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.

ConcertHeart’s Early Beginnings

Many people have been wondering how I got started listening to Latin music, since I have zero Latin blood in me. I actually can’t remember the one band or song that got me hooked, but I’m pretty sure it started as a way to learn Spanish in high school. I would write down and look up any Spanish lyrics I didn’t know in a little notebook. Eventually I moved from being a school nerd to a band nerd. I found Latin artists by spending hours on iTunes, either looking at the suggested artist pages, the iTunes Latino homepage, or by browsing podcasts. My favorite was “Latin Roll” which not only played new songs and gave me a chance to hear real (as supposed to classroom) Spanish, but it also interviewed bands, making me invested in their culture and their music.

Once I learned about where the bands were from, I developed an interest in travelling in Latin America. For example, the love-hate relationship that Los Bunkers seemed to have with Santiago, Chile, on their old website was fascinating, and I dreamt of going there (later I ended up spending half a year there). And I was dying to go to Guadalajara, Mexico, where Maná is from (I still haven’t been – is anyone up for a trip?).

Listening to Latin music in high school would not have been complete without my trusty c.d. player.

Listening to Latin music in high school would not have been complete without this trusty c.d. player.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite songs from that time period, the mid-2000′s. It happens to be a representative sampling of the major hubs that churn out great Alternative Rock en Español. Clearly Mexico was (and still is) a huge center point for Latin music. Chile, Puerto Rico, and Argentina, the other major strongholds of Latin alternative music, are also represented in my sampling here. The next blog post will be more about how these musical influences caught up with me later in life.

Los Bunkers (Chile)  - Nada Es Igual. I thought their bowl haircuts were so funny.

Kinky (Mexico) - Coqueta. Kinky came to The Middle East in Cambridge when I was 17. It was an 18-plus show, and I cried to my mom and asked why she couldn’t have given birth to me a month earlier.

Zoé (Mexico) – Paula. This song kills me every time. I studied for the SATs listening to it.

Maná (Mexico) - Arráncame el Corazon. Maná helped me learn Spanish the most. I specifically remember learning that tiburón meant shark from the song “El Rey Tiburón.”

Circo (Puerto Rico) - Antes del Fin. I played the piano a lot in high school, and absolutely loved this keyboard intro.

Fobia (Mexico) - 2 Corazones. Fobia had so many other catchy songs, like “Una Vida Sencilla” and “Todas las Estrellas.”

Babasónicos (Argentina) – Carasmático. Not only does this lead singer have a distinct voice anyways, but when learning Spanish I liked trying to pick out his Argentine accent.

The Roots of Reggaeton in Boston

I take a lot of pride in my historic hometown of Boston, where we’re well-known for our role in the Revolutionary War, and also the host of some of the best colleges in the country, like Harvard and Berklee College of Music. What I didn’t know until recently is our role in the emergence of the musical genre of reggaeton.

WHAT?!

That was my initial reaction too. When people think of Boston, they think of the Irish, or the Italians, or the sports teams. I had no idea we played a role in the development of reggaeton until I chanced upon a documentary about it on Netflix. Some of the most influential people in the startup of reggaeton met in Boston. These are the Luny Tunes, a production duo who ended up winning Latin Grammy Awards and Latin Billboard Awards, and helped produced some of the early records of reggaeton kings, such as Tego Calderón and Don Omar.

Boston is not the same hub of Latino migration as, say, our neighbor New York City, or Miami, or Los Angeles. But we do have a larger Latino population than one might expect. Apparently “Luny” (Francisco Saldana) and “Tunes” (Victor Cabrera) were able to meet after moving from the Dominican Republic to Peabody (a suburb outside Boston). They both went on to work in the kitchens at Harvard University, and worked together on music in the meantime. Apparently, when Luny received an offer to work in Puerto Rico, Tunes followed, and they ended up producing that one Latin hit everyone knows – “Gasolina” by Daddy Yankee.*

Imagine if Luny and Tunes hadn’t met together in Boston! Where would we be now without Daddy Yankee or Don Omar, who ended up recording my favorite song to dance to, “Danza Kuduro.” Some friends of mine have questioned my musical taste when I say I like reggaeton, since I claim to be an indie/alternative lover, but I can’t help it, and you wouldn’t either, if you heard this song. Doesn’t it just make you want to dance? I’m so proud of my city right now. Join me and dance to celebrate our beloved Boston’s role in the formation of reggaeton:

*See this book for more info.

A Funny Story about Islands

I’m on vacation, and while I couldn’t plan a getaway to any islands, I thought I’d write about them instead.

The other night, my friend asked if I wanted to see a “random melancholic” concert with her. She was joking, since she lives a few hundred miles away, but when I listened to the link she sent, I was serious about the band, Islands. We ironically realized that as we were speaking, wishing we could go together, the band was onstage at a venue right here in Boston. I had missed them by just an hour!

But then another friend reminded us that we had already seen the band in concert, early on in college! It was one of those memories that had been pushed aside and forgotten. But what a rediscovery! All of a sudden I recalled white outfits, skinny jeans, and lots of blue lighting in a room packed with people.

Point of story: I am already obsessed with this song, “Becoming the Gunship,” and you will be too, once you listen to it. With a slow beat and wailing guitars, it has a heart-wrenching, anthemic feel. Let’s help Islands’ newest single reach into the tens of thousands of views on youtube!