SXSW Spotlight: Luz Elena Mendoza of Y La Bamba on music, identity

Luz Elena Mendoza at SXSW 2017. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani/American-Statesman

Catch Y La Bamba at 11 p.m. March 18 at the Palm Door on Sixth Patio

For Y La Bamba frontwoman Luz Elena Mendoza, music has been therapeutic. And when she takes the stage, you feel the raw emotion of her journey.

Mendoza, a South by Southwest showcasing artist, has been performing sans her Portland-based band at the festival. It’s something that she says is “really scary and hard, but also inspiring.” A stripped down version of her music means she’s relying on her individual strength while she’s on stage, which results in honest performances that are a refreshing step away from the usual SXSW madness that can sweep up the festival.

Mendoza, 35, has been writing and singing since she was a young girl and remembers penning her first song in elementary school. She didn’t grow up on Bob Dylan or the Beatles. Instead, as a daughter of immigrant parents, her childhood soundtrack included artists like Vicente Fernandez and Ramon Ayala.

Her bilingual folk music has also been an exploration of her Mexican identity. “I’ve never felt Mexican enough for Mexicans or American enough for Americans,” she says. “But also I’ve never felt Mexican American enough for Mexican Americans because of the way I look,” she says.

Mendoza, who is tall with short hair and fair-skin, says she knows what it feels like to be “an outcast among outcasts.” Lately, even at SXSW, she’s been asked about her identity a lot and peppered with questions from why she speaks Spanish so well to why she’s singing in Spanish.

“How do you talk about this with someone in a way that’s productive?” she says. When Mendoza writes, she doesn’t think about what language works best for what song. She writes what she feels and that comes from all the layers that make up her identity.

“People sometimes want to put you in a box,” she says. “But I’ve realized that I just need to take care of my spirit. My body is just a capsule and it doesn’t define everything.”

 

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.

Afro-Brazilian R&B band Liniker e os Caramelows break transgender barriers at SXSW

Liniker e os Caramelows at SXSW 2017. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani/American-Statesman

Catch Liniker e os Caramelows at 1 a.m. March 17 at Palm Door on Sixth and midnight March 18 at Flamingo Cantina.

When Afro-Brazilian singer Liniker Barros steps on stage with her popular R&B band Liniker e os Caramelows, she helps break transgender barriers with every soulful note. Through the band’s evocative sound and magnetic stage presence, they’ve been able to perform in Brazilian spaces where black, transgender artists wouldn’t typically go before.

“That in itself is a political statement,” says Pericles Zuanon, the band’s percussionist. In Brazil, their shows bring together mixed LGBT and straight audiences, he says. They’re also pushing boundaries, he says, because the rest of the band is straight and led by a black, transgender woman. “We believe in the dignity of life,” Zuanon says. “At the end of the day we want to spread love and respect.”

The band’s South by Southwest showcases mark the first time they’ve performed abroad and look forward to connecting with new audiences.

Liniker Barros performs at the Russian House during SXSW. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani/American-Statesman

For Barros, who captured Brazil’s attention after a YouTube video of a performance went viral, music has always been close to her heart. Growing up with a musical family, though, also meant that she felt intimidated at first to sing aloud. But soon she found her own voice. At 16, she began writing songs and says she found “her soul in her words.”  “I could translate all my feelings into songs, and now I can’t see myself without my voice,” Barros says. “It was how I found my personality.”

Barros finds solace in the fact that she’s not trailblazing on her own. With other Brazilian bands led by transgender artists, she feels like “we’re fighting together to strengthen our music, our country.”

 

Residente talks Trump, fascism, and baseball at SXSW All Latino Resist Concert

Residente performs at Auditorium Shores during the 2017 SXSW Conference March 16. 03/16/17 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Latinos have been at the center of many contentious issues lately, from raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement across the country to a controversial border wall debate. At South by Southwest on Thursday, the nonprofit organization Voto Latino brought together activist musicians for a free concert at the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake.

Featured performers included Mexican ska-fusion band Panteón Rococó, Los Angeles-based Latin music mashers Ozomatli, and Residente, who headlined the special All Latino Resist Concert. Festivalgoers waved Mexican and Texas flags and at one point chanted, “Latinos! Latinos!”

Former Calle 13 rapper Rene Pérez Joglar aka Residente pumped up the crowd with a memorable, high energy performance that kicked off with his latest single as a solo artist “Somos Anormales.” His new album was inspired by a DNA test the artist took years ago. His journey around the world to retrace his genetic makeup is also the subject of the “Residente” documentary that premiered at SXSW. In it he features musicians from China to Niger.

“My band is made up of immigrants from around the world,” he told the cheering crowd. “F*** Trump.”

Ozomatli performs at Auditorium Shores during the 2017 SXSW Conference March 16. 03/16/17 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

From past Calle 13 hits like “El Aguante” to his new hip-hop/world sound, Pérez Joglar united the crowd at Auditorium Shores by dedicating the goosebump-inducing performance of “Latinoamérica” to all immigrants. At the Drive-In’s Omar Rodríguez-López joined Pérez Joglar on stage for several songs where he played lead guitar. His mad skills are also featured in the new Residente album, set to drop later this month.

At one point Pérez Joglar, a self-professed baseball fanatic, asked the enthusiastic crowd to chant “Puerto Rico! Puerto Rico!” so he could send the video to the Puerto Rican baseball team competing in the World Baseball Classic. He also gave a platform to festivalgoers holding a “Refuse Facism” sign that said, “In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.” Pérez Joglar asked for the sign, read it aloud and displayed it on stage for all to see.

 

SXSW 2017: Residente reflects on life after Calle 13, new film and album

Residente at SXSW 2017. Photo by Nancy Flores

After 25 Grammys and more than a decade as rapper and co-founder of the alternative rap duo “Calle 13,” René Pérez Joglar, also known as Residente, has started a new chapter on his own.

“As an artist, I was starting to feel comfortable and that’s the worst feeling,” Pérez Joglar said. “As soon as you start feeling comfortable, you have to quit and do something else. It would have been very easy to do another tour with Calle 13, but I took a risk.”

Over the years, Calle 13 pushed musical boundaries, caused controversy, raised awareness about social justice issues and constantly evolved. Now, Pérez Joglar, who has earned more Grammy awards than any other Latino artist, is carving another path. At South by Southwest this week, he premiered his documentary “Residente,” and will perform with his new band at Thursday’s free Latino Resist Concert at Lady Bird Lake. His solo album drops later this month.

On Wednesday afternoon, Pérez Joglar spoke in the SXSW featured session “Conversation with Residente,” where he let fans in on the past and future of the Puerto Rican rapper who began spitting rhymes at age 11.

Pérez Joglar still remembers the days when he was trying to get the attention of record labels. “I would start rapping in front of the security cameras outside of the (record label’s building),” he said with a laugh.

A Conversation with Residente at SXSW 2017. Photo by Nancy Flores

As a student, Pérez Joglar landed a scholarship to attend art school in Savannah, Georgia. It was there, he said, that he learned to create things that were a reflection of what affected him. It’s a lesson that he’s carried with him throughout all of his creative endeavors. “It’s impossible to be only one thing,” he said. In his music, he can rap about everything from politics to partying. “That’s the balance that I have.”

The master lyricist, known for using phrasing with double or triple meanings, said he likes his lyrics to be poetic but accessible. “I like improvisation because it’s an art, but in my writing every sentence has a meaning.” His creative process nowadays works in different ways. Sometimes music or a concept will spark lyrics or “sometimes I’ll come home drunk and start writing,” he said. “But I love the editing process because I love playing with words.”

For his documentary and new album, Pérez Joglar took inspiration from a DNA test he took years ago. Then, he documented his journey throughout all of the countries and regions that have formed a part of his genetic makeup from Armenia to Africa.

At the height of his career, when he could collaborate with any big name artist he wants, Pérez Joglar chose to instead collaborate with lesser known artists from around the world such as throat singers. Despite some of the language barriers throughout his global trek, Pérez Joglar said “music was our language.”

 

Pan Americana, Mexican American Experience Festivals offer free Latin music during SXSW

While the South by Southwest crowds are worrying about wristbands, badges and lines, Latin music lovers can check out free music with a lakeside view during the Mexican American Experience and Pan Americana festivals March 15-18.

The two separate festivals at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center celebrate the diversity within the Latin music genre by showcasing everything from Tejano grooves to Latin alternative beats. It’s where you can discover new musical gems but also dance to your favorite songs.

AJ Castillo will headline a show at the Mexican American Experience Festival.

Tejano Music Award winners Jaime y Los Chamacos, of San Antonio, will headline the March 15 showcase at the Mexican American Experience. Other featured performers at the showcase, which starts at 5 p.m., include Los García Brothers, Rumores, Lesly Reynaga and Austin Tejano Idol 2011 winner Ashley Borrero.

Tejano music star A.J. Castillo returns to the Mexican American Experience festival this year to headline the March 16 showcase at 10 p.m. Some acts performing earlier that evening include cumbia band Cañonazo, former frontman of Grupo Vida Art Tigerina, former David Lee Garza Y Los Musicales member Ben Ozuna and Austin-based singer Mia Garcia.

Still want more music? Don’t worry — after the Mexican American Experience ends, the Pan Americana Festival begins on March 17-18. Some of their Friday performers include all-female DJ group Chulita Vinyl Club and Rio Jordan (made up of the sons of legendary accordionist Esteban Jordan). Some of the Saturday night performers include Grammy Award winners David Lee Garza y Los Musicales and funk/soul group 80H Project. Check facebook.com/PanAmericanaFestival for schedule and lineup updates.

Here’s the full line-up for the Mexican American Experience:

Doors open at 5 p.m. Times subject to change.

Wed. March 15

5:30 p.m. Lesly Reynaga

6 p.m. Ashley Borrero

7:15 p.m. Rumores

8:30 p.m. Los Garcia Brothers

9:45 p.m Jaime y Los Chamacos

Thursday, March 16

5:30 p.m. Michel/Corpus Christi

6:30 p.m. Cañonazo

7:30 p.m. Ben Ozuna

8:30 p.m. Art Tigerina Band

9:15 p.m. Mia Garcia

10 p.m. AJ Castillo

Here’s the Pan Americana Festival Line-up (talent subject to change)

Friday, March 17

Ray Carrion and Thee Latin AllStars

Rio Jordan

Chente Barrera y Taconazo

Devin Banda

Chulita Vinyl Club

Sat., March 18

David Lee Garza y Los Musicales

80 H Project

Veronique

Chulita Vinyl Club