Sol Collective, a Sacramento-based center dedicated to art, culture and activism, launched their new co-operative record label Sol Life at the Speakeasy on Saturday night. Bringing culturally-rooted music to the dance floor, the diverse line-up included socially conscious artists who performed everything from hip-hop to electronic fusions.
One of my favorite musical discoveries at the festival was World Hood, a husband-and-wife-duo who blend traditional rhythms with contemporary electronic beats. Having only caught the end of their set, I look forward to hearing more from them and hope the California group returns to Austin, especially since vocalist Estella Sanchez (aka Estrella Hood) also serves as Sol Collective’s executive director.
Quitapenas, a Riverside, California-based quartet that plays Afro-Latin music, brought one of the best dance parties I’ve seen at SXSW. The animated crowd constantly broke into chants and cheers, especially when the group invited an LA-based guest trumpet player to join them on stage to deliver an extra horn punch to their funky tropical sounds. After their performance, I overheard someone say, “That’s what I’ve been waiting for all week.”
It’s easy for some artists to get drowned out in the noise of more than 2,000 official acts at South by Southwest. So when a singer creates an atmosphere where you can truly be present, music magic happens. That was the case with rising Los Angeles’ singer/songwriter Irene Diaz Friday night at the Flamingo Cantina.
Outside the venue’s doors, a raucous Sixth Street crowd swarmed. But inside, Diaz centered the spirit with her soulful, moving songs that seemed to stop time.
Not too long ago, Diaz, 28, was figuring out her life’s path as a college student, unsure of what direction she should take. “I’ve been playing music all my life, but I never thought I could do it (professionally),” Diaz says. “It just didn’t seem feasible.”
But in 2011, she made a leap of faith that felt right and immersed herself in the music world. She put her studies on hold and has crafted her own path, one that’s already taken her to unexpected places. In 2012, Diaz’ song “I Love You Madly” was featured on NPR’s Alt Latino program, which helped put her music career on an upward trajectory.
Diaz, who is often described as a modern day torch singer, says she taught herself to sing by listening to artists like Ella Fitzgerald. And when she later developed a keen interest in film noir, she says that’s the direction she wanted to take her “I Love You Madly” EP.
Although she’s been embraced by the Latin alternative scene, Diaz says she doesn’t want her music to be “pigeonholed.” Her English-language songs don’t have any strong influences of Latin rhythms, but they are passionate, she says.
When she began getting attention as a Latina artist, she questioned at one point whether she should start singing in Spanish. But Diaz, who is the third generation in her family to be born in the U.S., didn’t grow up speaking Spanish and doesn’t want to “feel pressure to represent Latin roots,” she says. “I’m automatically representing by being who I am…maybe there needs to be a voice for someone like me.”
As Diaz continues to rise in the indie music world, she has her eyes set on growing as an artist. She still struggles with stage fright, (which you wouldn’t know from her stunning performances), and says she’s figuring out how to best deal with that. She’s also eager to learn more about producing, and eventually wants to produce all her own albums. Diaz’s first full-length album is in the works, and music lovers should keep an eye on what the future holds for this promising young artist.
Date/time: 5:00 p.m. Sunday Panelist: Jessica Alba, actress and The Honest Company Founder; Brian Lee, CEO of The Honest Company; Lindsay Blakey, Features Editor at Inc. The gist:
When actress Jessica Alba was pregnant with her first child, Honor, she got an allergic reaction from a laundry detergent. With a baby on the way, she dove into research about toxic chemicals like never before.
When she shopped for products she thought were better, it turned out that only the packaging was better not the ingredients, she says.
So she set out to create The Honest Company, which would offer people safe, non-toxic products. But people didn’t get it at first, she says.
“It took three years of people not getting it,” Alba says. “It was too big of an idea…My pitch was long and confusing.”
Hollywood’s reaction? “Why not make a perfume instead?”
Frustrated but not defeated, Alba kept refining her idea and condensing the pitch. She reached out to CEO Brian Lee of LegalZoom and ShoeDazzle, but he rejected her idea at first too.
“The first time she approached me I didn’t have children,” Lee says. “Once I did, I saw the way my wife changed her behavior, making organic purees for the baby…” He began thinking about all the other women doing the same thing. “The first time you hold a child, you realize that you are responsible for this being for the rest of your life. That was the epiphany for me. It’s not that I wanted to (help start the company), it was that I needed to.”
In 2011, The Honest Company launched and is now valued at nearly a billon dollars. It’s expected to expand internationally later this year. Takeaways:
Branding the company became more than a just a name, but a lifestyle. Alba says the original name was Love & Honor, inspired by her daughter. “But that just sounded too bridal,” she says. With a name like Honest, the company seems to be held at a higher standard, Lee says. “We’re not a perfect company,” he says. “We’re an honest company, and we want to be as open as possible.”
Part of the The Honest Company’s business strategy is to put employees first. When hiring one of the factors they consider is the “airport test,” where they try to gage whether that employee would be pleasant to be with if you were stuck with them at an airport for six hours. The likeability test has been important to the company’s growth.
The company made many mistakes at its inception from not testing the website until 20 minutes before its launch to faulty laundry pods that kept breaking in freezing temperatures. Customers complained about the first baby wipes the company made, which weren’t thick or big enough. It was a freak out moment, Alba says. They took what customers said to heart and fixed the issues quickly, a key to keeping the customer’s trust.
When asked to give advice to other businesswomen, Alba said to be prepared with answers for everyone’s questions because everyone will poke holes at your idea. “Think about how you are going to be different. Really know your strengths and weaknesses and surround yourself with people who can support your weakness.” Fun Fact: Alba was stumped when a festgoer asked her, “What’s your spirit animal?” “Whoa, I’m in Austin,” she said with a laugh. Lee answered that Alba would be a unicorn. Alba said their company’s spirit animal would be a butterfly.
8 p.m. Gina Chavez (Parish): 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. Dos Santos: Anti-Beat Orquesta (The Main): Get ready to groove with this Chicago-based band spreading musical love one cumbia at a time.
10 p.m. Chancha Via Circuito (Elysium): When South American folklore takes a journey into the future, you get the atmospheric rhythms of this avant-garde project.
11 p.m. Pommez Internacional (Elysium): Experimental sounds that flirt with everything from rock to electronica. Don’t bother trying to define it; just let the global grooves from one of Argentina’s most interesting bands move you.
Midnight Rashid (Elysium): A rap battle master, this Brazilian rapper rhymes in Portuguese about everything from politics to love.
1 a.m. Buraka Som Sistema (Elysium): Portugual’s innovative electronic dance music project offers upbeat musical fusions that find inspiration in everything from African beats to techno and hip-hop.
Wednesday, March 18
8 p.m. Sain Tanveer Brothers (Victorian Room at The Driskill): Pakistani percussion masters kick off the night with trance-inducing beats to get your heart pumping.
9 p.m. Caloncho (Icenhauer’s): Get transported to a tropical paradise with the upbeat and sophisticated pop songs that are making this Mexican artist one to watch.
10:20 p.m. Eptos Uno (Half Step): Emerging from the graffiti world, rapper Eptos Uno won Red Bull’s 2007 freestyle rap battle “Batalla de Gallos” and quickly rose to the top of Latin America’s hip hop world.
11:45 p.m. Morenito de Fuego (Half Step): Quirky lyrics plus hip-shaking digital cumbia/hip-hop tracks promise to make this show an offbeat but sprited dance party.
12:40 p.m. Danay Suárez (Half Step): Often described as Latin America’s Lauren Hill, the Cuban songstress takes audiences on a poetic musical journey through hip-hop, jazz, reggae and beyond.
Thursday, March 19
9 p.m. Irene Diaz (Departure Lounge): A modern day torch singer, the rising Los Angeles singer/songwriter pours every drop of emotion into her heartfelt music.
10 p.m. Diana Fuentes (Departure Lounge): We’re hoping that the sweet Cuban singer/songwriter brings her husband Eduardo Cabra of Calle 13 to perform with her.
11 p.m. Huichol Musical (Russian House): The fusion of Mexican regional music and Huichol rhythms result in an innovative cutural soundscape that’s sung in Spanish and Huichol.
Midnight La Sabrosura Dura (Speakeasy): With a salsa-heavy musical foundation, this Colombian band also blends rock, funk and hip-hop into their party mixes.
1 a.m. Centavrvs (Palm Door on Sixth Patio): It’s what you get when Mexican corridos marry electronic rhythms.
Friday, March 20
8:45 p.m. Bituaya (Flamingo Cantina): An electro-Caribbean experience from Venezuela.
9:45 p.m. Celso Piña (Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center): Watch this Mexican accordion master nicknamed “Accordion Rebel” bring down the house with his cumbia hits.
11 p.m. Raquel Sofia (Half Step): The Puerto Rican indie rocker spent time as a backup singer for Latin greats like Juanes and Shakira before breaking out on her own.
Midnight. Macaco (Lucille) Barcelona-based pop fusion band blends languages and musical styles to its popular global hits.
1 a.m. El General Paz & La Triple Frontera (Russian House) Afro-Latin rhythms get a funk-rock twist.
Saturday, March 21
6 p.m. Compass: Mexican Institute of Sound + Toy Selectah (Auditorium Shores Stage Lady Bird Lake): Mexican musical veterans join forces to showcase an epic collaboration that resulted in an album featuring over 80 musicians across the globe.
7 p.m. Bomba Estéreo (Auditorium Shores Stage Lady Bird Lake): Colombian electro-cumbia group masterfully blends hip-hop, dub and folk rhythms into an infectious, danceable sound.
8:30 p.m. The Recycled Instrument Orchestra of Cateura (Victorian Room at the Driskill): Students in one of Paraguay’s poorest communities formed a youth orchesta and play instruments made out of recycled materials found in the landfill that provides most of the jobs in the town.
9:45 p.m. Kinky (Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center): It’s a guaranteed good time whenever the Monterrey electro-rockers and party instigators take the stage.
11 p.m. Tunacola (Maggie Mae’s): Chile has been on the forefront of the Latin alternative scene producing popular artists such as Gepe and Javiera Mena. This electronic hip-hop project offers dancefloor ready tunes with a playful spirit.
12:30 a.m. World Hood (Speakeasy Kabaret): California-based group weaves together everything from hip-hop to traditional Latin rhythms to create moving soundtrack that speaks to new generations of bicultural listeners.
More Latin alternative at SXSW
Quitapenas, a Californian quintet, recently released its self-titled debut album that adds a modern twist to Afro-Latin rhythms of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Their funky psychedelic tropical influences are sure to keep your hips shaking. (11:45 p.m. Saturday, March 21, Speakeasy)
Third Root, a San Antonio hip-hop group, rhymes about everything from social accountability to education. The group, which is made up of Charles Peters (Easy Lee), Marco Cervantes (MexStep), and DJ Chicken George, emphasizes black/brown unity in both its lyrics and sound. Third Root’s latest album is “Revolutionary Theme Music.” (10:30 p.m. Friday, March 19, Soho Lounge)
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. (8:15 p.m. Friday, March 20, Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center)
Tejano/Norteño fusion band, Intocable, is no stranger to Austin. In 2013, the group headlined the Pachanga Latino Music Festival and band vocalist Ricky Muñoz told our 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 are celebrating their 20th anniversary.
SXSW alums Bomba Estéreo return to the festival this year to deliver what’s sure to be a sweaty dance party. The Colombian band exploded in the U.S. when they played at the 2009 Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York City. A mix of hip-hop, folk Colombian sounds, electronica, and reggae, result in dance sounds guaranteed to make hips shake.
An exciting collaboration between Mexico City-based DJ Camilo Lara and DJ Toy Selectah (Control Machete) called Compass will anchor the show.
Auditorium Shores shows, which start at 6 p.m., are open to the public with free Guest Pass wristbands, available in advance or onsite at the event.
After recently taking a musical journey to Montevideo, I discovered Uruguay’s capital city through its live music scene and wrote about in an Austin360 Travel story. While many travelers skip over the tiny South American country, you’d be surprised at the amount of innovative bands rising from Uruguay.
Music lovers will now get a chance to check out some of the sounds of Uruguay in Austin. South by Southwest 2015 will bring a Uruguayan delegation of musicians to perform at a special showcase on March 18 at Speakeasy.
Here’s a sampling of music from the showcasing artists: