny.") The group's name caught the ear of flamenco guitarist and producer Manuel Ruiz (better known as Queco), who heard them, signed them and wrote Asereje for them. Its release in May was timed perfectly, coinciding with the start of the musical silly season. "Just like turrón [yuletide sweets] at Christmas and turkey at Thanksgiving, so we have to have a song for summer," says José Miguel Blas, a DJ at the Madrid station Top Radio. Some observers say that, contrary to the visual evidence, Las Ketchup won't have legs. They've delivered "a typical summer song," says El País' López. "Like shorts, sandals and bikinis, they disappear without trace once summer is over."

Did anyone tell the fans? It's autumn now, and they're still buying the music. This month, the girls will tour the Americas - Asereje is No. 1 in Argentina, Mexico and Puerto Rico - and release their album in Britain. Later this year, Las Ketchup will try to prove that they're not just a one-hit wonder with a second single, Kusha las Payas. The song, which they wrote themselves, is only slightly more comprehensible than Asereje; kusha is another meaningless word, but a paya is a non-gypsy. This one's about girls who head for the beach to do all the things Mom and Dad would never let them do at home: "A glass or two here and a slurp or two there, and I'll spend the weekend dancing ..."

Beyond Kusha las Payas, much to the relief of Asereje-fatigued DJs and critics, the sisters have no other plans. "I refuse to even think of the future," says Pilar. "We live in the present." And in the past. Lola has a "been there, done that" attitude when it comes to the whole showbiz success thing. "We've had many experiences," she says. "I believe I was a singer or a dancer in another life." Which makes you wonder: are she and her sisters already thinking about their karma in the next?

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