SXSW musical journey through Latin America

La Dame Blanche at SXSW. Photo by Nancy Flores/American-Statesman

At South by Southwest, where acts from all around the world descend on Austin, it’s easy to take a musical journey to any part of the globe. On Friday night, the sounds of Latin America took me on a sonic trek to Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela.

At the Sounds from the World showcase at the Russian House, Aluvión Afrobeat Pacifico led the dance party with Afro-Colombian rhythms from the South American country’s Pacific Coast. The group’s lead singer leapt off the stage to lead the energetic crowd in some dance moves. The killer marimba sound plus charismatic stage presence makes Aluvión a band that must be experienced live.

In 2015, SXSW presented its first Sounds from Cuba showcase and I was glad to see a strong lineup return this year. Among the top artists billed for the show was Yaite Ramos Rodriguez, aka La Dame Blanche. Rodriguez strutted on stage wearing a white cape and smoking a cigar. As if her magical blend of hip-hop with a bit of cumbia, dancehall and reggae wasn’t enough, Rodriguez also takes command of the stage when she whips out a flute to round out her sexy, soulful sound.

For the first time at SXSW, the festival presented a Sounds from Venezuela showcase featuring seven bands including rockers La Vida Bohème. The band’s third album “La Lucha,” which was produced by Calle 13 co-founder Eduardo Cabra (Visitante), releases on March 24. La Vida Bohème’s Friday performance included many of the new songs as well as plenty of the older anthems that fans love to sing like “Radio Capital.” When the lights at the Speakeasy dimmed for their show, the reflection of their matching jackets continued to glow. La Vida Bohème’s live shows never disappoint. They have one last SXSW performance at 11:20 p.m. March 18 at Palm Door on Sixth.

5 Reasons You Should Attend Pa’l Norte Music Fest

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Pa’l Norte music festival in Monterrey, Mexico, takes place at Parque Fundidora park. Photo by Nancy Flores

With the absence of the Pachanga Latino Music Festival in Austin this spring, I headed south of the border this weekend to see if the Pa’l Norte fest in Monterrey, Mexico, might be a good alternative for Central Texans. The two-day music festival, which launched in 2012 and drew about 134,000 festivalgoers this year, has been gaining buzz in the Mexican festival circuit and beyond.

As a veteran music festival goer, I found that Pa’l Norte has a lot to offer both Latin music nerds (like me) and those seeking to kick back and enjoy the festival atmosphere while soaking up the sounds of spring.

At Pa'l Norte fest, you can enjoy mountain views while enjoying the music.

At Pa’l Norte fest, you can enjoy mountain views while enjoying the music. Photo by Nancy Flores

Here are five reasons to check out Pa’l Norte:

  1. Hanging out in Monterrey rocks. From its Barrio Antiguo (Old Town District) to upscale rooftop bars with dramatic mountain views of the city, Monterrey has something for every festgoer. While cartel-related violence kept tourists away from Mexico’s third largest city for years, the crime rate in recent years has reduced dramatically and the city has been rebounding nicely. Music fest visitors should take time to visit some of the city’s main attractions beyond the festival grounds like the Paseo de Santa Lucía, which is the city’s version of the Riverwalk. Don’t leave the city without trying some of the city’s famous cabrito, or goat meat.
  2. It’s closer than you think. Although there’s an international border between us, Monterrey is just a 45-minute flight from San Antonio. It’s a six-hour drive, though, authorities still recommend against that. If you’d rather check out Coachella, that’s more than 17 hours away driving to California. Or maybe you want to hang out at Lollapalooza in Chicago? Well that’s more than 16 hours on the road.
  3. More bang for your buck. Pa’l Norte festival two-day passes range from $56-$76 for general admission. VIP two-day tickets range from $112-170. A three-day VIP ticket at ACL is $1100. We chose to stay at the luxury  Habita Monterrey Hotel, which cost $130 a night on Expedia. It’s hard to beat that price for the same quality hotel in Austin. Using the ride-sharing service Uber, which launched in Monterrey last year, and the city’s efficient subway system made it easy and affordable to navigate the city without a car at an affordable price.
  4. Awesome music, of course. From legendary acts like rockers Caifanes to emerging artists like alternative pop duo Pedrina y Río of Colombia, the musical offerings are diverse. There’s also plenty of non-Latin music acts, too. This year rapper 50 cent, German DJ and music producer Felix Jaehn, The Original Wailers, Naughty by Nature and Irish indie rock band Two Door Cinema Club were among the performers.
  5. It’s an idyllic setting for a fest. The festival grounds are at Parque Fundidora, a sprawling park on the former grounds of a steel foundry that also feature youth baseball fields, a Ferris wheel, ponds and paddle boats. With the backdrop of the picturesque mountains that ring the city, it’s the perfect place for a weekend of music.

SXSW announces free, Latin music showcase

Intocable will headline all-Latino SXSW showcase.
Intocable will headline all-Latino SXSW showcase.

South by Southwest has announced an all-Latino showcase on March 19 at the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake (formerly the Auditorium Shores stage). The free show, which is part of SXAméricas, will feature artists Intocable, Grupo Fantasma, Systema Solar, División Minúscula, and 3BallMTY. More artists will be announced later.

Tejano/Norteño fusion band, Intocable, will get another chance to headline the showcase after last year’s Auditorium Shores show was cancelled because of standing water, leaving fans who came from near and far disappointed since the band could not reschedule.

In 2013, the group headlined the Pachanga Latino Music Festival and band vocalist Ricky Muñoz told the Statesman’s Spanish-language weekly ¡Ahora Sí! back then that, “We have Tejano roots, and we have a norteño influence, that is for sure. But I don’t know what you should really call us, other than good music.” The award-winning music veterans have been playing for more than 20 years.

Grupo Fantasma, who celebrated their 15th anniversary last fall, will bring their genre-mashing music for what’s sure to be a dance party. New to SXSW this year will be the Colombian collective, Systema Solar, who are popular in the Latin alternative scene for their blend of Colombian Afro-Caribbean music with contemporary rhythms.

Monterrey-based SXSW alums División Minúscula and 3BallMTY return to the festival. Both were discovered by the legendary DJ Toy Selectah of Control Machete fame, who also a part-time Austinite. With División Minúscula’s punk rock sound and 3BallMTY’s energetic electronic tribal music, this showcase will feature a wide range of diverse Latin sounds.

The showcase, which start at 2 p.m., is open to the public with free Guest Pass wristbands. It’s also open to people with SXSW Music and Platinum badges. For more information, visit the SXSW Outdoor Stage webpage.

SXSW Spotlight: Caloncho

Caloncho performs at SXSW 2015. Photo by Nancy Flores/American-Statesman
Caloncho performs at SXSW 2015. Photo by Nancy Flores/American-Statesman

After the release of his debut EP Fruta, Oscar Castro (aka Caloncho) has experienced a meteoric rise that has come with a lot of firsts lately like attending the Latin Grammys (Caloncho was nominated for two awards), playing big festivals like Vive Latino in Mexico City, performing internationally in places like Colombia and Costa Rica, and now showcasing at South by Southwest.

It’s also the first time Caloncho, who hails from Guadalajara, plays for American audiences. His official U.S. debut at the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York was a media-only performance, and so he didn’t get a sense of how fans would receive his music. Caloncho performed his first SXSW showcase at Icenhauer’s on Wednesday night, where some super fans hung on every word and knew all his lyrics by heart.

Ahead of Caloncho’s second SXSW on Friday at 1 a.m. at the Red Eyed Fly Inside, we sat down with the 28-year-old rising pop star. The following is an edited version of our conversation.

What are your first musical memories?

I remember my grandfather, who played the accordion, waking me up on my birthday when I was little and playing “Las Mañanitas.” I got my musical side from his genes. He also played the organ and acoustic guitar. My father also played the acoustic guitar, and he influenced my songwriting with his stories. I remember a road trip where we didn’t have a radio in the car, and so he made up stories along the way. That’s what my work is – music plus stories.

What’s the Mexican indie pop scene like right now?

We’re starting to realize that there’s a place for everyone instead of competing. We’re sharing knowledge and uniting more. We’re all growing together.

What upcoming projects are you excited about?

The second volume of my EP, called Fruta Volumen 2, will release in May. They’re songs crafted around the same time as the other album, but that I didn’t have the time or money to record. I’m also writing some new songs now.

What are some non-SXSW things you’ll enjoy while in Austin?

I’d like to eat some barbecue and maybe check out Barton Springs.

Latin hip-hop shines at SXSW

Eptos Uno performs at SXSW 2015.
Eptos Uno performs at SXSW 2015.

A growing hip hop movement throughout Latin America has meant the emergence of successful and game-changing rappers over the years. At the Half Step on Wednesday night, several Latin rappers stepped onto the stage proving that hip hop can be a universal language.

I caught two rappers hailing from Mexico, including MC Serko Fu from Gómez Palacio, Durango, who brought hard rhymes over hard, spare beats.

Serko Fu was among the Latin American rappers to perform at the Half Step on Wednesday SXSW 2015. Photo by Nancy Flores/American-Statesman
Serko Fu was among the Latin American rappers to perform at the Half Step on Wednesday SXSW 2015. Photo by Nancy Flores/American-Statesman

Freestyle legend Eptos Uno, originally from Sonora and now living in Mexico City, brought his lyrically complex and intricate style to the grimly lit Half Step stage. Along with DJ Tocadiscos Trez, Eptos, who has won freestyle championships, tore through a clean, rugged set. “Whether you speak English or Spanish, hip-hop unites us all,” Eptos Uno said from the stage.

Cuban rapper El B, half of the duo Los Aldeanos and a veteran of several tours through the U.S. and Latin America, kept the energy moving with a set filed with hard beats and a tight flow. As rappers like these are turning heads at the festival, we hope to see the presence of Latin American hip hop continue to strengthen at SXSW.