Composer, vocalist, keyboardist, and poet Alvaro Pena-Rojas, better known as “Alvaro the Chilean With the Singing Nose,” has been compared to John Lennon and Tom Waits, though in fact his strange music exists in a category of its own. With a large number of self-released recordings that borrow from such diverse sources as his Chilean background, European avant-garde, minimalism, and easy listening pop music, Alvaro has forged an endearing legacy of DIY and outsider music. Born in Chile in 1943, Alvaro released several singles of pop music in his native country in the late ’60s before moving to London in 1974. Once there he hooked up briefly with Joe Strummer in an early version of the 101’ers, Strummer’s group prior to the Clash.
Over the next several years in London and Germany, he recorded several demos, often just soloing on piano or keyboards and vocals, or occasionally with a drummer and bass player. With punk all the rage of London in 1977 and an emphasis on independence from record labels where bands would release their own material, Alvaro started his own label, Squeaky Shoes Records. His own quirky music, though nothing like the noise of punk, had even less commercial potential. With help from Antonio Narvaez on various percussions and vocals and Cathy Williams on vocals on one track, and himself on piano, lead vocals, percussion, pinquillo, double flute, bass, whistle, and stones, Alvaro’s first LP, Drinking My Own Sperm, was recorded in November 1977 and came out soon after. The next several years saw the release of more full-length albums, singles, and tapes from Alvaro, all issued on his own label. His third record, The Working Class, recorded in Bavaria in 1979 and released the next year, was a completely solo effort with no overdubs. His single “Mariposa” from 1985 was considered the weirdest single in the Virgin Records Megastore in London at the time.
Often shuttling from London to Continental Europe, as well as South America, to record and tour, by the late ’80s Alvaro relocated to Germany. He played some concerts on the East Coast of the United States in 1991 and continued to tour and release records and CDs throughout the next decade. Through self-production, Alvaro has maintained his unique vision, that combination of an unusual singing voice; music that is steeped in Chilean folk music and yet influenced by modern European experimentation; and strange lyrics in Spanish, English, and German. Since the mid-’70, he has also published several books of poetry with various presses.