Rodrigo y Gabriela and the long journey towards the transcendent bliss of nondualism

Rodrigo y Gabriela press shot
(Image credit: Ebru Yildiz)

Gabriela Quintero happily grabs the Grammy statuette and, giggling and proud, holds it up to the webcam. She and Rodrigo Sanchez won the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album category, for Mettavolution – which features their monolithic duo-guitar version of Pink Floyd’s Echoes – at the January 2020 ceremony. It should have been the start of a globe-trotting year. But the year had other plans. 

Today Rodrigo y Gabriela are in their studio and HQ in Ixtapa. The town overlooks the Pacific on Mexico’s west coast, and sits just 15 minutes’ drive from Zihuatanejo, the beachy paradise that Tim Robbins’s character Andy DuFresne escaped to at the end of The Shawshank Redemption. Bandmates since their teens, both Quintero and Sanchez are approaching their fifties now. They were a couple once. Today they’re best friends, and the easy way they share answering questions – giving each other space, occasionally talking over each other with passion – speaks of the pair’s chemistry. It’s like they’re the left and right hand of one guitar player, in sync. 

Ixtapa was a welcome refuge when everything went to shit in 2020. “We had a full year ahead of non-stop touring for Mettavolution, all over the place,” Quintero says. “We won the Grammy, spring came, then the Apocalypse! So we came back down here, as we always do in the worst situations. Even when we were busking we’d always come back here and just play. That’s how we process our emotions when things get a little tough. Playing guitar heals us.” 

The latest manifestation of that healing is In Between Thoughts… A New World – perhaps R&G’s heaviest, rockiest work yet, with Sanchez favouring electric guitar for much of the record. 

“When we started this in February 2021we were just writing,” Sanchez says. “We didn’t know it was going to be the new Rod and Gab album, so we weren’t limited by what that might mean.”


Over lockdown the pair started a Patreon, got lively on social media and kept the music coming. There was a slinky, slidey read of Radiohead’s Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, and an arrangement of the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No.25. On their 2021 EP Jazz they interpreted Kamasi Washington, Snarky Puppy and tango genius Astor Piazzolla, while the previous year’s Mettal EP featured covers of Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica

The latter band, a well-documented influence on the duo, hold a special place in their lives. Quintero and Sanchez are good friends with bassist Robert Trujillo. On Metallica’s sprawling tribute album The Metallica Blacklist, of the 53 artists participating (Ghost, St. Vincent and Volbeat among them) Rodrigo y Gabriela were the only ones with a song all to themselves; The Struggle Within earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Arrangement, Instrumental Or A Capella.

Now, after the struggle of the past few years, In Between Thoughts… A New World arrives with a sense of musical and spiritual renewal. “Both of us have been what they call ‘spiritual seekers’ for many years,” says Sanchez. “In the early 2000s I got into Buddhism for a while, and then tried many things. But when I got covid [in 2020], I went through an inward process that gave birth to this album. While I was recovering I saw a video regarding Advaita Vedanta, and it struck me immediately. I talked to Gabriela about it and she got it too.” 

Advaita Vedanta is a Hindu practice which, Quintero explains, “is mainly about this life being an illusion. There’s just one ultimate reality, and we can’t process that reality because it’s beyond the mind and the brain.” Its central tenet, ‘nondualism’, holds that the Self – the deepest part of us, our true nature – is our connection to that oneness, that ultimate reality. Everything else is a construct of the mind. 

Quintero says that as a species we’re good at telling ourselves these stories. “I’m an eco-warrior. Rod was telling me that through nondualism everything in this reality is an illusion. And I had problems with that. I said: ‘No! Climate change is real!’ Then I realised that [modern spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle’s bestseller] The Power Of Now – a book that changed my life completely – is [about] nondualism too. The mind is constantly bombarding us with thoughts; ‘You have to do this’, ‘You should have done that.’ It fears the future, regrets the past and is never in the present. But when you are present, just observing your breath or your thoughts, there’s a stillness that is peace, and that’s our true nature.”

The album serves as a soundtrack to a story Quintero wrote to process this philosophy. It’s a classic hero’s journey – the central genderless figure, Advaita, comes into the world, working their way towards the transcendent bliss of nondualism to songs such as True Nature, Egoland and Descending To Nowhere

Quintero’s trademark propulsive nylon-string guitar rhythms power the record, dancing with Sanchez’s electric lines. Broken Rage might be their punkiest selfcomposed work to date, and their signature flamenco tones are cut with funk, Morricone-esque spaghetti western, analogue synths and post-rock textures. Extra heft comes from the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra. 

“We started to add different instrumentation and electronics,” Sanchez says. “Adam [Ilyas, orchestra arranger] was sending us videos of the orchestral recording sessions in Sofia, and we were like: ‘Fuck, this is really happening!’ We’d changed management after twenty years, had a new team, new label. Everything felt new for us.”

Alongside the In Between Thoughts they’ve also released Stages, a nine-part cycle of étude-like guitar pieces, each with a striking, surreal video from filmmaker Olallo Rubio. Rubio dressed the pair in all-white outfits and projected onto them images of stars, ocean life, the rainforest. The concept tiesinto the Vedanta philosophy: our mind is the screen, and what’s projected on there isn’t real, or at least not part of true consciousness. 

“Well it can be real,” Sanchez clarifies. “But at the same time the real you – in this case, represented by the screen – doesn’t go through anything that’s been projected onto it. You can see war, hate, love in the actual movie, but all the time the screen is clean.” 

It’s another fascinating chapter in the duo’s story, which began more than two decades ago when they ditched their Mexico City rock band Tierra Ácida, and were discovered busking in Dublin by then-rising star Damien Rice. Their self-titled debut album of 2006, which topped the chart in Ireland, featured calling-card tune Tamacun and dizzying takes on Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven and Metallica’s Orion

Film work with renowned soundtrack composer Hans Zimmer followed, along with a show at the White House for then-president Barack Obama, a US Top 25 album with 2014’s 9 Dead Alive, and a ton of touring. Their virtuosity, charisma, chemistry and easily worn blend of Latin exoticism and rock ‘relatability’ has taken them to grand venues – London’s Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House, the Hollywood Bowl. This year’s tour runs from April to November and takes them across the US, Europe and the UK. Wherever they go, something in their (on paper) unlikely fusion just works. 

“All over the world, people love guitar,” says Quintero. “Me and Rodrigo play lots of different styles on guitar. Our music has a beat, so people feel they can dance, so it’s not just like a classical recital. That’s why it attracts a diversity of people. Well, that’s my theory.”

In Between Thoughts… A New World is out now via ATO. For tour dates and tickets, check the Rodrigo y Gabriela website

Grant Moon

A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Prog, Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.