7 Reasons to Look Forward to LAMC 2014

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The Latin Alternative Music Conference is without a doubt my favorite week of the year. Forget a week at the beach when you could spend the time in NYC going to shows of bands you love, discovering new music, and meeting artists from all around the world. LAMC is celebrating its Quinceañera this week (15th year) and it’s going to be better than ever. Here’s why:

1.) Babasónicos. You may remember my posts a few months back about how I got into Latin music. Well, Babasónicos is one of those groups. These legends of Argentine rock are closing out the conference with a free show in Central Park next Saturday, along with Juana Molina and La Santa Cecilia (see #7).

2.) Unofficial Sets.While LAMC has a lineup of shows affiliated with the conference, most artists schedule a few unofficial shows elsewhere in the city. These are the ones you want to look out for! My first year, I saw Husky in two random bars across the city, and they were both my favorite performances of the entire conference experience. And since many of the LAMC shows take place at the same time, if you miss one artist’s official set, chances are you can see them performing elsewhere later.

3.) SOB’s. It doesn’t stand for what you think it does. The annual LAMC show at Sounds of Brazil is my favorite conference-related show each year. Selected artists get to strip down their music and play an acoustic set for a smaller audience.

4.) AJ Dávila. Oh wait, yet another artist I’ve written about on this site. AJ is performing two shows with LAMC — one at SOB’s (see #3) and one at the Gramercy Theatre. I love his garage rock, 60′s-influenced music, and can’t wait to see what he does with it for the acoustic set.

5.) Music Festival Organizers. Let’s not forget to talk about the panels. LAMC always features great panels for artists and managers about how to network and promote their music. The founders of both Vive Latino (Jordi Puig) and Estereo Picnic (Sergio Pabon), two of the biggest music festivals in Latin America, are going to be there. How cool is that! To top it off, Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras of my favorite show, NPR’s Alt.Latino, will be moderating one of the panels.

6.) Cuba. Maybe it’s a sign of loosening immigration restrictions between the US and Cuba, but there are more artists from Cuba this year than I remember in the past. Cucu Diamantes, solo artist and also co-founder of Yerba Buena (whose song “Guajira” is featured on the soundtrack of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights!) is screening her documentary/comedy about her tour across Cuba. Diana Fuentes of Cuba is performing at SOB’s and the Gramercy Theater (another fun fact: she’s the wife of El visitante of Calle 13). And Danay Suarez is another solo artist from Cuba who has some gorgeous jazz/hip hop piano pieces.

7.) Socially Conscious Performers. Two years ago, Calle 13, probably the most well-known socially conscious Latin artists, packed Prospect Park for their free LAMC performance. Unfortunately, they’re not coming this year, but guess who is. Ana Tijoux, who I admire for not only being a fantastic woman rapper, but also for her social-justice oriented themes, is a part of Wednesday’s hip hop/rap show in Central Park. Let’s hope she performs her new songs “Somos Sur,” a call for unity and action throughout the Southern Hemisphere, and also “Antipatriarca” an anthem for women to stand up to patriarchy. ChocQuibTown from the Pacific coast of Colombia also sings about the importance of place and race in their fusion music of hip hop and traditional Colombian music. They had a very honest discussion about race with Univision here, and fun fact: were featured in Carlos Santana’s latest album! La Santa Cecilia is a strong voice for immigrants’ rights in the US through their music.  Finally, Maria Hinojosa might not be a performer, but she is a panelist, and quick research shows she’s accomplished amazing journalism for NPR and PBS about civil and social justice issues in the US.

But don’t just take my word for it. Check out www.latinalternative.com for the rest of the schedule and panelists, and see what you like.

AJ Dávila

AJ Dávila has hit the indie Latin music scene the way his song “Animal” opens his new album: with a bang. His first solo album Terror/Amor is full of garage rock gems with catchy melodies, which have been featured on NPR as a first listen and on iTunes as a Single of the Week. I decided to take a trip to New York City to see him play at one of his three (three!) shows there last weekend.

The sense of community seen on the album (about half the tracks feature collaborations with other Latino artists) was apparent at the show. Held on Saturday at The Flat in Brooklyn, it was an intimate gathering of friends coming out to support one another. It’s not surprising — not only did AJ collaborate with other artists, but he also incorporated some of his old band members from Dávila 666 into his newest band. This NYC show was the tail leg of his tour up the East Coast of the US alongside Plastic Pinks. Besides my group and maybe one or two other people, the audience consisted of band members and friends of band members — obvious given the large number of hugs shared throughout the night. In total there were probably 20 people at the show.

Plastic Pinks set the precedent for the rock and roll nature of the show by jumping off the stage and ordering a beer while singing. AJ Dávila and his band started their set suddenly with “Es Verano Ya,” a song that has no intro but rather opens with its catchy chorus. After all, if everyone already knows each other, why waste time on introductions? After a dance-worthy, head-shaking set, they ended as abruptly as they started with “Animal,” packing up as soon as they finished. (In addition to 3 concerts during the weekend, AJ was also DJ-ing a set afterwards at another bar in Brooklyn). Live, their sound embodied the raw garage punk of the record. On the recorded album, the handful of sunny, feel-good songs strung throughout make the garage punk accessible, but the loud sound and sheer energy onstage of the musicians with their instruments made it a true rock show.

I was left only with a buzzing in my ear and the question of why more New Yorkers weren’t there to hear such great music.

My favorite thing, however, might have been AJ’s sweatshirt featuring sketches of birds and their names.

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Juana Molina

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Juana Molina has charmed Boston. Well, maybe about 200 of us. This eclectic, alternative Argentinean musician came to a half-filled Sinclair last night to spill her music out onto the crowd.

Maybe it’s the hair. Her waist-length, wavy muted brown hair is hard to forget, especially since she rocked it so well in her simple black shirt and knee-length black skirt. Did I mention she’s in her fifties?

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But no, it has to be the music. Juana started out as a comedian, but I think she found her true calling in music. Even the way she spoke to the audience into the microphone, playing with the words to make them into beats, reflected the way she makes music, transforming sounds into songs.  Juana’s certainly on the alternative side of alternative, and not for everyone. But she makes you wonder how she thought it all up when the combination of her guitar, interesting rhythm sections, vocal loops over loops, and harmonies with the keyboardist all materialize into a song. Her musician’s ear was clear when she took a long, relaxed pause to tune her guitar, during which she once again played with her words to say “oh my gosh” in such a high-pitched voice as to make the audience laugh (so no, she hasn’t lost her comedic touch either).

Or maybe what really charmed us was the band. The drummer on her left scrunched up his face every time he got to a good part, and the keyboardist to her right alternated between giving adoring looks to her, sticking out his tongue playfully at the drummer, or smiling like he was having the time of his life. Their camaraderie was quite a contrast from the opening band, St. Nothing, who despite their good music, failed to show that they were enjoying themselves on stage.

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Whatever it was, Juana Molina and her band easily generated an encore. Just please don’t be scared away by her creepy video:

 

 

It’s Time for New Music!

Can we just take a moment to appreciate all the awesome new Latin music that’s coming out right now?

AJ DÁVILA: From the Puerto Rican band Dávila 666, AJ Dávila has sidestepped into a solo project with amazing results. It’s accessible garage punk that has refreshingly unpolished edges and fuzzed-out sounds. The songs pack a punch with catchy melodies and no shortage of guitar. A deep voice appears in a few select tracks, sounding just like what you’d imagine the monster under your bed to sound like. The favorites are sure to be “Animal,” the first song, and “Salvajes,” the second, but my personal favorites are ones made in collaboration with other Latin artists: “2333,” with Mercedes Oller of Costa Rica,  “Ohhh (No Te Encantes),” with fellow Puerto Rican Fofé Abreu, and “Ya Sé” with Dax Díaz and Juan Cicerol.

ANA TIJOUX: Anita had her second baby a year ago, and in between changing diapers and not sleeping she wrote and recorded a new album. I’ve always admired Ana for being a female rapper, since in the U.S. we don’t have a lot of those, but also for speaking up about issues that are happening in Chile, like the student protests. In this new album Vengo, released March 18th, she sings a lot more, such as in “Emilia,” one of my favorite tracks named after her daughter. She made me laugh so much during her interview with NPR’s Alt Latino, in which she “pfff”-ed at everything and talked about how became a feminist without really meaning to, showing that it’s not something extreme to stand up for women’s rights.

CALLE 13: They’re back! I’ll never forget their free show I went to at Prospect Park, with thousands of people jammed in just to see this Puerto Rican duo perform. The intro song on the new album features the voice of Eduardo Galeano, author of Open Veins of Latin America (the same book that Hugo Chávez gave to President Barack Obama a few years ago). Like Ana Tijoux, the Puerto Rican duo continues with their social and political themes in this album, straying from the more raunchy lyrics of the songs that got me listening to them, like “Atrévete-te-te.” I’ll admit I haven’t heard the album yet in its entirety, but I do really like the idea for the music video for “Adentro” as described here.

ZOÉ — Okay, I know I’m a little late on this one (Prográmaton came out last October), but the video for “Arrullo de Estrellas” came out March 6th, so I think it’s alright to include. The new album isn’t a huge jump in style from their previous few albums, but I don’t think that’s a problem. The first few tracks are the catchier ones, while the last few tracks take you on a slightly psychedelic journey, like the newest music video.  “Game Over Shanghai” takes the biggest leap, featuring a Chinese instrumental section that fits seamlessly into the music. Check out also the cool drum beat on “Sedantes.” Some may criticize the band for not branching out from their normal sound, but in this interview they say that’s because they’ve finally achieved the sound they want for Zoé, and they’re content with that. So am I.

An Artist to Fall In Love With

You’ll be crazy in love with this song too after just one listen. It’s powerful in its simplicity: just a combination of Irene Diaz’s voice, steady strumming of the ukulele, and select notes on the piano.

If you want more, take a look at her youtube channel filled with homemade videos recorded from what looks like her bedroom. I especially love her silly face at the start of the “I Love you Madly” video. There’s no pretension, just raw talent.

When You Least Expect It… AKA ConcertHeart’s Evolution

In my last post, I presented some of my early latin alternative music listenings. Now I want to talk about how these bands had a chance to catch up to me many years later. It’s funny how life can catch up to you years later, when you least expect it.

Los Bunkers – While studying abroad in Chile in 2011, I saw Los Bunkers play at a club called Blondie in Santiago. I thought I had been a pretty big fan of them back in high school, but when I saw everyone around me screaming song lyrics to songs I didn’t even know, I felt pretty stupid.

Kinky – This band from Mexico played at my first LAMC in 2012. My mom wanted to see the free show they were playing in Central Park, so she asked the older lady in the info desk where the Kinky concert was. “Kinky?” the older woman replied? “Yes, Kinky,” said my mom. I also later spotted the lead singer of Kinky scoping out the band Husky as a potential tour partner at 285 Kent, a tiny club in Williamsburg.

Zoé – Who would have thought that after studying for the SATs with my headphones plugged in to these guys, that I would actually get to see them front row in NYC in December 2012.

Maná – This group finally gained some well-deserved wide recognition in the US when they sang at Obama’s inauguration in January 2013.

Circo – My most embarrassing moment of LAMC 2013 occurred when I unintentionally met the former lead singer of Circo. He’s now playing in a band called Fofé y Los Fetiches, which came to LAMC. When I saw them play in a club one night, I realized some of the songs sounded familiar. My friend said he used to have another band. When I met him and guessed the wrong band, I was so embarrassed. He was really sweet about it.