ilona pamplona brings us into the world of latin music …
Growing up in the suburbs of Jersey, it was rare for me to find someone who listened to alternative rock music in Spanish. It infuriated me to think that most people thought that to listen to Latin music was to listen to salsa or any other category of tropical rhythm. My biggest frustration was not being able to share my music discoveries with my non-Spanish speaking friends. After attending my first Latin American Music Conference (LAMC) a couple of years ago, I was overjoyed to discover that I wasn’t the only one out there that was open to the music gems of the rock and pop en Español scene. When I saw that the 12th annual conference was being held in New York City again this summer, I registered months in advance.
The days consisted of panels that helped artists and industry people alike grow their side of the music business, however I focused on discovering the new bands. LAMC SOB’s (Sounds of Brazil’s) Acoustic Showcase is the best place for it. In two and a half hours, 11 bands had only two songs to capture old or new audiences. This year’s showcase started off strong with Ely Guerra. She was definitely the most established artist of the showcase and the audience respected the Mexican’s songstress as she poured her soul out on stage by not uttering a word.
While I thought that Ely would be a tough act to follow, the LAMC folks came in strong by introducing Napoleon Solo, who also received the LAMC Discovery Artist Award later that night. In their first trip to New York, the Spanish natives not only one big, they also had audiences singing along to their catchy tunes Tiene Que Acabar and Lolaila Caramona. Upbeat tunes continued with Colombia’s Grammy nominated Superiltio. This band really highlights what the Latin community can do with rock by combining a funky, jazzy, and traditional “tropical” sound to their music.
I found Venezuela’s One Chot to be a very cheesy reggae act that was lucky to have a talented group of musicians backing him. It was really the only lackluster performance of the night. I preferred the hip-hop infused sounds of Cuarto Poder (Fourth Power), whose name is an allusion to the power of the press and representative of their inspiring lyrics. La Vida Bohème was a standout group not only because of the Jackson Pollock inspired image, but also because of their very raw rock. It was hard not to dance to their hit tune Radio Capital and I felt these guys could give some of the English speaking bands you would hear on college radio a run for their money. Uruguay’s No Te Va Gustar, which literally means “You’re Not Going to Like It”, was a crowd pleaser with their hit pop song “Chau (Goodbye).”
Elefant’s former frontman Diego Garcia was one of the real treats of the evening, even though he took too long to set up on stage. The wait was worth hearing You Were Never There from his solo album Laura which NPR named a favorite of the year. Although his good looks are hard to ignore, the ’70s influence and Garcia’s voice are just as pleasing. What was also hard to ignore of his set was the string musicians that accompanied him — it gave his set a really polished quality.
Gaby Moreno also displayed a retro sound, however more ragtime than ’70s. The LA-based Guatemalan has toured with the likes of Ani DiFranco and had the crowd shocked with the big sound coming out of her petite frame. The night closed with what Latin people would say “un broche de oro” — a golden brooch. Hello Seahorse! and their front woman Lo Blondo blew everyone away with her operatic voice. While their music is typically more electronica than acoustic, it is an acoustic set that separates true talent from amateurs … and there was no doubt that this band had what it takes to be big.
Whether bands perform in Spanish or English, or whether their sounds infused Latin rhythms or an indie rock vibe, the LAMC showcase really displays the variety of music that is offered beyond our borders. I made some new friends that night, but this time instead of keeping the music to myself and those in the audience, I sent my recommendations to my monolingual friends, hoping that they like what they hear and pass it on too. I can only hope that one day one of them will surprise me with a recommendation from this overlooked genre.