Five years ago I walked into Central Park Summerstage after seeing a bus stop poster in my Staten Island neighborhood promoting the Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC), then in it’s 7th year taking place between New York, Los Angeles and one time in Toronto. I’ll never forget the day I saw the poster. I was in college at the time, and it was summertime. I was interning at Fatbeats Records (the seminal independent hip-hop label) and just figuring out where I came from, who I was then and where I was going.
In my mind, and out loud to myself I remember saying ‘Wait a minute. I’m an alternative Latina I guess. I love hip-hop music. I am open to new sounds. I love reggae, R&B, dance music and anything that’s good and moves me.’ I even had an idea back then for a website or blog called ‘Futuroots’ because I was processing these complex mutations and influences I had, being a city kid of immigrant parents growing up in the cultural abyss that is New York City. “WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?” I thought.
Back to Summerstage. I attended because I was turned on to Argentinean legend Cerati from Soda Stereo while I studied abroad in the Domincan Republic. I hadn’t listened to *any* Latin rock growing up – it was all Hot 97 mixtapes, classical music and whatever mom and pop played at home and I was thrilled to see him play in New York City. I was just at the beginning of exploring about how much rock and ska was appreciated in South America.
That day was also the first time I saw budding urban Latino hip-hop group, Calle 13. What I had assumed I would get, which was shitty reggaeton music I thought was machista and wack, was actually the opposite. I watched in awe lead vocalist Rene AKA Residente, kill it with a full full FULL band + multiple percussionists who took me to places I had never been like the bomba/plena traditions of Afro-Puerto Rican culture. They also took me to places I had been: urban street sounds, good ol’ boombap hiphop with rapid-fire flows, instruments, and of course, the ubiqutous clave. I learned more about the band’s politics from an article I read in Un Chin Magazine (RIP). I learned a little bit more about Puerto Rico’s Nacionalist movement and complicated history/status with the Unites States. I was changed.
Long story short. I researched who put on the event and instantly reached out, conjured up the best and most impressive email I could based off of all the experience I had interning with media companies and organizing college shows (like Ozomatli, Dilated Peoples, X-ecutioners, etc) and before I knew it I was working for LAMC/Nacional Records in Los Angeles from 2007 – late 2009.
The experience of a lifetime, I traveled throughout Latin America and the USA working with amazing Latin Alternative icons behind-the-scenes like Manu Chao, Aterciopelados + Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. I learned about movements in different countries and artists across the Americas and in the USA/Canada doing every sort of music you can imagine. Some amazing, some shitty. Some capitalistic and gross, but most of it, in earnest.
Each year at LAMC, the craziest time of the year, I got to meet the amazing curators, engage-ers, journalists, promoters, radio people, sponsor people, cultural marketing heads, content creators, musicians/bands and entrepreneurs from all over the world pushing the music forward as the logistics/sponsorship/staff coordinator.
I was a sponge, a grasshopper, an endless communicator, and growing in ways I didn’t even realize until much more recently. After my time in Los Angeles working with a visionary, mentor, figurehead and tireless workhorse, Tomas Cookman, the urge to break out and develop my own destiny in this world I was so passionately beginning to understand/relate to and want to help grow/develop led me to where I am at this moment.
Los Rakas, the Panabaynian Dancehall, Reggae buzz group I currently work with, won last year’s LAMC Artist Discovery prize. The circles close and continue to multiply as we speak. They will rock Summerstage with an African Reggae Legend (Tikken Jah) later this summer, continue to rock Latin Alternative events like the Remezcla‘s The Spot to San Francisco’s killer Tropical Bass party Tormenta Tropical, to straight up urban reggae parties while collaborating with major hip-hop producers and being covered in outlets like ThisIs50.com, Shade 45, the FADER, NPR and National Geographic.
The intersections continue to weave in and out, to what I hope, is a growing acceptance at a mainstream level of music that may not be in English and incorporates the sounds that mix all these influences…not because of that solely, but mainly because it’s just too freaking good.
Today marked the end of the 12th Annual LAMC. I am proud and happy to see how much not only the conference has grown, but the growing awareness amongst colleagues and friends not even working in Latin Music and the sheer depth/diversity of sounds I heard this past week.
Revolutionary reggae roots rock from Venezuela to Dance rock in Venezuela to singer/songwriters strumming catchy songs in English who may be based in the US but who grew up in Central America, to cosmic merengue mixed with electronic music, to DJs (international and American) just at the beginning of exploring Latin America’s vast folkloric traditions mixed with experimental sounds….really, it’s endless. Because WE are endless. The influences are endless. We can be anything and sooner or later the marketing/genre labels just won’t be able to define the depths to which the influences grow off each other and multiply.
And as long as it’s good, and as long as people are hearing it, learning/acknowledging and opening themselves up to realizing that they too can like music that has been traditionally ghetto-ized and marketed only for certain communities and therefore, it’s not for ‘them’…can reach boundless listeners, change perceptions…and just, ENTERTAIN!
We, like Cookman, can grow our own companies, write what we wish about the music in mainstream publications (and continue to more and more), can work with sponsors (the new cultural patrons) when it makes sense, can (and do) play with the biggest touring artists, can be (and are) licensed in blockbuster films, commercials and TV shows, and grow in the tech/entertainment fields which are defining how this industry looks today in 2011 and beyond. We can do anything.
I could go on and on on this nostalgic muse, but I wanted to highlight some interesting pieces talking about LAMC and where it is at this point. Read these pieces:
“Both (Rita + Chocquibtown) groups fuse the pleasures and politics of hip-hop with electronics and local traditions, ending up with very different kinds of rooted yet forward-looking music. At the conference, “alternative” is a loose enough term to encompass rockers, singer-songwriters, hip-hop, electronic dance music and folkloric hybrids. By playing at conference showcases, for much smaller audiences than they draw at home, they signal ambitions that reach beyond national borders.”
NEW YORK TIMES: “LAMC: Musical Ambition, Defying All Barriers“
“Even when Latinos comprise the second-most populous ethic group in the city (or first, we’ll find out July 12 when they government drops our statecensus numbers — I personally wrote in “Chicana”) it feels like a marginal situation. If mainstream media is to be believed, Latin music consists exclusively of salsa, Shakira and J.Lo. Oh, and mariachis, but only in restaurants, amirite?!”
PBS: “Can Latin Music Bust Out of… Latin Music?“
“The notion of “Latin alternative” keeps expanding. Nowadays, it means any genre played by Latinos that is non-commercial (rock, electronic, reggae, hip hop), regardless of language or style.”
UNIVISION: “Highlights from the Latin Alternative Music Conference“
“Still, in terms of the Latin alternative world, these two acts are caught in a commercial limbo because of the difficulty of categorizing and marketing them. Cuarto Poder is not “world” or “ethnic” enough to appeal to fans of Latino rap music and their old school authenticity is disrupted for English listeners by their native tongue. Valenzuela is fairly popular in her home country but hasn’t clicked across Latin America, and there are too limited a number of Chilean immigrants in the US to make her a hot ticket.”
BILLBOARD – “New Sounds, New Approaches, Old Challenges Are Hot Topics at Latin Alternative Music Conference“
Back to more circles, I was happy to be able to promote the unofficial official LAMC afterparty with merengue paradigm shifter, the brilliant Rita Indiana, and tropical bass producer and party promoter, Geko Jones, at a sold out SOB’s last night. The show was electric, and gives me even more ammunition to continue the work that needs to be done in playing my part towards convincing, exposing and broadening the scope of the movement of Latin-influenced (and Afro-diasporic to Brazilian) roots-based future sounds (which does not even begin to describe how many sounds bands are exploring, but is the one I’m most interested in and the one I think has the most potential for creeping into the popular music category.)
To finish this potentially all-over-the-place entry, watch this video taken at Summerstage of Rita Indiana and it will sum-up up these thoughts. Footage courtesy PM_JAWN.