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.

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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.

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SXSW showcase highlights Puerto Rican artists affected by Hurricane María

Andrea Cruz performs during SXSW in Austin, Texas, on Friday, March 16, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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.”

Cruz is among the Puerto Rican artists performing at South by Southwest’s first Sounds from Puerto Rico showcase Friday at Speakeasy, which starts at 8 p.m and ends at 2 a.m. The showcase will also be a benefit fundraiser for World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit founded by Chef José Andrés that has provided more than 2.6 million meals in Puerto Rico.

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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.

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“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 bar with 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.'”

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.

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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.