Andrea Cruz:She’s only recently released her debut album “Tejido de Laurel,” but already Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Andrea Cruz is a rising artist to watch. At her performance during SXSW’s first Sounds of Puerto Rico showcase, she poured everything into each song creating some goosebump-inducing moments as she took audiences on an emotional musical journey.
Gato Preto: As one half of the German-based Afrofuturistic electronic duo Gato Preto, MC Gata Misteriosa lights up the stage with a super-charged live performance and infectious dance moves. She grew up in Portugal and has roots in Mozambique. Her showmanship, style and high energy makes her on-stage presence hard to beat.
Kayla Briët:At 21, the uber-talented Kayla Briët, of California, is the ultimate one woman band. In her unique performances, she sings as well as plays the keyboard, guitar and traditional Chinese instrument called a guzheng zither. Oh, and she does all this while live looping. Often during the performance, she’ll have one hand playing the guzheng zither and the other playing her keyboard at the same time. Kayla’s talents extend beyond music. She’s also a filmmaker and virtual reality artist whose inspired by her Prairie Band Potawatomi/Neshnabe, Chinese, and Dutch-Indonesian roots.
It’s not every day that you can check out a musical living legend for free, but tonight Little Joe y La Familia will headline the Pan Americana Festival at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (600 River St.).
Saturday’s concert, which starts at 5 p.m., will wrap up four days of free Tejano music at the cultural center presented by the Mexican American Experience Wednesday and Thursday and the Pan Americana Festival Friday and Saturday during South by Southwest week.
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.”
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.
“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 barwith 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.'”
Bohemian Betyars: Hungarian folk-punk rockers are representing their country for the first time at the festival. This dynamic six-piece outfit injects audiences with adrenaline as soon as they hit the stage and maintain their super-charged performance throughout their set. You’ll burn some serious calories at one of their shows. Catch them again at 1 a.m. Friday at Palm Door on Sabine.
La Banda Morisca: There’s nothing like walking into a showcase not knowing what to expect and immediately being blown away. That was the case for me at the Russian House’s Sounds of the World showcase on Wednesday night, where flamenco dancer Juan Tomas de la Molia electrified the venue with his rhythmic gymnastics-like moves accompanied by Spain’s blend of Andalusian rock. Their fusion of old world sounds with a unique modern style had festivalgoers getting a cardio workout.
Mokoomba: You have no choice but to dance when this Zimbabwe-based group performs their innovative mix of traditional Tonga and pan-African music with hints of rap, ska and Afro-Cuban music. Their infectious good vibes have long-lasting effects.
With the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, tied up in the court system and a murky outlook for a legislative fix, the lives of more than 120,000 young immigrants in Texas hangs in limbo.
Since President Donald Trump cancelled DACA in September, it’s been a tumultuous time for an estimated 800,000 youths across the country. Often called “Dreamers,” these young immigrants were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and have work permits that protect them from deportation.
At South by Southwest on Thursday, the nonprofit organization Voto Latino brought together activist musicians for a free “Dream Out Loud” concert at the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake hosted by actor and activist Wilmer Valderrama. Voto Latino announced at the concert that law firm King & Spalding will provide free legal counsel and cover filing fees for those facing deportation. They encouraged DACA recipients and people with temporary protected status to text DREAM to 73179 for more information.
The evening dedicated to Dreamers featured performers including Mexican electro-corrido band Centavrvs, Colombian DJ collective El Freaky, Tex-Mex greats Los Super Seven featuring artists such as Flaco Jimenez, Rick Treviño, Steve Berlin and Max Baca. Legendary musicians Los Lobos, minus David Hidalgo, headlined the show.
Latin American icon Rúben Blades stood alongside a group of DACA recipients who took the stage and shared their stories.
For 21-year-old student Berenice Gonzalez, who majors in biology at Texas A&M International University, the uncertainty over DACA’s future means having to be ready for anything. She lost a semester at school during a period when her DACA permit expired and she couldn’t renew.
Gonzalez said she began saving money at the time in order to move to Nuevo Laredo, where she says she doesn’t know anyone or have any relatives. “At first it was scary,” she said on Thursday. “Now I just try to prepare as much as possible for whatever may come.”
Austin-based singer-songwriter Gina Chavez led a flash mob dance party on the corner of Sixth Street and Red River during South by Southwest in honor of her upcoming single, “Let it Out.”
Chavez released video dance tutorials earlier this week so that fans could learn her moves and join the festivities, which were recorded for the “Let it Out” music video.
After she led the choreographed dance, the artist started a conga line to the Flamingo Cantina, where she performed on Wednesday night. The first 40 people who joined her flash mob dance party got to check out the SXSW show for free.
Latin American icon Rúben Blades, who helped revolutionize the New York salsa music movement in the 1970s, has managed to lead a prolific decades-long career while keeping many parts of his life private or under the radar.
Some, for example, might not realize that aside from penning the Latin American classic song “Pedro Navaja,” Blades has also had acting roles in more than 30 films, worked alongside greats such as Diane Keaton and Robert De Niro and now portrays Daniel Salazar in AMC’s “Fear The Walking Dead.” Others might not know that he’s earned two law degrees, created a political party in his native Panama and ran for president of the Central American country.
That’s why with the South by Southwest premiere of Ruben Blades Is Not My Name,” the documentary about his life, Blades said he hopes to finally set the record straight.
“I wasn’t keen on cameras following me for a documentary,” he said at a featured session on Wednesday afternoon, where he was interviewed by NPR Alt.Latino‘s Felix Contreras. But “when you have more of a past than a future,” you need to share your own story, the 69-year-old star said.
Blades pushed the salsa music boundaries when he wrote songs about social issues instead of the escapist songs that dominated the genre at the time. “I didn’t write to get famous,” he said. “I wrote to tell meaningful stories.” Even though his songs weren’t commercial and often weren’t played on the radio, people still connected with his music. “Not everything needed to be escape music,” he said. “I wrote because I was upset (at current events) even though it wasn’t considered healthy for a musical career.”
He said Gabriel García Márquez called him a “cronista.” Blades agrees. He said he always thought of himself as a “newspaper man” chronicling life through his songs. He credits his grandmother who taught him how to read at an early age for being a voracious reader. It’s what he said helped him develop his own songwriting and editing style. He also credits law school for learning how to see both sides of a story and writing based on facts. “Never think that the audience doesn’t get it,” he said.
The ability to relate to his lyrics, he said, has helped new generations embrace his music. In the next chapter of his career, Blades plans to focus on recording music and has several projects in progress such as a son Cubano album, as well as a rock/pop/reggae album. He’s co-written a screenplay with Cuban writer Leonardo Padura and hopes to team up with René Pérez Joglar, also known as Residente for a album about social commentary.
Although his career might have taken a different path, Blades said he’ll keep moving forward.
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.
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.
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.