SXSW Spotlight: Puerto Rico’s Ileana Cabra or iLe

Catch iLe at SXSW at 11 p.m. at The Townsend Thursday; 10:20 p.m. at Half Step Friday

At 16 years old, Ileana Cabra stepped into the huge spotlight that her brothers created when they formed the alternative rap duo Calle 13 about a decade ago. As the female backing vocalist, Cabra or PG-13 (as she was known back then) grew up on stage, touring extensively as the group’s fame exploded.

“It was unexpected for us,” she says. “It got very intense, very quickly.” Calle 13 is the name of the street where the family lived, and they moved there because of her, she says. When she was born, the family needed a house with more space. “Our house was always full of art and music,” Cabra says.

But after more than a decade of Grammy winning-albums that catapulted the group to new heights, Calle 13 recently dissolved. Cabra and her brothers Rene Pérez Joglar “Residente” and Eduardo Cabra “Visitante” are now all pursuing their own creative paths.

“We’re still working together in the background, though,” Cabra says. “We still need each other, and I love working with my family.”

Ileana Cabra is a SXSW 2017 showcasing artist.

This new chapter has meant a solo career for Cabra, whose debut album “iLevitable” recently earned her a Grammy of her own. At South by Southwest this week, Cabra will bring her own vintage, nostalgic sound at several showcases Friday and Saturday.

Cabra says she feels a closeness to the music of yesteryear. Her latest album includes two songs written by her grandmother that had never been recorded. “I feel that’s music from the heart, it’s a more personal.” Since going solo, Cabra has also been writing more. It’s something that she says helps her let go of baggage she accumulates and hopes it helps other women who may struggle with expressing themselves.

With Calle 13, Cabra says she gained confidence as a person and performer. Now as a soloist, she’s learning to trust herself more. “I really want to create more music,” she says. “I want to feel challenged and uncomfortable so that I can explore more of myself.”

 

 

 

Power of music connects Gina Chavez band with Jordan residents

Austin360 will be posting dispatches from Austin singer-songwriter Gina Chavez and her band as they tour through Jordan. The full band – which includes Michael Romero, Brad Johnston, Jerry Ronquillo, Kenneth Null, and Mike Meadows – will give us insights into what it’s like for an Austin band to perform, lead workshops and collaborate with local artists in Jordan.

The fourth installment of the Gina Chavez Middle East Tour Diary was contributed by percussionist Jerry Ronquillo. Catch up with all the tour diary entries on Cultura en Austin and Austin Music Source.

Jordanian oud master player Tareq Al Jundi, gives Gina Chavez a test on her interpretation of Jordanian folk song, "Lamma Bada Yatathana."
Jordanian oud master player Tareq Al Jundi, gives Gina Chavez a test on her interpretation of Jordanian folk song, “Lamma Bada Yatathana.” Contributed by Kenneth Null

BY JERRY RONQUILLO

My Jordan experience has been one of music, food and love.

Our first day of programming started with a mind-blowing crash course in Arabic makams (similar to music scales/modes), with Tareq Al Jundi, Jordanian master of the oud – a 10-stringed guitar-like instrument without frets. With sheet music and rhythm exercises in hand, we got schooled on quarter-tones and odd time signatures, and put our new knowledge into practice later in the week by covering two Jordanian songs that Tareq taught us.

Having landed the night before, our energy was waning after our lesson. We needed food! Our main U.S. Embassy staff contact (i.e. our Jordan tour manager for the week), T’Errance brought us our first taste of Jordanian falafel and hummus to fuel us for our first workshop– Zahki! (delicious)

MORE TOUR DIARY ENTRIES:  Gina Chavez Middle East Tour Diary

After soundcheck and a media round table with local newspapers, we had an intimate storytellers concert and Q&A with college students from all over Jordan, as well as Iraq, Palestine, Syria and even America. They were really curious about how we came together as a band, how we write songs, how we foster our creativity, and each of our instruments – I gave them the tour of all my percussion toys (traveling congas, shakers, shekere, tambourine, cowbell, etc).

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Jerry Ronquillo lets kids at the Al Hussein Center try their hand at agogo, a percussion instrument made of two metal cones used in African and Latin music. Contributed by Kenneth Null

We didn’t receive to many do’s and don’ts upon entering Jordan. It’s one of the only countries in the Middle East that coexists with a minority Christian population, and where you can see a young woman in hijab (the veil that covers head and chest and can also refer to a modest frock or body covering) walking next to her friend in jeans, a T-shirt and no veil. That said, there are still many people who are conservative, and so we were asked to not put our arms around people in photos or reach out to shake hands unless they offer their hand first.

So it surprised me when an Iraqi student approached me after the concert and took my hand. His name was Bahkir. He told me how much he enjoyed the set, and thought it was interesting. Then, still holding my hand as if we were long lost friends, he told me about his experience growing up in Fallujah. He asked if I knew about Fallujah, and I said yes. He reminded me that ISIS forbids music because it’s not from God. But he said he knew that couldn’t be true.

RELATED: Gina Chavez Trio Makes Musical Connections as Cultural Ambassadors

Bahkir recently started playing the oud and whenever his 3-year-old niece starts to cry, he plays for her and her tears stop. With my hand in both of his, his chin quivering to hold back tears, Bahkir asked me, “How can something that sounds so beautiful that it can comfort a child not be from God?”

In that moment, I realized how much I take for granted the beauty of music and my freedom to play it. It was a humbling reminder of why we do this.

Bahkir squeezed my hand one last time and said, “I know you’re very busy, but please if you have any time, I hope you can come to my house and I will cook you homemade Iraqi food.”

RELATED: Gina Chavez explores her roots in album ‘Up.rooted’

 

Remembering Mexican singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel

In this Nov. 4, 2009, file photo, Juan Gabriel performs at the Latin Recording Academy Person of The Year event in his honor in Las Vegas. Representatives of Juan Gabriel have reported Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, that he has died. Gabriel was Mexico's leading singer-songwriter and top-selling artist with sales of more than 100 million albums. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)
In this Nov. 4, 2009, file photo, Juan Gabriel performs at the Latin Recording Academy Person of The Year event in his honor in Las Vegas. Representatives of Juan Gabriel have reported Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, that he has died. Gabriel was Mexico’s leading singer-songwriter and top-selling artist with sales of more than 100 million albums. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

My father recently dusted off a batch of old family records that had been sitting in storage for years and gave me a musical treasure trove that I’m still sifting through with awe. The hefty record collection ranges from the obscure to classic Mexican musical gems, mostly from the 1970s.

When news broke of the death of iconic Mexican singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel on Sunday, I dug through the old crates. Tucked inside were a pair of his records from the 1970s, with album covers featuring Juan Gabriel’s boyish face staring off into the distance. The prolific artist, who was scheduled to perform Sunday night in El Paso, Texas, died of a heart attack in Santa Monica, California. He was 66.

He leaves behind a musical legacy that spans more than four decades. According to Billboard.com, Juan Gabriel had the highest-grossing Latin tour of 2015, earning $31.8 million for 32 shows in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Songs such as “El Noa Noa,” “Amor Eterno” and “No Tengo Dinero” have served as the soundtrack for generations of Latinos. His showmanship and grand stage presence earned him the nickname the “Divo of Juárez.”

Juan Gabriel albums from 1972 and 1977 from the Flores family collection. Nancy Flores/American-Statesman
Juan Gabriel 1970s albums from the Flores family collection. Nancy Flores/American-Statesman

As a late summer shower pours down on Austin on Sunday evening, I’m listening to the magic of Juan Gabriel’s music on my record player with pops, hisses and all. It’s probably been more than 20 years since these family records have been played, but today Juan Gabriel’s debut album “El Alma Joven” and his 1978 album “Siempre en Mi Mente” will fill my home with the classic pop and rock that will continue to inspire music lovers.

Celebrate the legendary artist’s life with this playlist of some of my favorites:

 

 

 

Gina Chavez concert to benefit Niñas Arriba college fund

Gina Chavez
Gina Chavez, who co-founded the Niñas Arriba college fund, performs at the Austin Music Awards at SXSW 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In 2009, Austin singer-songwriter Gina Chavez and her partner Jodi Granado took a life-changing mission trip to San Salvador’s gang-dominated suburb of Soyapango. While teaching English at a girls’ school for eight months, they met inspiring young women struggling through daily life in El Salvador.

They knew helping these girls afford a college education could potentially transform their future. When the couple returned to Austin, they founded the Niñas Arriba college fund. Through annual benefit concerts, they’ve raised more than $15,000 for scholarships. This year, Niñas Arriba has something special to celebrate – their first college graduate, Xiomara Cordova.

RELATED: Gina Chavez Trio named cultural ambassadors

Cordova, 25, studied at a private, Catholic university while juggling marriage and motherhood. She’ll be in attendance at the benefit concert and college graduation celebration at 7 p.m. on Aug. 13 at Stateside at the Paramount. Featured performers include Chavez, Sara Hickman and Suzanna Choffel.

Tickets, which range from $22 for general admission to $56 for VIP, are available at austintheatre.org. Doors open at 6 p.m.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons You Should Attend Pa’l Norte Music Fest

Pa'l Norte music festival in Monterrey, Mexico, takes place at Parque Fundidora park.
Pa’l Norte music festival in Monterrey, Mexico, takes place at Parque Fundidora park. Photo by Nancy Flores

With the absence of the Pachanga Latino Music Festival in Austin this spring, I headed south of the border this weekend to see if the Pa’l Norte fest in Monterrey, Mexico, might be a good alternative for Central Texans. The two-day music festival, which launched in 2012 and drew about 134,000 festivalgoers this year, has been gaining buzz in the Mexican festival circuit and beyond.

As a veteran music festival goer, I found that Pa’l Norte has a lot to offer both Latin music nerds (like me) and those seeking to kick back and enjoy the festival atmosphere while soaking up the sounds of spring.

At Pa'l Norte fest, you can enjoy mountain views while enjoying the music.
At Pa’l Norte fest, you can enjoy mountain views while enjoying the music. Photo by Nancy Flores

Here are five reasons to check out Pa’l Norte:

  1. Hanging out in Monterrey rocks. From its Barrio Antiguo (Old Town District) to upscale rooftop bars with dramatic mountain views of the city, Monterrey has something for every festgoer. While cartel-related violence kept tourists away from Mexico’s third largest city for years, the crime rate in recent years has reduced dramatically and the city has been rebounding nicely. Music fest visitors should take time to visit some of the city’s main attractions beyond the festival grounds like the Paseo de Santa Lucía, which is the city’s version of the Riverwalk. Don’t leave the city without trying some of the city’s famous cabrito, or goat meat.
  2. It’s closer than you think. Although there’s an international border between us, Monterrey is just a 45-minute flight from San Antonio. It’s a six-hour drive, though, authorities still recommend against that. If you’d rather check out Coachella, that’s more than 17 hours away driving to California. Or maybe you want to hang out at Lollapalooza in Chicago? Well that’s more than 16 hours on the road.
  3. More bang for your buck. Pa’l Norte festival two-day passes range from $56-$76 for general admission. VIP two-day tickets range from $112-170. A three-day VIP ticket at ACL is $1100. We chose to stay at the luxury  Habita Monterrey Hotel, which cost $130 a night on Expedia. It’s hard to beat that price for the same quality hotel in Austin. Using the ride-sharing service Uber, which launched in Monterrey last year, and the city’s efficient subway system made it easy and affordable to navigate the city without a car at an affordable price.
  4. Awesome music, of course. From legendary acts like rockers Caifanes to emerging artists like alternative pop duo Pedrina y Río of Colombia, the musical offerings are diverse. There’s also plenty of non-Latin music acts, too. This year rapper 50 cent, German DJ and music producer Felix Jaehn, The Original Wailers, Naughty by Nature and Irish indie rock band Two Door Cinema Club were among the performers.
  5. It’s an idyllic setting for a fest. The festival grounds are at Parque Fundidora, a sprawling park on the former grounds of a steel foundry that also feature youth baseball fields, a Ferris wheel, ponds and paddle boats. With the backdrop of the picturesque mountains that ring the city, it’s the perfect place for a weekend of music.

La Santa Cecilia to perform at Flamingo Cantina on April 2

La Santa Cecilia will perform in Austin on April 2.
Grammy award-winning band La Santa Cecilia from Los Angeles will perform in Austin on April 2.

They’re no strangers to Austin. Over the years we’ve seen Los Angeles-based band La Santa Cecilia make hips shake everywhere from Pachanga Fest to South by Southwest with their bilingual, hybrid Latin grooves.

Don’t miss the chance to catch these rising stars at 9 p.m. on April 2 at the Flamingo Cantina.

Since I last chatted with the band two years ago, La Santa Cecilia has experienced a meteoric rise. Not only are they helping shape a unique bicultural sound with their fusion of rock, folk and pop with Pan-Latin rhythms, but they’re Grammy winners now. Through their music, they’ve also helped put an international spotlight on issues like immigration reform.

The band’s 2013 album “Treinta Días” (30 Days), which included a collaboration with Elvis Costello, led them to their first career Grammy. La Santa Cecilia’s recently released album “Buenaventura” brings together other high-profile collaborators like Argentine rock legend Fito Páez.

Austin-based Selena tribute band “Bidi Bidi Banda,” alongside DJ Vanessa La Bestia, will open the Flamingo Cantina show. Online tickets are $20 ($25 at the door) and are available at flamingocantina.com.

SXSW Spotlight: Mexican indie folk-pop songstress Vanessa Zamora

Vanessa Zamora makes her SXSW debut this year.
Vanessa Zamora makes her SXSW debut this year. Photo by Nancy Flores

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.”

 

 

 

SXSW Spotlight: Los Nastys

Los Nastys at SXSW 2016.
Los Nastys at SXSW 2016.

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.

Systema Solar, Lulacruza shine despite SXSW stage delays

Lulacruza performs at SXSW2016. Photo by Nancy Flores
Lulacruza performs at SXSW2016. Photo by Nancy Flores

South by Southwest’s Radio Day Stage and International Day Stage were delayed by about two hours on Wednesday following the opening keynote panel featuring First Lady Michelle Obama. The Austin Convention Center’s upper floors, where the shows were scheduled, were inaccessible until after the opening session wrapped up.

Despite Wednesday’s delay, these day stages typically offer music lovers a chance to enjoy intimate performances with a relaxed vibe.

Featured performers at the International Day Stages included Argentine-Colombian electronic folk duo, Lulacruza. The trio, who all performed barefoot, beautifully melded modern and ancient sounds. Their set was a perfect place to get away from the festival chaos and get inspired with the lead vocalist’s powerful voice and moving music. Lulacruza performs again at midnight Wednesday at The Townsend and 8 p.m. on Friday at Palm Door on Sixth.

Colombia's Systema Solar give dynamic SXSW performance. Photo by Nancy Flores
Colombia’s Systema Solar give dynamic SXSW performance. Photo by Nancy Flores

Kicking up the party vibe later was Colombia’s Systema Solar. Their amped up set of electro-cumbia grooves, energetic frontman plus loud black and white geometric outfits make them a must-see band. Catch them again at 1 a.m. Thursday at Flamingo Cantina, 1 a.m. Friday at the North Door and at a free show at 6 p.m. at the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake.

Click here for more Radio Day Stage shows during the festival and here for more International Day Stage performances.

 

Sounds from Spain showcase rocks at SXSW

Garage rockers Agoraphobia are part of a group of artists representing Spain at SXSW 2016.
Garage rockers Agoraphobia are part of a group of artists representing Spain at SXSW 2016. Photo by Nancy Flores.

Sounds from Spain, an organization that fosters and promotes Spanish music internationally, hosted its ninth annual day party at Brush Square Park on Wednesday afternoon. To get into the Spanish spirit, music lovers were also treated to paella, tapas and sangria.

This year’s mostly rock-inspired lineup included Juventud Juché, punk band Los Nastys, Sexy Zebras, rockers Agoraphobia, singer-songwriter Juan Zelada and The Parrots.

Photo by Nancy Flores
Photo by Nancy Flores

All-female rock band Agoraphobia, who sing in English, brought a combination of charisma and a feisty edge to their performance. This set the tone for an afternoon of music from a country that despite its musical riches has recently endured an economic downturn that has also affected many of its emerging artists.

Catch all the Spanish acts again at the evening showcase on Friday, March 18 at Lucille (77 Rainey).