Andrea Cruz:She’s only recently released her debut album “Tejido de Laurel,” but already Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Andrea Cruz is a rising artist to watch. At her performance during SXSW’s first Sounds of Puerto Rico showcase, she poured everything into each song creating some goosebump-inducing moments as she took audiences on an emotional musical journey.
Gato Preto: As one half of the German-based Afrofuturistic electronic duo Gato Preto, MC Gata Misteriosa lights up the stage with a super-charged live performance and infectious dance moves. She grew up in Portugal and has roots in Mozambique. Her showmanship, style and high energy makes her on-stage presence hard to beat.
Kayla Briët:At 21, the uber-talented Kayla Briët, of California, is the ultimate one woman band. In her unique performances, she sings as well as plays the keyboard, guitar and traditional Chinese instrument called a guzheng zither. Oh, and she does all this while live looping. Often during the performance, she’ll have one hand playing the guzheng zither and the other playing her keyboard at the same time. Kayla’s talents extend beyond music. She’s also a filmmaker and virtual reality artist whose inspired by her Prairie Band Potawatomi/Neshnabe, Chinese, and Dutch-Indonesian roots.
Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Andrea Cruz‘ debut album “Tejido de Laurel” released in September 2017 – just two days after Hurricane María devastated the island. Instead of the concerts and promotional events that follow a record launch, Cruz found herself instead distributing food and water to affected families across Puerto Rico.
It wasn’t exactly how she imagined her first record launch. Her aunt lost her home and Cruz’ medicinal plant garden was wiped out. “It looked like winter because the trees were bare as if they had caught fire,” Cruz says. “But we’re a resilient island.”
Like Cruz, the other artists in the showcase experienced the impact of the hurricane in some way. At Speakeasy Kabaret, tucked behind the main venue stage, artist supporters will perform as well during the benefit showcase.
For Cruz, music is part of the healing process. So she took her guitar with her to the different towns where she was helping distribute basic needs and played songs for affected families whenever she could. Sometimes that meant performing in people’s front porch or in community relief stations like basketball courts.
“Everyone thinks of food and water in emergencies,” she says. “But I had crying mothers thanking me for bringing music (to them in the hurricane’s aftermath). People also need to heal spiritually and mentally.”
Among the themes that “Tejido de Laurel,” touches on are healing and nature, which now seems serendipitous. Without electricity, many of Puerto Rico’s music venues like bars and restaurants were shut down, leaving musicians out of work.
“There’s no solid music industry in Puerto Rico, so you have to do it yourself,” Cruz says. That DIY attitude has been felt even more after the hurricane. Musicians in Puerto Rico are now creating innovative approaches to booking shows from launching house concerts to aligning with global companies that offer rotating concerts that don’t depend on any one venue.
Cruz says that ingenuity helps keeps musicians pushing forward despite lack of resources. About a month after the hurricane hit, Cruz and some of her friends sat in a barwith finicky Internet powered by generators and applied to SXSW.
“It was the last day to apply,” she says. “We thought ‘let’s try and see what happens.'”
Latin American icon Rúben Blades, who helped revolutionize the New York salsa music movement in the 1970s, has managed to lead a prolific decades-long career while keeping many parts of his life private or under the radar.
Some, for example, might not realize that aside from penning the Latin American classic song “Pedro Navaja,” Blades has also had acting roles in more than 30 films, worked alongside greats such as Diane Keaton and Robert De Niro and now portrays Daniel Salazar in AMC’s “Fear The Walking Dead.” Others might not know that he’s earned two law degrees, created a political party in his native Panama and ran for president of the Central American country.
That’s why with the South by Southwest premiere of Ruben Blades Is Not My Name,” the documentary about his life, Blades said he hopes to finally set the record straight.
“I wasn’t keen on cameras following me for a documentary,” he said at a featured session on Wednesday afternoon, where he was interviewed by NPR Alt.Latino‘s Felix Contreras. But “when you have more of a past than a future,” you need to share your own story, the 69-year-old star said.
Blades pushed the salsa music boundaries when he wrote songs about social issues instead of the escapist songs that dominated the genre at the time. “I didn’t write to get famous,” he said. “I wrote to tell meaningful stories.” Even though his songs weren’t commercial and often weren’t played on the radio, people still connected with his music. “Not everything needed to be escape music,” he said. “I wrote because I was upset (at current events) even though it wasn’t considered healthy for a musical career.”
He said Gabriel García Márquez called him a “cronista.” Blades agrees. He said he always thought of himself as a “newspaper man” chronicling life through his songs. He credits his grandmother who taught him how to read at an early age for being a voracious reader. It’s what he said helped him develop his own songwriting and editing style. He also credits law school for learning how to see both sides of a story and writing based on facts. “Never think that the audience doesn’t get it,” he said.
The ability to relate to his lyrics, he said, has helped new generations embrace his music. In the next chapter of his career, Blades plans to focus on recording music and has several projects in progress such as a son Cubano album, as well as a rock/pop/reggae album. He’s co-written a screenplay with Cuban writer Leonardo Padura and hopes to team up with René Pérez Joglar, also known as Residente for a album about social commentary.
Although his career might have taken a different path, Blades said he’ll keep moving forward.
South by Southwest 2017 has been full of inspiring moments and amazing musical discoveries. I kept finding myself at showcases led by strong, talented women. Here’s a few who caught my eye.
Luna Lee (South Korea): She may be small, but she’s fierce. Not only is the Seoul-based musician a rock star, but Lee has revolutionized the way a traditional Korean gayageum is played. She’s invented techniques to play rock and blues on the zither-like string instrument. And when her government pulled funding for her to attend SXSW, Lee’s fans brought her here anyway.
ILe (Puerto Rico): You may recognize her as the feminine voice of Calle 13, who for nearly a decade toured with her brothers Rene Pérez Joglar aka Residente and Eduardo Cabra aka Visitante. But it’s time to get to know Ileana Cabra’s own music as a solo artist. Cabra pours everything into her moving, theatrical performances that are a nod to yesteryear.
La Dame Blanche (Cuba): Yaite Ramos Rodriguez oozes swag. The hip-hop artist struts on stage wearing a cape and smoking a cigar. She spits rhymes and then turns around and starts playing the flute. She’s uber talented and her live performances can’t be missed.
Liniker e os Caramelows (Brazil): It was her first time performing in the U.S., but hopefully not the last. We want to hear more from Liniker Barros, frontwoman for the popular Brazilian soul/funk band. As a black, transgender singer, she brings an important perspective to music and on stage her charisma and magnetic performances make her an artist to watch.