The night wasn’t planned that way, but the beauty of South by Southwest is that sometimes cool stuff bubbles to the surface when you’re not looking. On the last night of festival, it hit me that show after show I was seeing all of these mind-blowing, talented and powerful frontwomen back-to-back.
All of them were incredibly different in their musical style, but all were rocking the fest in their own inspiring ways.
Yissy: Yissy García first got on my radar at the Sounds from Cuba showcase Friday night where her hip Afro-Latin jazz fusion band Yissy & Bandancha performed. She not only has mad percussive skills, but also leads the group. She’s the daughter of musical hero Bernardo García, who founded the groundbreaking Cuban group, Irakere. Yissy brought her fierceness to the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake while backing other Cuban artists Telmary Díaz and Kelvis Ochoa.
Miss Garrison: Francisca Straube of the Chilean electro pop-rock outfit Miss Garrison is another drummer who doesn’t stay on the sidelines. Her hauntingly beautiful voice also has enormous power. During a live show you can see her rock out on the drums, sing and play the keyboard. What can’t this woman do?
Maureen Choi Quartet: Originally from Detriot, Michigan, the virtuoso violinist Maureen Choi now lives in Spain. According to quartet’s bio, she’s one of the few violinists in the world who can blend the virtuosity of classical music with improvisation and driving Latin rhythms.
Nitty Scott MC: So I couldn’t tear myself away from the Maureen Choi show early enough to catch Nitty Scott MC, but she was one of my picks for U.S.-based Latin acts at SXSW. The New York rapper has been on the rise lately with her socially conscious music that explores themes from her Afro Latina identity to mental health and spirituality. The half-Puerto Rican, half-African American artist has collaborated with rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and Action Bronson. Luckily, Austin 360 writer Deborah Sengupta Stith did catch Nitty’s awesome show. Here’s what she had to say: https://www.instagram.com/p/BDKWkxZjHmw/?taken-by=deborific
Madame Gandhi: When I ran into a friend early Saturday, he recommended this project to me and described it as an “electro-feminist” group. I kind of like that description. Kiran Gandhi, vocalist and drummer (that’s three kick-butt female drummers leading their respective bands!) and Alexia Riner are uber smart, savvy and talented musicians. Gandhi is also a feminist activist, earned an MBA from Harvard and has toured professionally drumming for M.I.A. Dear SXSW, can Gandhi return next year and also be a speaker at the conference?
The sun shone on a dry Auditorium Shores Saturday afternoon after the free shows on Friday evening were cancelled due to severe weather. But for a while last night, I worried that there was a chance that the Latino concerts would suffer the same fate as they did last year.
In 2015, the free Latino showcases at Auditorium Shores were cancelled because of standing water following a heavy downpour. Disappointed fans never got to see the evening’s headliner, Intocable, which the festival invited back this year.
But thankfully on Saturday, the park’s gates opened and festgoers enjoyed the laid-back vibe that these shows offer. Children kicked around soccer balls, others played frisbee between shows, which started at 2 p.m. with soulful Cuban artist Telmary Díaz followed by Cuban trova singer Kelvis Ochoa. Both of them were featured performers at SXSW’s first Sounds from Cuba showcase.
Kicking up the party atmosphere on Saturday afternoon was 3BallMTY from Monterrey. The group of young DJs who are both SXSW and Pachanga Festival alums helped popularize tribal dance music by mixing regional Mexican sounds with electronica and cumbia. They had fans of all ages bouncing to their beats (look mom, no laptops). That’s right, the guys were making beats on stage as opposed to hitting play on a computer.
As lead vocalist with genre-mashers Ozomatli, Asdru Sierra has been helping redefine Latin music for a new generation. Now the Grammy Award winner has teamed up with LA producer, DJ and actor Balt Getty for a passion project that fuses electronic music, Latin rhythms and moody atmospherics.
Ahead of their South by Southwest showcase at 10 p.m. Saturday at Lucky Lounge, Sierra shared how the duo came together and what festgoers can expect from their live shows.
How did you guys hook up; What drew you together?
We met at our kid’s elementary school! Always had a great connection. One day Balt asked if I would sing on his “Solar Drive” record on a song we wrote called, “Go Away.” There was a great energy that made our creativity flow.
Once I showed Balt a few demos of songs I wrote, he loved an early version of “Marcando Paso.” Which became a first of many for Abstrakto.
He then said to me, “Make ten more just like that!” Since Balt launched his record label, Purple Haus Music, he asked me if I would be on it as an artist. Felt he could really produce my record. He did!!! Been magic ever since, man.
Ozomatli is known for energetic live shows, what can fans expect from Abstrakto live?
The record itself is a sonic, cinematic journey. Live, we try to recreate that, but approach it in an electronic sense, using the original music as organic loops and rolling the beats and rock the crowd that way. Almost like hip hop with Balt as a DJ and myself on vocals, trumpet and keys.
We also have a percussionist with us on congas and timbales. It’s different than Ozo, but we still have this intensity we create live that rocks the crowd.
Any new Abstrakto music/projects on the horizon?
We recently launched a double vinyl album with the leading vinyl company, the Vinyl Factory out of the U.K. They do all the major vinyl releases from all the big artists like Radiohead and Florence + The Machine. The vinyl release comes with one record being the original album, and the other being a few remixes we had some buddies do! Artists like Mexican American hip hop star, Kap G, who is out of Atlanta and signed to Pharrell’s label, are on it. There is also production from King Dave and Anthony Valadez from KCRW to give the remix album a unique and diverse sound. There are some electro and hip hop elements. We called the remix album “Abstrakto Remex” to play on me being Mexican…and the lyrics being in Spanish.
Honestly, the record sounds way better on vinyl, in my humble opinion. Since this is a record we intended to be really listened intently to, the music nerd side of me really shows when it comes to this. The digital version is coming very soon, so look out for it!
Balt’s vision as a label mogul and producer makes all this possible. We are looking to also release b-sides and possibly more remixes. Hey…maybe a second Abstrakto album. I’m sure more things will come!
The music has been described as cinematic and featured in a show for Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey network. Any plans to hook up with the filmmaker while you’re in Austin for SXSW?
Ah!!! No plans made. I really hope to meet him, some day. I know he writes his own music to his movies. But I hope for a collaboration some day. Balt is also a triple threat as an actor! So I hope there’s a mega, creative, awesome venture in our future.
It was an honor that he used one of our tracks on his TV show! I love everything he does! My kids and I love “Sharkboy and Lava Girl,” which, from what I understand, he wrote with his kids!! I still geek out every time I watch “Dusk Til Dawn,” pythons and all.
Daymé Arocena performs at SXSW 2016. Photo by Nancy Flores
Twelve Cuban musicians. Five bands. One night.
“You tell me if you think this was easy to put together,” artist Telmary Díaz teased the crowd at Speakeasy on Friday night. “Hell no!”
Díaz kicked off South by Southwest’s first-ever Cuban music showcase by thanking the festival, showcase organizers and fans for helping make history. Over the years Cuban artists like songstress Danay Suárez have been featured at SXSW, but this year’s performances were part of the first Sounds from Cuba showcase, which was presented by Roads & Kingdoms magazine and Cuban artist center Fábrica de Arte Cubano.
Díaz, a soulful rapper, singer and poet, was backed by musicians from the Afro-Latin jazz quintet Yissy & Bandacha, who also performed later in the night. Watching the chill-inducing artist combination and other music masters throughout the night made Speakeasy the perfect place to hunker down for a few hours while severe weather threats loomed outdoors. While the festival urged participants to seek shelter, those already inside Speakeasy couldn’t imagine leaving anyway.
Díaz’ style ranged from delivering spitfire rhymes that had the crowd cheering to danceable grooves that kept the fans swaying. Her blow-your-mind performance set the bar high for the rest of the musicians who all showed the richness in Cuba’s musical diversity.
Adding some modern jazz interpretations to the lineup was Yissy & Bandancha, who fused jazz everything from electronic music to Afro-Cuban rhythms. Yissy, the drummer and bandleader, launched her solo project in 2012.
Rising R&B artist Daymé Arocena, brought inimitable bilingual grooves that easily make her an artist to watch. Her powerful stage presence, charisma and robust vocals kept the crowd asking for more.
Rounding out the showcase were veteran performers X-Alfonso y La Flota and Kelvis Ochoa (who will also perform at 3 p.m. Saturday at the free SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake, which was formerly called the Auditorium Shores stage).
As the presence of Latin music steadily grows at SXSW, let’s hope that these country-specific showcases continue to show people the quality of musicians beyond our borders.
The third time was the charm for Tijuana-born singer-songwriter Vanessa Zamora who applied to be a South by Southwest showcasing artist twice before finally getting her chance this year.
Zamora, who released her “Hasta la Fantasía” debut album in 2014 has been turning heads in the Latin independent music scene for her heartfelt lyrics, authenticity and limitless potential. She’ll perform at two official SXSW showcases — at 9 p.m. Friday at the Departure Lounge and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Blackheart.
Zamora began playing piano and guitar as a young girl, but it wasn’t until she was 18 that she began writing her own songs. They were more like diary entries than songs, she says, but they helped her deal with a breakup that had her feeling depressed. She was also at a crossroads in her life, trying to figure out whether to pursue her communication studies even though her heart wasn’t into it.
“I was afraid of singing, though,” Zamora says. “I’m not sure why, but sometimes we can be our own biggest obstacles.”
She credits Julia Cameron’s self-help book, “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” to helping her realize that all those diary entries could actually be songs and that she should keep writing. She soon started sharing her music on YouTube and her friends helped spread her musical message.
One day, a video of Zamora singing a cover of Latin Grammy winner Carla Morrison’s song “Esta Soledad” caught Morrison’s attention. When the singer-songwriter shared it on her social media networks, Zamora gained new fans. Since then Morrison, who is part of an important wave of Mexican female Latin alternative artists, has taken Zamora under her wing.
“I’m a new artist, and I have a lot to learn,” says Zamora, who doesn’t read music. “I’m letting my ears tell me what to do.”
After SXSW, she plans to concentrate on her new material in her hometown of Tijuana. Although she’s lived in Mexico City for the past two years, Tijuana’s still the place where she feels the most inspired and creative.
Zamora’s enthusiasm about what lies ahead is contagious. The pop-folk songs that her fans have come to love are only “2 percent of what I can give,” Zamora says. She’s looking forward to recording a more energetic album that’ll have people moving and dancing. She hopes to record a couple of songs in English as well.
“Music is my therapy,” Zamora says. “And I have a lot more to say.”
Colombia’s presence at South by Southwest remains strong with artists representing the diversity of the South American country’s sound. At Speakeasy on Thursday night, rock band Velo de Oza kicked off the night with an energetic bang.
The quintet, which proudly represents the mountainous Andean uplands of Colombia’s Boyacá region, likes to sport traditional Colombian poncho-like ruanas over their rocker clothes and even penned a hip-shaking song in its honor. Their flair, style and humor raise the bar for showmanship skills and make them a fun band to watch live. Between songs, they keep the crowd laughing with their witty double entendres and light-hearted sense of humor.
In order to showcase their unique fusion of rock-pop with the Colombian folk music of carranga, they incorporate instruments such as the tube-like guacharaca, which produces a rhythmic sound when scratched.
Bringing another kind of animated energy on the stage was Medellin rapper Kiño, who was backed by a live band. When a pair of uninhibited dancers dashed near the stage and let loose, it broke the ice for the entire crowd who then joined in and started the party atmosphere that remained strong throughout their set.
Other featured Colombian performers at the showcase, many who have additional SXSW showcases, included reggae band Tarmac, alternative pop duo Pedrina y Río, hip-hop fusion band Duran, and Latin funk band Cirkus Funk.
Garage punk rockers Los Nastys from Madrid made their American debut at South by Southwest this week. The raucous band formed part of the group of featured artists who performed at the Sounds from Spain showcase, which promotes Spanish music internationally.
Los Nastys released their latest album “Noche de Fantasmas” earlier this month and were looking forward to connecting with other musicians as well as music industry professionals during the festival. “There’s nothing quite like South by Southwest in Europe,” said guitarist Fran Basilio in Spanish.
For bands like Los Nastys who emerged from Spain’s underground scene, the country’s economic downturn hasn’t been easy. “All of us have day jobs,” said bandmate Luli Acosta Quintas in Spanish. “I work in a clothing retail store to make ends meet.” Still the band looks forward to touring in the U.S. for the first time (they head to California after SXSW) and expect to get many song ideas while on the road for a future second album.
Catch Los Nastys at 8 p.m. Thursday at Lucille, 11 p.m. Friday at Lucille and 9 p.m. Saturday at Maggie Mae’s.
With a powerful stage presence that commanded the attention of the room, African songstress Elida Almeida strutted on the stage at the Russian House Wednesday evening and captivated world music lovers with her enchanting voice, moving spirit and fun-loving nature.
At just 23 years old, Almeida already has an incredible depth and charisma as an artist that stretches beyond her years. Perhaps it’s because she wears her heart on her sleeve. Though danceable and uplifting, some of her songs in Portuguese reflect on melancholy moments from her childhood including the death of her father when she was just a girl and the conversation she had with her mother when she found out Almeida was pregnant. At 17, Almeida wrote her first song.
But Almeida also knows how to turn it up with Afro-Latin and folk rhythms. She tied a scarf around her hips for a booty-shaking session that had the crowd cheering. “It’s easy,” she said with a smile. When the crowd begged to differ, the room filled with laughter.
Keep your eyes on this rising artist from Cape Verde, an island off the west coast of Africa, who has turned her life’s struggles into a drive that pushes her forward. “You have to believe in yourself,” she told the crowd.
Almeida’s performance was part of a Sounds from the World showcase, which featured other international artists such as Cabezas Flutantes of Brazil who present upbeat, pop experimental songs that showcase tropical soundscapes.
After the success of the first Pakistan showcase at South by Southwest last year, a new slew of artists representing the country performed on Wednesday evening at the Victorian Room at the Driskill Hotel. The showcase, which is a project of the Foundation for Arts, Culture and Education (FACE), aims to highlight the best of Pakistani culture through music.
When energetic folk singer Wahid Allan Faqir took the stage, he animated the crowd with his festive spirit and colorful traditional outfit. The showcase brought together many ex-pats who sat on the carpeted floor in front of the stage while others danced and encouraged Faqir to step off stage and dance among the festgoers.
This year’s performers also included electronic music producer Dynoman, soulful songstress Mai Nimani, singer/poet Imran Aziz Mian Qawwal and rock band Overload. Some of the musicians have additional shows throughout the festival. Check the SXSW schedule for dates and times.
Organizers said they hope the Pakistan showcase, which has support from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, becomes an annual tradition at SXSW.