Talk about persistence: Mario Giancarlo has been trying to play South by Southwest for about ten years, to no avail. His previous bands — local institutions Modernage and Hunters of the Alps — never made the cut.
"It's funny that this new project, which has been around for about a year, gets in on its first attempt," he says.
The longtime Miami musician believes the trick to getting into Austin, Texas' premier music festival (which runs through March 18) was embracing his native language, Spanish. He's observed that many festivals are trying to include more Latin acts, and his current musical collaboration with Alvaro Jeanneau — Private School — could be considered a diversity pick. By default, being from Miami and singing in Spanish makes Private School part of the growing Latin alternative/indie movement, though Giancarlo never intended to jump on that bandwagon. He simply follows his muse wherever it leads, whether that involves writing in English or Spanish.
"We're just Private School," he says. "If a song comes out in Spanish, so be it."
Speaking with New Times ahead of Private School's sets in two showcases at South by Southwest — Sounds of Peru and a lineup of Latin alternative bands — Giancarlo shares his perspective on Miami's music scene. He believes the city's Hispanic performers could be making a greater impact nationally, especially in light of the major commercial success of Luis Fonsi's "Despacito." That song has opened doors for indie-oriented acts that sing in Spanish or play with a Latin flavor, and he's noticed that trend extending to electronic dance music too.
"Especially with the EDM guys, I'm seeing a lot of collaboration with Latin pop artists," he says. "Your chances of charting internationally are much higher if somebody like Daddy Yankee is on your track."
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Some Hispanic performers might be reluctant to fully embrace their identities, however, and Giancarlo understands. As a fluent speaker, he could have been singing in Spanish for years, but he didn't really think it was very, well, cool.
"It was about being insecure," he says. "As an artist, I've grown more confident not so much in what I can do, but in how others view it. I think I care less, which has led to experimenting with songwriting in Spanish. Not caring about what other artists do or not has been the key."
Giancarlo says there's untapped potential in South Florida and the host of Hispanic music-makers who have yet to find their voices. Maybe many musicians out there feel the way he used to about writing and performing in Spanish.
"From what I've observed in the industry, Miami is sort of the epicenter for most things Latin," he says. "Artists from Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico try to promote in the States because that's where the money is... I'm surprised that Miami hasn't exploded with a fusion of Latin alternative or bilingual-inspired indie on a more national level. Maybe it will, sooner or later."