Catch New York’s Radio Jarocho perform in Austin

Radio Jarocho of New York is among the wave of young artists embracing traditional son jarocho music and making it their own. Photo contributed by Mar Joya

At a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric keeps growing and debates over asylum seekers and border walls heat up, it might seem impossible to find solutions. But there’s one thing that does make it possible for traditions and culture to flow without barriers or restrictions — music.

In recent years, son jarocho, the folk music that originated generations ago in Mexico’s Veracruz region with African and indigenous influences, has been embraced by U.S.-based bands from coast to coast. Most Americans first heard son jarocho without realizing it with Ritchie Valens’ rock ‘n’ roll cover of the son jarocho song “La Bamba.”

Today, contemporary bands draw upon the traditional folk music to create a sound influenced by unique bicultural experiences. Bands such as Las Cafeteras from Los Angeles and Austin’s own Son Armado(currently on hiatus) have allowed a new generation of listeners to make the music their own. On July 7, Radio Jarocho of New York, another influential son jarocho-inspired group, will perform at 8 p.m. at Central Presbyterian Church.

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Radio Jarocho offers a modern take on the genre, often fusing son jarocho with jazz, rock or flamenco. For their latest album “Rios de Norte y Sur,” Radio Jarocho teamed up with highly-regarded son jarocho musician Zenén Zeferino of Veracruz, who comes from a legendary son jarocho family. Zeferino’s family cattle ranch was often the place where neighboring musicians would gather after working in the fields to sing, play and dance.

But perhaps the heart of the music comes from Mexico City native turned New Yorker Julia del Palacio, who dances on a wooden platform called a tarima. When dancing, her body turns into a percussive instrument fueling the band’s beat.

The powerful pairing does more than create a moving live experience, the music builds bridges between Veracruz and New York; Mexico and the United States our past and present.

For more information, visit radiojarocho.com. Tickets cost $10.

Cumbia music festival kicks off in Austin on Saturday

Colombian American artist Kiko Villamizar brings a music festival exploring the folkloric roots of cumbia to Austin on June 9.

There’s nothing like cumbia to bring both elders and youth together. On June 9, the Wepa Cumbia Roots Festival returns to Austin with top musicians including Grammy award-winning folk masters Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto of Colombia.

What began as an inaugural festival last year has now expanded to several Texas cities with international stops in countries such as Spain and Germany. Featured Austin artists include Kiko Villamizar, who released his second album “Aguas Frias” in 2017, and Colombian funk band Superfónicos.

RELATED: Summer Music Guide

The festival, which starts at 2 p.m. and wraps up at 11:30 p.m., offers Austinites a unique chance to understand the layers of cumbia and the genre’s original instrumentation such as the gaita, the indigenous flute of Colombia. Don’t miss the chance to see why modern cumbia has risen in recent years and found its way to a new generation of listeners.

Advance tickets cost $23.16. Festivalgoers at Kenny Dorham’s Backyard on 1106 E. 11th St. will also enjoy an art market by Las Ofrendas. Visit wepafestival.com for more information.

MORE: Check out other Austin cultural art events

MACC to host four days of free Tejano music during SXSW

Little Joe y La Familia will headline the Pan Americana Festival at the MACC. Photo contributed by Henry Huey for Round Rock Leader.

You don’t need a badge, wristband or even cash to check out some of Tejano music’s biggest stars like Little Joe y La Familia and AJ Castillo during South by Southwest this year. Just head to the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center from March 14-17 for free music with a lakeside view.

For years the Mexican American Experience and Pan Americana Festivals, which take place during the week of South by Southwest but are not part of that festival, have offered music lovers the opportunity to check out diverse Latin music of all kinds. For the first time this year, the two back-to-back festivals are offering four days of Tejano music programming.

Aside from free admission, both festivals offer free parking at Sanchez Elementary, Martin Middle School and Fiesta Gardens. Free shuttles run from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. when the concerts end.

RELATED: How a 1972 concert became part of iconic Tejano music album cover

Tejano music legend Jay Perez will headline the Mexican American Experience, which is presented by the MACC and Crossroads Events, on March 14. Other performers include Grammy-nominated vocalist Stefani Montiel and rising artist Devin Banda.

AJ Castillo is among the headliners at the Mexican American Experience Festival.

Tejano music star A.J. Castillo returns to the Mexican American Experience festival this year to headline the March 15 showcase. Other performers include San Antonio-based group Jaime DeAnda Los Chamacos and Yayo Castillo y Rumores.

At the Pan Americana Festival, musical heavyweights Ricardo Castillon y La Diferenzia headline the March 16 concert. The Jorge Amayo Band, Angie Gonzalez and a mariachi group to be announced will round out the performers that evening.

Tejano music icon Little Joe y La Familia will headline the festivities on March 17. Veteran performer David Marez, past Tejano Idol winner Ashley Borrero and former Los Texas Wranglers vocalist Nikki Lopez will wrap up the festival.

 

Conjunto Los Pinkys wants you to be part of Saturday music video shoot

Javier Cruz, left, and Isidro Samilpa of Conjunto Los Pinky’s perform at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Plaza Saltillo District on Wednesday June 28, 2017. Scores of people attended the ceremony to mark the official beginning of construction on the 10-acre mixed use development next to the Plaza Saltillo MetroRail Station. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Want to be in a music video? Austin Music Hall of Famers Conjunto Los Pinkys will be shooting a video for their single “Mira Luisa” at 4 p.m. on Feb. 10 at Slow Pokes Brisket Shack in Manchaca, Texas, and fans are invited to participate.

“We love our fans and it’s very important to us that you be there to be a part of this special project,” the band wrote on its Facebook page. “We don’t want a music video that’s all about us. It’s important to include you, our family — the dancers and listeners that have been a part of our 25 year experience!”

RELATED: Read Cultura en Austin blog for more cultural art happenings 

Conjunto Los Pinkys has new residencies in 2018. Follow the squeezebox-heavy grooves to Cisco’s Restaurant and Bakery every first Saturday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. On the second Saturday of every month, check them out at Slow Pokes Brisket Shack during the restaurant’s monthly hot rod night with conjunto music from 6-9 p.m. Head to Little Mexico Restaurant on South First Street every third Sunday from 2-6 p.m. and to Sam’s Town Point every last Sunday of the month from 3 p.m.-6 p.m.

Ensuring that this Texas-based music tradition continues to flourish has been the mission of various arts groups across the state, including Austin’s Rancho Alegre Radio, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting both conjunto and Tejano music. Don’t miss Rancho Alegre Radio’s afternoon conjunto dance parties every first Sunday of the month at One-2-One Bar on South Lamar. While the tardeadas are on hiatus in February, mark your calendar for the next show on March 4.

On tour in land of Genghis Khan, musician Gina Chavez has Houston in her heart

In 2015, the Gina Chavez Trio (a small but mighty version of her full band) became one of 10 acts across the United States selected as cultural ambassadors as part of the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad program.
The Gina Chavez Trio — which includes musicians Michael Romero and Sammy Foster — joined an elite group of musicians who aim to connect cultures through the power of music. Since then, Gina Chavez has traveled around the world performing, teaching and learning about different cultures and musical traditions.
This time, Chavez takes us along on her journey. Through her guest blogs, we’ll peek into her travel diary to see what life is like in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. –Nancy Flores, Cultura en Austin columnist
Photos contributed by Kirsten Michener

BY GINA CHAVEZ

I’m sitting beneath the maple trees in the ancient city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and my heart is torn. I’ve been on sensory overload from the tour of a lifetime in Central Asia while my beloved Texas is hurting in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the passing of music angel Margaret Moser. Our internet access has been very limited, but the band and I all have Houston in our hearts as we represent the United States in the Stans. We know you are hurting and we can’t wait to get back and join the recovery efforts. We love you, Texas!

Where to begin? There was Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, with the horse meat that looked like cole slaw, the Hast Imam library where we saw the oldest version of the Koran in the world, rehearsing in Ambassador Spratlen’s basement, and sharing the stage with famous Uzbek singer Farraukh Zokirov. And then there was Samarkand.

We stepped off the train in Samarkand — ancient land of Genghis Khan and the Silk Road — to the booms and blares of Uzbek doira drums and karnay horns, on-the-spot TV interviews, dozens of volunteers grabbing our gear, young women in traditional clothing offering bread, salt, fruit and nuts. Everyone is here for Sharq Taronalari, an international music festival featuring 250 musicians from 58 countries! But it feels like something out of Harry Potter– see, we stepped off platform 9 3/4 into an alternative universe where high school summer camp meets the musical Olympics.

Our hotel is a non-stop live music jam infused with every language and sound you can imagine and lots more you’ve never heard of: Japanese Taiko drums, Nepalese sitar, accordions of all sizes, Turkish flute, the Brittany talabard (reed instrument), Ukrainian harp-like bandura, the komuz (three-stringed lute) from Kyrgyzstan, Iranian hammer dulcimer, frame drums from all over. It’s wild (and very loud outside my window at 3 a.m. every night)!

RELATED: Inside Gina Chavez’ Kazakhstan tour diary

In the morning, we eat together in the dining hall, then hop off the bus for a field trip to some ancient wonder — great astronomer Ulugh Beg’s 15th century observatory, Shah-i-Zinda mausoleums dating back to the 11th century — always accompanied by at least one police escort and multiple student guides. We’re gonna miss skipping every red light as we drive through town.

Our first show was the definition of a “throw-and-go” at a run-down Soviet-era park with the most hodgepodge sound equipment and me battling an impending sickness. Our second show, however, was the most majestic “stage” we have ever played. Ever. Our rhythms and voices soared throughout the Registan — three towering stone madrasahs (schools) that were the city center of 14th and 15th century Samarkand where philosophy, math and astronomy were taught and the silk trade flourished. The intricate geometric patterns, like tapestries on each stone facade, seemed to dance in the colored lights while the crowd went wild for our cover of “Nazar Nazar,” a Persian song made popular by Uzbek pop star Sardor Rahimxon.

Little did we know, that song would launch us into stardom throughout the region. By morning light festival volunteers, shop owners, museum staff, and tourists on the street stop us for photos, while crowds pour into our shows to see the Americans singing in Uzbek! Video views have climbed to 72,000 on Facebook and the story is circulating in major Uzbek newspapers and on Russian TV networks. Wha?!

We usually try to cover a song when we’re in a new country, but we’ve never seen a reaction like this. The Uzbek people are so proud of their culture — their textiles, history, dance, music — and they genuinely love when you try to speak even a word of Uzbek, so I think they’re shocked that we covered one of their songs. The opening line, “Samarqanding gyo’zali” (the beauty of Samarkand) pulls the women to their feet, their arms out wide, gold teeth flashing the biggest smiles. It’s a beautiful sight.

Even more beautiful was playing games and singing with kids among the trees at a nearby orphanage. Uzbekistan doesn’t allow them to be adopted outside of the country, so most of these kids are here for good, especially the teenagers. The kids were shy at first, but once we started “Nazar Nazar,” the girls lead the charge, singing their favorite songs for us, including “Jingle Bells.” We all screamed for “Musqaymok” (ice cream) and got everyone dancing the Hokey Pokey! Never gets old, that one.

Two days later, our musical Olympic village was invited to join the President of Uzbekistan for the official Opening Ceremony of the festival (oddly three days after we performed). That’s when our international summer camp turned into a Central Asian Disney World on steroids…

MORE: Check out the Cultura en Austin blog for more cultural arts coverage 

Tour Diary: Austin musician Gina Chavez in Kazakhstan

In 2015, the Gina Chavez Trio (a small but mighty version of her full band) became one of 10 acts across the United States selected as cultural ambassadors as part of the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad program.
The Gina Chavez Trio — which includes musicians Michael Romero and Sammy Foster — joined an elite group of musicians who aim to connect cultures through the power of music. Since then, Gina Chavez has traveled around the world performing, teaching and learning about different cultures and musical traditions.
This time, Chavez takes us along on her journey. Through her guest blogs, we’ll peek into her travel diary to see what life is like in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. –Nancy Flores, Cultura en Austin columnist
Austin-based singer-songwriter Gina Chavez and her trio were selected as cultural ambassadors for the U.S. State Department. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)

BY GINA CHAVEZ

It’s 6:14 a.m. in Astana, Kazakhstan, on our final day here. I’m watching the sun slowly dust the cityscape in crimson and gold; the Khazret Sultan Mosque – the second largest in Central Asia – stands at attention. There are so many huge buildings here! And at night this place lights up like a subdued Las Vegas, each building with its own light show.

I’m afraid to admit that until a few days ago, I knew nothing about the ninth largest landlocked country in the world, a nation of 18 million people with the strongest economy in Central Asia (thank you, oil). (And no, I haven’t seen Borat. Though that hasn’t kept us from quoting it the last four days! Silly Americans…)

RELATED: Gina Chavez Latin American Tour

The people here have truly been amazing. Our first show was honestly the most energetic audience I think we’ve ever had. Really! There on the lawn of the majestic Rixos hotel, hundreds packed in as close to stage as possible, eyes bright, phones in hand. They love Latin music here! (I swear we’ve heard “Despacito” at least 30 times in the last three days.) Hips flew, shouts rang out, and eager phones recorded every note. The night was fire!

At first I didn’t know what to think of the people here. In a nation of 131 nationalities, the people of Kazakhstan are diverse and still trying to define their post-Soviet identity. Perhaps it’s a Russian holdover, but they’re often not ones to acknowledge a stranger. If you smile at them, suspicion sometimes bounces back. Thankfully, our embassy handler (not her official title), Zhanna, warned me that despite the stoic looks, Kazakhs have a “different” sense of personal space. After the show, we were quickly surrounded by ecstatic fans grabbing our hands and pulling our shoulders close to pose like the best of friends in selfies!

MORE: 10 Things Gina Chavez Band Learned in Jordan

The next days were a flurry of interviews, jams, wonderful meals (they love their meat and bread here), and time with Ambassador George Krol, who graciously invited us to his ornate Kazakhstani yurt to taste deer-blood infused vodka and mare’s milk (what?!). Later, we crossed town to hang with 30 children at a center for low-income families. The kids were awesome, playing games with us, screaming “morozinoyeh” (“ice cream”) to one of our songs, and then performed traditional dombra music for us!

Contributed by Gina Chavez

We were invited to perform on the massive stage at Baiterek Square, where the impressive torch-like symbol of Astana stands 97 meters tall, and then closed out our time in Kazakhstan at EXPO, the modern-day World’s Fair. It was like going to Disney! The architecture alone was astounding at every turn. We performed one last time at the USA Pavilion, attempting to representing all of the Americas with our music before catching a plane to Uzbekistan.

Contributed by Gina Chavez

I am constantly humbled to know we have been invited to share our music across the world, and aware of the privilege we have as Americans to do so. From the moment we arrived, it hit me that the people of Central Asia are not even on the radar for most of us in the States. Their features are truly a link between Europe and Asia, they speak Russian (among other languages), practice Islam, use Arabic scales in music, gave us some of the most stunning textiles the world, and yet, they are often not even on our radar.

Thank you, Kazakhstan, for allowing us to come, learn and meet you. Thank you for opening your arms to us, to learn and grow and dance together! We hope to someday return to your passionate audiences!

Now onto learning about the people and beauty of Uzbekistan…

Niñas Arriba benefit concert Aug. 5 to feature Gina Chavez, Roger Blevins of Mingo Fishtrap, Patrice Pike and Wayne Sutton

JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

When Xiomara Cordova walked across the Stateside at the Paramount stage in her cap and gown last summer, a roar erupted from the crowd at the benefit concert that helps raise money for the college fund Niñas Arriba (Girls Rising). Cordova was the first graduate of the program founded by Austin musician Gina Chavez and her partner Jodi Granado, and the show last year included a symbolic walk up to the stage for the graduate to celebrate her achievement.

Niñas Arriba offers scholarships to young women in El Salvador, where Chavez and Granado spent about eight months as volunteers in the gang-dominated suburb of Soyapango in 2009.

MORE: Check out Latino cultural art news on Cultura en Austin

The annual benefit concert brings together performers and music fans to raise money for women who are seeking a better future. This year’s summer concert, which will also feature a silent auction with items such as Kendra Scott jewelry, returns to the Stateside on Aug. 5 featuring music by Patrice Pike and Wayne Sutton, who are the founders of the band Sister 7, Roger Blevins of Mingo Fishtrap and, of course, Chavez, who will headline the show.

Chavez will debut a new song called “Heaven Knows” and perform new renditions of old favorites. Expect a few surprise cover songs as well.

Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets, which range from $25-$65, are available at austintheatre.org.

 

 

Jenny and the Mexicats release new album, make Texas stops on U.S. tour

Jenny and the Mexicats perform at the Continental Club June 8. 

Jenny and the Mexicats return to Austin on June 8 with a midnight performance at the Continental Club.

Since the release of their self-titled album in 2012, the multicultural band has continued to gain buzz in the Latin alternative music scene for their bilingual global grooves that transcend borders. The group, which meshes everything from flamenco to rockabilly, recently released their third album “Mar Abierto” and have been touring across the U.S. and Mexico.

RELATED: Jenny and the Mexicats debut at SXSW

Jenny and the Mexicats, which is made up of English, Mexican and Spanish musicians, made their Austin debut at South by Southwest in 2016. At the time, vocalist and trumpet player Jenny Ball told Austin360 that “within the band we have so many musical influences, so it really doesn’t sound like anything else.” Ball has experience performing jazz and classical music, and has been a trumpet player since she was 7 years old. “I actually wanted to learn how to play the trombone when I was a little girl, but my arm’s weren’t long enough,” she joked.

As a trumpet player who also fronts the band, the British musician has been blazing a trail for female artists. She has said she feels a sense of “girl power” whenever she sees other female trumpet players take the stage.

Tickets for the 21 and up show cost $10 at the door. Jenny and the Mexicats will also perform in Dallas on June 9.

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.