Latin in Manhattan
Once a year Latin alternative musicians — that is, those who don't play salsa, tango, bolero, or other regional beats — come together en masse in New York City. The Latin Alternative Music Conference is a series of industry panel discussions, networking opportunities, open bars, promotional stops, and, of course, plenty of music. This year's edition took place July 10 through 14, with events at venues like Harlem's El Museo del Barrio, Central Park's SummerStage, and Brooklyn's Prospect Park. They showcased not only established acts but also up-and-coming artists you might not have heard of yet, but will soon. Here are some highlights from the conference.
The main event of this night was the Indie Musician Showcase at Mercury Lounge. The mood at the venue, a small room on the city's Lower East Side, was mostly about networking. As soon as I pulled out my notebook to jot down comments about the show, members of Panal, a Denver-based rock en español band, quickly handed me a promo CD. A few minutes later, a promoter for an independent label gave me a single by the Hip-Hop Hoodios, a "New York-based Latino-Jewish hip-hop group" with a forthcoming album.
Argentine trio Austria impressed, especially because it was slotted into the bill as a last-minute replacement. The group's folksy ballads, sung in Spanish, spoke mostly of longing and yearning without sounding cheesy.
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The quintet Austin TV, from Mexico City, was next. The bandmates took about 40 minutes to get ready, but the wait was worth it. I didn't particularly dig their look — they dress up in silly British schoolboy costumes (think Angus Young) and cover their faces with leafy green masks. Still, the music was very grown-up. The band plays instrumental music clearly inspired by Seventies prog rock but with metal tendencies. One highlight of the short set was "Marduk," which began as a ballad and evolved into an all-out Metallica-inspired tune with complicated instrumental textures. Guitarists Chato and Oiram have great chemistry, and drummer Xnayer commanded the sticks with the expertise of a weathered professional.
The conference's headquarters were at the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan. At the showroom, visitors were inundated with products such as Gibson guitars, Microsoft Zunes, free condoms, and Latino publications. And all-day schmoozing: The Midem cocktail party began at 1:00 p.m.
"Because of the independence taking place today in the Latin alternative area, it's really important to have contacts, to make different shows, and to unite and make exchanges in these kinds of festivals in other countries," said Andrés Martínez, of the Colombian electronic band Monareta. "It's a really strong festival, and it's really important for all the Latin alternative bands."
The second of three free concerts, part of the Celebrate Brooklyn series in Prospect Park, took place later that night. Headliners the Pinker Tones, from Spain, successfully blended acoustic and electronic elements.
There wasn't a more suitable venue than SummerStage to close the conference. The temperature was caliente in Central Park as Puerto Rico's La Sista took the stage, mixing reggaeton with Afro-Cuban, and even Afro-Brazilian, influences. In addition to the usual vocalists and DJs, she also featured live percussionists, setting her apart from many performers in her genre. Though most of the audience was there for Café Tacuba, the afternoon's Mexican headliners, the crowd slowly warmed up to her as she shouted out the various nationalities present.
One of the most amazing things about reggaeton artists is that they have a strong rapport with audiences when they perform live. At one point, La Sista invited two people onstage — a young man and a woman — who did a crowd-pleasing bump-and-grind bit. Later on she called up two men, who performed an amateurish capoeira, to the MC's surprise. Last year Calle 13 was the breakout reggaeton-inspired hit of LAMC week. Though La Sista did not possess the fellow Boricua duo's chops, she gave a completely laudable performance, and certainly won some new fans.
Next up was the Bronx's Pacha Massive, a duo comprising Dominican-born Nova (keys, guitar, and vocals) and Colombian-born Maya (bass), accompanied for this performance by two vocalists, a trumpet player, and a drummer. The danceable set included highlights from their debut album, All Good Things (Nacional), such as "Don't Let Go," "Your Love," and the title track.
They nodded to their musical origins by performing an instrumental cumbia that went over well — fans danced in the little space they had. Generally the band showcased its music well. All songs closely resembled the album versions; nevertheless it was a good show, receiving a warm audience response.
The moment everyone was waiting for came when Café Tacuba finally reached the stage, after what seemed like an eternity of prep time. The band opened with a heavy-metal-inspired intro that led to "No Controles." Vocalist Ruben Ortega entered the stage wearing a cream-color oversize bowler hat with holes for his eyes, a trademark silly gimmick of his.
The mood was festive; there was a sense of national pride fueled by Mexico's participation in the Copa America, but also by the nation's current immigration debate. The photo area became a de facto mosh pit, with photographers running for cover. The set's highlights included the mellow "Flores" and the disco-flavored "Dejate Caer," as well as an encore featuring "Eres."
At the afterparty in the garden of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, on the Upper East Side, all present seemed satisfied with the result of the week's events. The Latin Alternative Music Conference's steady growth over the years has benefited musicians and small, Latin-oriented labels. But the surprise winners are mainstream audiences, which, thanks to the dedicated efforts of LAMC organizers, are bit by bit discovering some of the world's best artists.
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