Rodrigo y Gabriela: an evolution

The world’s favorite guitar duo is headed in a surprising new direction—fueled by a vegan lifestyle.

Rodrigo y Gabriela: an evolution

Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero, the dueling-acoustic-guitar duo known as Rodrigo y Gabriela, have been through changes. Big changes. From taking guitar lessons together in Mexico City to busking in Dublin to selling out venues worldwide—without a lead vocalist or the trappings of a traditional big-name act—the musicians’ rise to fame has been utterly unconventional.

Their bare-bones, fast-fingered style has sparked nine albums and more than 1.5 million worldwide album sales over the course of a 20-year music career. Yet they’re still evolving—and they’re hoping humankind will do the same.

They’re ready to level up. Are we?

In spring of this year, Rodrigo y Gabriela dropped their latest album, Mettavolution. “Metta” is an ancient word meaning “loving-kindness” that’s used in Buddhist teachings. “Volution” is an abbreviated form of “evolution.”

“We put these two words together because we believe that the true evolution of humanity needs to come from compassion, kindness, and forgiveness,” says Quintero.

Sanchez muses, “If we were more compassionate to one another, there would be a superior difference in the world.”

To create the album, Sanchez and Quintero trusted a process informed by mindfulness practices, passionate vegan lifestyles, and giving back. The result is a seven-song musical meditation—a mellower offering from artists who started in the thrash metal genre and built a following by combining flamenco, rock, and metal styles of guitar playing.

At a time when pop-y breakup anthems and self-aggrandizing hip-hop hits dominate the music charts, it’s hard to imagine a prominent place for instrumentalists who dedicate their albums to loftier themes. But if Rodrigo y Gabriela’s track record is any indication, it’s a place they’ll carve out deftly.

“Writing music and being a musician is not only about the music side of the particular person. At different times in your life, you might transmit much more musically,” says Sanchez. “To overcome musical challenges, you need to overcome personal challenges. When you do things with powerful intentions, you’re able to inspire people. There’s no ego when you’re in that state.”

Their plant-based roots are deep

The duo credits their lifestyle with giving them the energy, charisma, and mental toughness to continually transform and grow. As long-time vegans, both musicians are passionate about educating others on plant-based eating.

Quintero does this through Cooperativa Eco-Vegana, an initiative she co-founded with her sister. Located in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, the cooperative strives to help veganism overcome its elitist reputation through cooking classes, educational seminars, and community outreach.

“As vegans, we want to change the world, but we need to think about the people who can’t afford to take a cooking class,” says Quintero. “We go to poor communities and teach there. We work with local hospitals, schools, and universities. Our classes are very cheap, so all people have access to this information. People often want to change, but they don’t know how.”

While Mexican food has a reputation for being meat-heavy, this is mostly due to Spanish influences after Spaniards invaded the country in 1521. It was the Spanish who brought over livestock like pigs and cows and who introduced cheese and other dairy products.

“Mexico is a culture of food, and today, many Mexican foods are animal based,” Quintero says. “But if you asked the greatest chef in Mexico about the five essential ingredients that defined the country’s cuisine, they’re all plant based.”

From corn and beans to chilies, tomatoes, and avocado, vegan ingredients are the basis for many traditional culinary favorites. Quintero believes that if the cooperative teaches what’s behind Mexican cooking, people will be inspired to think differently about what they’re consuming.

“It’s not only beautiful for them and for their health, but for animals as well,” she says.

Sanchez is teaching people about vegan food in a different way: through his vegan restaurant, La Raíz de la Tierra, in Ixtapa, Mexico. Patrons can expect everything from enchiladas, hot cakes, and chickpea “omelets” in the a.m. to grain bowls, nachos, and Beyond Burgers (one of Sanchez’s favorites) for lunch. The guitarist believes La Raíz de la Tierra can help omnivores discover a taste for plant-based options—especially when they realize their favorite foods are just as tasty sans meat.

So you say you want a Mettavolution

When creating their latest album, the duo wrote for three years. According to Quintero, they originally demoed 30 pieces of music but weren’t entirely happy with the results. Instead of putting out a less-than-thrilling compilation, Sanchez and Quintero went back to the drawing board. They eventually landed on six original tracks and a 19-minute cover of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes,” a short-but-sweet album that both musicians say speaks to their new playing style and overall mentality.

They’re all about staying sharp, fit, and Zen

For Sanchez and Quintero, veganism is an easy choice. Not only does the lifestyle fuel them as they travel and tour, but it also aligns with their values, including a deep respect for what Sanchez calls “the precious life on this planet.”

Though the two have similar motivations for eliminating animal products, their dietary choices differ. Both enjoy salads and cold-pressed juices, but Quintero is a self-described picky eater. She prefers blueberries, sweet potatoes, and green and oolong teas to seitan and other meat substitutes.

“I know vegans who aren’t into kale or spinach, and in Mexico, we call those people ‘frito vegano’ or ‘junk vegans,’” Quintero says, laughing. “People tell me I must have so much discipline to eat the way I do, but really, I eat what I want. My diet may sound boring to other people, but it works really well for me.”

Sanchez, however, enjoys balancing his greens with soy proteins, vegan pizza, and rice and beans. Due to his schedule, intermittent fasting works well: He limits his eating to an eight-hour window each day. Quintero says Sanchez is the athlete of the two, but both run and practice yoga to stay fit.

Although the physical aspect of yoga tends to get the most attention, Sanchez and Quintero both have spiritual practices. Meditation is an important part of keeping them grounded. Quintero says meditation has calmed her travel anxiety and vastly improved her quality of life when she’s on tour.

“When you travel, things go wrong; your flight gets canceled,” she says. “I used to go crazy and get angry, but at the end of the day, everything passes. Now, I practice patience and acceptance. Keep calm. It’s not a big deal.”

Eventually, Quintero says, the chaos ends; they get to go home. And for the duo, home is often where the real creative magic happens.

“We have a studio, and we work every day when we’re not on tour,” Quintero says. “We experiment a lot—not just with guitars, but with all sorts of instruments. One day we will release all the crazy stuff we do there. The future for us is music for sure.”

Karli Petrovic is a writer, editor, and yoga instructor living in Portland, Oregon. She lives with her husband, Randy, and two pups, Frodo and Ollie. Find her on Instagram: @kpflows.

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