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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
8 p.m. Gina Chavez (The Sidewinder Outside). Embracing the space between cultural lines, this Austin-based songstress offers a glimpse into the path she’s been on to connect with her Latina roots with inimitable bilingual folk-pop songs.
9 p.m. Natisú (Friends). Chile keeps making some of the best pop music in Latin America thanks to adventurous musicians like experimental indie artist Natisú. (Also playing at 9 p.m. Thursday at Departure Lounge.)
10 p.m.-1:40 a.m. SXAméricas: Zona Indie showcase (Sledge Hammer). Check out a sampling of Latin American indie music at this showcase. You’ll discover bands like Los Detectives Helados, who come from Ecuador’s burgeoning music scene with their indie rock that flirts with cosmic pop.
8 p.m. The Warning (Karma Lounge). When a YouTube video of these three Mexican sisters playing a cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” went viral, the young girls ages 15, 13 and 10 rose to the spotlight. They appeared on the Ellen De Generes show and raised money to attend a summer program at the Berklee College of Music, where they also created video diaries for the EllenTube Channel.
9 p.m. Jéf (Sledge Hammer). The Brazilian singer-songwriter got his big break in 2014 when he won the reality show music competition “Breakout Brazil” and landed a record deal with Sony Music.
10 p.m. Molina y Los Cósmicos (Sledge Hammer). In recent years, the tiny country of Uruguay has been producing unbelievable music. At previous SXSW festivals, the country has brought a delegation of diverse artists. Although there’s no official Uruguayan showcase this year, there are several standout artists like this folk-pop outfit.
11 p.m. Cabezas Flutuantes (Russian House). Using homemade instruments and everyday objects like pencils, Cabezas Flutantes of Brazil present upbeat, pop experimental songs that showcase tropical soundscapes.
Midnight Oques Grasses (Flamingo Cantina). Rising stars in the Catalan music scene, Oques Grasses of Barcelona deliver reggae-inspired pop music. (Also playing Friday at the Palm Door, time is TBD.)
1 a.m. División Minúscula (Karma Lounge). The SXSW alums’ punk rock sound was discovered by legendary DJ Toy Selectah of Control Machete fame. (División Minúscula also plays at 5 p.m. Saturday at the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake.)
8 p.m. Velo De Oza (Speakeasy). When you mix Colombian folk music with rock and pop, you get an energetic live show from this charasmatic band that’s sure to create a fun vibe. (Also plays at 11 p.m. Friday at Flamingo Cantina)
9:20 p.m. Arianna Puello (Speakeasy Kabaret). Now more than ever fierce women in Latin hip-hop are bringing inventive and politically savvy rhymes to the forefront. Arianna Puello, a Spanish rapper of Dominican descent, has been delivering her spit-fire lyrics since 1993. (Also performs at 9:40 p.m. Friday at North Door.)
10 p.m. Elida Almeida (Flamingo Cantina). Music lovers will be enchanted with the powerful voice and incredible depth that this songstress brings from Cape Verde, an island off the west coast of Africa. Though danceable and uplifting, some of her songs in Portuguese reflect on meloncholy moments from her childhood including the death of her father when she was just a girl. (Also plays at midnight on Wednesday at Russian House.)
11 p.m. Las Delailas (Departure Lounge). The Monterrey-based pop-folk outfit creates melodies composed using a combination of guitar, ukelele, harmonica, tambourine and vocal harmonies.
Midnight. A-Wa (Flamingo Cantina). Yeminite sisters infuse Arab folk songs with modern beats. (Also play 1 a.m. Friday Russian House.)
1 a.m. The Chamanas (The Townsend). Drawing musical influences from 1970s Mexican pop and modern indie music, the Chamanas call the border region of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez home. They recently captured the national spotlight with their cover of Portugal. The Man’s song “Purple, Yellow, Red, and Blue.” (Also play at 1 a.m. Saturday at Blackheart)
8 p.m. Lulacruza (Palm Door on Sixth). The Argentine electronic folk duo beautifully melds modern and ancient sounds. It’s the place to be when you’re ready to get away from the SXSW chaos and reenergize with inspiring music. (Also play at noon on Wednesday at the International Day Stage and at 12:05 a.m. on Wednesday at The Townsend.)
9 p.m. Sotomayor (Flamingo Cantina). Siblings Raul and Paulina Sotomayor make up the hip, electronic music project from Mexico City. Their cutting-edge beats also fuse rhythms like Peruvian chicha music. (Also plays at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the International Day Stage and 9 p.m. Thursday at Lucille.)
10 p.m. Julio Piña (Flamingo Cantina). These Chilean party instigators create hip-shaking cumbias sure to keep you dancing all night. (Julio Piña will also perform at 10 p.m. Wednesday at Russian House.)
11 p.m. Jenny and the Mexicats (Continental Club). An English female trumpet player walked into a flamenco club in Spain and met two Mexican musicians that changed her musical journey. They added a Spanish cajón player to the mix, and became rising stars playing bilingual genre-blending grooves that mesh everything from flamenco to rockabilly.
12:05 a.m. Kat Dahlia (Swan Dive). The buzz has been swirling around Miami-bred Cuban-American singer-songwriter Kat Dahlia. The up-and-comer released her debut album in 2015, and it’s inspired by pop, Latin, hip-hop and reggae. (Also performs at noon on Saturday at the Radio Day Stage.)
1 a.m. Locos Por Juana (Half Step). The Grammy-nominated Miami band has been shaking up the Latin music world for more than a decade with their hybrid sound and energetic live shows. Don’t miss the chance to see these party masters. (Also perform at midnight Saturday at Flamingo Cantina.)
6 p.m. Systema Solar (SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake). They’ve risen from the Colombian music underground and stormed the Latin alternative scene with their explosive shows that are an audio visual experience. Systema Solar blends Afro Carribbean and Colombian folk with everything from hip-hop, techno, house, cumbia and electronica. (Also perform at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Radio Day Stage and 1 a.m. Thursday at Flamingo Cantina.)
8 p.m. Laguna Pai (Flamingo Cantina). The Peruvian reggae rockers weave socially conscious lyrics in their music focusing on issues like environmental conservation and equity.
9 p.m. Florencia Núñez (Stephen F’s Bar). Keep your eyes on this Uruguayan singer-songwriter whose impressive first album has been showered with accolades. She’s an exciting new voice in Latin indie music tying together influences from pop, jazz and folk.
10 p.m. Zona Tango (Elephant Room). You’ve never heard tango music like this before. Argentine multi-instrumentalist and composer Pedro Menendez’ ecclectic musical project creates a modern tango sound by fusing it with jazz, electronic and psychedelic rhythms.
11 p.m. Consulado Popular (Flamingo Cantina). Punk rock meets Colombian cumbia. (Also play at 1 a.m. Thursday at Speakeasy.)
12:50 a.m. Buyepongo (Speakeasy). Singer and percussionist Edgar “Meshlee” Modesto once described the Los Angeles band’s sound as music that’ll get you moving and thinking. Buyepongo released its album “Todo Mundo” earlier this year, which is full of pan-Latin rhythms that’ll nourish your soul.