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 sun shone on a dry Auditorium Shores Saturday afternoon after the free shows on Friday evening were cancelled due to severe weather. But for a while last night, I worried that there was a chance that the Latino concerts would suffer the same fate as they did last year.
In 2015, the free Latino showcases at Auditorium Shores were cancelled because of standing water following a heavy downpour. Disappointed fans never got to see the evening’s headliner, Intocable, which the festival invited back this year.
But thankfully on Saturday, the park’s gates opened and festgoers enjoyed the laid-back vibe that these shows offer. Children kicked around soccer balls, others played frisbee between shows, which started at 2 p.m. with soulful Cuban artist Telmary Díaz followed by Cuban trova singer Kelvis Ochoa. Both of them were featured performers at SXSW’s first Sounds from Cuba showcase.
Kicking up the party atmosphere on Saturday afternoon was 3BallMTY from Monterrey. The group of young DJs who are both SXSW and Pachanga Festival alums helped popularize tribal dance music by mixing regional Mexican sounds with electronica and cumbia. They had fans of all ages bouncing to their beats (look mom, no laptops). That’s right, the guys were making beats on stage as opposed to hitting play on a computer.
As lead vocalist with genre-mashers Ozomatli, Asdru Sierra has been helping redefine Latin music for a new generation. Now the Grammy Award winner has teamed up with LA producer, DJ and actor Balt Getty for a passion project that fuses electronic music, Latin rhythms and moody atmospherics.
Ahead of their South by Southwest showcase at 10 p.m. Saturday at Lucky Lounge, Sierra shared how the duo came together and what festgoers can expect from their live shows.
How did you guys hook up; What drew you together?
We met at our kid’s elementary school! Always had a great connection. One day Balt asked if I would sing on his “Solar Drive” record on a song we wrote called, “Go Away.” There was a great energy that made our creativity flow.
Once I showed Balt a few demos of songs I wrote, he loved an early version of “Marcando Paso.” Which became a first of many for Abstrakto.
He then said to me, “Make ten more just like that!” Since Balt launched his record label, Purple Haus Music, he asked me if I would be on it as an artist. Felt he could really produce my record. He did!!! Been magic ever since, man.
Ozomatli is known for energetic live shows, what can fans expect from Abstrakto live?
The record itself is a sonic, cinematic journey. Live, we try to recreate that, but approach it in an electronic sense, using the original music as organic loops and rolling the beats and rock the crowd that way. Almost like hip hop with Balt as a DJ and myself on vocals, trumpet and keys.
We also have a percussionist with us on congas and timbales. It’s different than Ozo, but we still have this intensity we create live that rocks the crowd.
Any new Abstrakto music/projects on the horizon?
We recently launched a double vinyl album with the leading vinyl company, the Vinyl Factory out of the U.K. They do all the major vinyl releases from all the big artists like Radiohead and Florence + The Machine. The vinyl release comes with one record being the original album, and the other being a few remixes we had some buddies do! Artists like Mexican American hip hop star, Kap G, who is out of Atlanta and signed to Pharrell’s label, are on it. There is also production from King Dave and Anthony Valadez from KCRW to give the remix album a unique and diverse sound. There are some electro and hip hop elements. We called the remix album “Abstrakto Remex” to play on me being Mexican…and the lyrics being in Spanish.
Honestly, the record sounds way better on vinyl, in my humble opinion. Since this is a record we intended to be really listened intently to, the music nerd side of me really shows when it comes to this. The digital version is coming very soon, so look out for it!
Balt’s vision as a label mogul and producer makes all this possible. We are looking to also release b-sides and possibly more remixes. Hey…maybe a second Abstrakto album. I’m sure more things will come!
The music has been described as cinematic and featured in a show for Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey network. Any plans to hook up with the filmmaker while you’re in Austin for SXSW?
Ah!!! No plans made. I really hope to meet him, some day. I know he writes his own music to his movies. But I hope for a collaboration some day. Balt is also a triple threat as an actor! So I hope there’s a mega, creative, awesome venture in our future.
It was an honor that he used one of our tracks on his TV show! I love everything he does! My kids and I love “Sharkboy and Lava Girl,” which, from what I understand, he wrote with his kids!! I still geek out every time I watch “Dusk Til Dawn,” pythons and all.
Daymé Arocena performs at SXSW 2016. Photo by Nancy Flores
Twelve Cuban musicians. Five bands. One night.
“You tell me if you think this was easy to put together,” artist Telmary Díaz teased the crowd at Speakeasy on Friday night. “Hell no!”
Díaz kicked off South by Southwest’s first-ever Cuban music showcase by thanking the festival, showcase organizers and fans for helping make history. Over the years Cuban artists like songstress Danay Suárez have been featured at SXSW, but this year’s performances were part of the first Sounds from Cuba showcase, which was presented by Roads & Kingdoms magazine and Cuban artist center Fábrica de Arte Cubano.
Díaz, a soulful rapper, singer and poet, was backed by musicians from the Afro-Latin jazz quintet Yissy & Bandacha, who also performed later in the night. Watching the chill-inducing artist combination and other music masters throughout the night made Speakeasy the perfect place to hunker down for a few hours while severe weather threats loomed outdoors. While the festival urged participants to seek shelter, those already inside Speakeasy couldn’t imagine leaving anyway.
Díaz’ style ranged from delivering spitfire rhymes that had the crowd cheering to danceable grooves that kept the fans swaying. Her blow-your-mind performance set the bar high for the rest of the musicians who all showed the richness in Cuba’s musical diversity.
Adding some modern jazz interpretations to the lineup was Yissy & Bandancha, who fused jazz everything from electronic music to Afro-Cuban rhythms. Yissy, the drummer and bandleader, launched her solo project in 2012.
Rising R&B artist Daymé Arocena, brought inimitable bilingual grooves that easily make her an artist to watch. Her powerful stage presence, charisma and robust vocals kept the crowd asking for more.
Rounding out the showcase were veteran performers X-Alfonso y La Flota and Kelvis Ochoa (who will also perform at 3 p.m. Saturday at the free SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake, which was formerly called the Auditorium Shores stage).
As the presence of Latin music steadily grows at SXSW, let’s hope that these country-specific showcases continue to show people the quality of musicians beyond our borders.
Colombia’s presence at South by Southwest remains strong with artists representing the diversity of the South American country’s sound. At Speakeasy on Thursday night, rock band Velo de Oza kicked off the night with an energetic bang.
The quintet, which proudly represents the mountainous Andean uplands of Colombia’s Boyacá region, likes to sport traditional Colombian poncho-like ruanas over their rocker clothes and even penned a hip-shaking song in its honor. Their flair, style and humor raise the bar for showmanship skills and make them a fun band to watch live. Between songs, they keep the crowd laughing with their witty double entendres and light-hearted sense of humor.
In order to showcase their unique fusion of rock-pop with the Colombian folk music of carranga, they incorporate instruments such as the tube-like guacharaca, which produces a rhythmic sound when scratched.
Bringing another kind of animated energy on the stage was Medellin rapper Kiño, who was backed by a live band. When a pair of uninhibited dancers dashed near the stage and let loose, it broke the ice for the entire crowd who then joined in and started the party atmosphere that remained strong throughout their set.
Other featured Colombian performers at the showcase, many who have additional SXSW showcases, included reggae band Tarmac, alternative pop duo Pedrina y Río, hip-hop fusion band Duran, and Latin funk band Cirkus Funk.
Listen to just a few notes of Chicano Batman’s soulful throwback sounds and it’s easy to imagine it being the soundtrack to a laid-back, retro Chicano film. And with the name Chicano Batman, you can’t expect anything less than cool from this Los Angeles-based bilingual quartet. (10 p.m. Saturday, March 19, Maggie Mae’s)
Master Blaster Sound System’s cultural mashups result in cumbia electronica that pushes musical boundaries. Don’t miss the chance to catch these Austin party instigators live. (1 a.m. Thursday, March 17, Lucky Lounge)
Carrie Rodriguez’ twang-laden songs have captured the hearts of Americana music fans for years, but for the Austinite’s latest album, “Lola,” the talented fiddle player and singer connects with her Latin roots and creates a modern twist to Tex-Mex music. (8 p.m. Thursday, March 17, The Majestic)
Singer-songwriter Mitre’s haunting blend of bilingual songs are inspired by everything from spaghetti westerns to traditional Mexican music. We’re hoping that since Austin’s David Garza is featured on Mitre’s song “Aguacero” that he’ll join him for this SXSW appearance. (8 p.m. Friday, March 18, Departure Lounge)
New York rapper Nitty Scott MC 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. (11:10 p.m. Saturday, March 19, Speakeasy)
Originally a punk rock band, Houston’s Los Skarnales didn’t lose their edge when they branched out to play a blend of Latin ska, reggae, rockabilly and cumbia. (Midnight Thursday, March 17, Lucky Lounge and midnight Friday, March 18, at Flamingo Cantina)
Over the years Cuban artists like songstress Danay Suárez have been featured at SXSW, but these performances mark the first Sounds from Cuba showcase with “an entire night dedicated to bands that currently reside and don’t plan to leave Cuba,” according to SXAméricas organizer Alicia Zertuche.
The showcase, which is presented by Roads & Kingdoms magazine and Cuban artist center Fábrica de Arte Cubano, features performers such as Afro-Latin jazz quintet Yissy & Bandancha and Telmary Díaz, a soulful rapper, singer and poet who is backed by a seven-piece band. Other artists include the young, rising R&B artist Daymé Arocena, who The Guardian described as having “all the makings of being the next major Cuban star.”
Rounding out the showcase are veteran performers X-Alfonso y La Flota and Kelvis Ochoa who will also speak at a SXSW music panel focused on the future of Cuban music as the country’s doors are beginning to open up.
South by Southwest has announced an all-Latino showcase on March 19 at the SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake (formerly the Auditorium Shores stage). The free show, which is part of SXAméricas, will feature artists Intocable, Grupo Fantasma, Systema Solar, División Minúscula, and 3BallMTY. More artists will be announced later.
In 2013, the group headlined the Pachanga Latino Music Festival and band vocalist Ricky Muñoz told the Statesman’s Spanish-language weekly ¡Ahora Sí! back then that, “We have Tejano roots, and we have a norteño influence, that is for sure. But I don’t know what you should really call us, other than good music.” The award-winning music veterans have been playing for more than 20 years.
Grupo Fantasma, who celebrated their 15th anniversary last fall, will bring their genre-mashing music for what’s sure to be a dance party. New to SXSW this year will be the Colombian collective, Systema Solar, who are popular in the Latin alternative scene for their blend of Colombian Afro-Caribbean music with contemporary rhythms.
Monterrey-based SXSW alums División Minúscula and 3BallMTY return to the festival. Both were discovered by the legendary DJ Toy Selectah of Control Machete fame, who also a part-time Austinite. With División Minúscula’s punk rock sound and 3BallMTY’s energetic electronic tribal music, this showcase will feature a wide range of diverse Latin sounds.
The showcase, which start at 2 p.m., is open to the public with free Guest Pass wristbands. It’s also open to people with SXSW Music and Platinum badges. For more information, visit the SXSW Outdoor Stage webpage.