SXSW 2018: Latin American icon Rubén Blades ‘sets record straight’ about his life, career


NPR AltLatino host Felix Contreras interviewed Rúben Blades during SXSW. Photo by Nancy Flores

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.

En español: Se estrena filme sobre Rubén Blades en festival SXSW

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.

MORE SXSW: See all of Austin360’s SXSW coverage

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.

[cmg_anvato video=”4338350″]

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.

Afro-Brazilian R&B band Liniker e os Caramelows break transgender barriers at SXSW

Liniker e os Caramelows at SXSW 2017. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani/American-Statesman

Catch Liniker e os Caramelows at 1 a.m. March 17 at Palm Door on Sixth and midnight March 18 at Flamingo Cantina.

When Afro-Brazilian singer Liniker Barros steps on stage with her popular R&B band Liniker e os Caramelows, she helps break transgender barriers with every soulful note. Through the band’s evocative sound and magnetic stage presence, they’ve been able to perform in Brazilian spaces where black, transgender artists wouldn’t typically go before.

“That in itself is a political statement,” says Pericles Zuanon, the band’s percussionist. In Brazil, their shows bring together mixed LGBT and straight audiences, he says. They’re also pushing boundaries, he says, because the rest of the band is straight and led by a black, transgender woman. “We believe in the dignity of life,” Zuanon says. “At the end of the day we want to spread love and respect.”

The band’s South by Southwest showcases mark the first time they’ve performed abroad and look forward to connecting with new audiences.

Liniker Barros performs at the Russian House during SXSW. Photo by Reshma Kirpalani/American-Statesman

For Barros, who captured Brazil’s attention after a YouTube video of a performance went viral, music has always been close to her heart. Growing up with a musical family, though, also meant that she felt intimidated at first to sing aloud. But soon she found her own voice. At 16, she began writing songs and says she found “her soul in her words.”  “I could translate all my feelings into songs, and now I can’t see myself without my voice,” Barros says. “It was how I found my personality.”

Barros finds solace in the fact that she’s not trailblazing on her own. With other Brazilian bands led by transgender artists, she feels like “we’re fighting together to strengthen our music, our country.”


Cuban hip-hop duo Krudas Cubensi to release ‘Highly Addictive’ album

Pioneers in Cuba's rap scene, MCs Las Krudas, Odaymara Cuesta, left, and Olivia Prendes began rapping about a decade ago. They left behind their life in Cuba, and now call Austin their home.
Odaymara Cuesta, left, and Olivia Prendes make up Krudas Cubensi. Photo by Alberto Martinez/American-Statesman

Pioneers in Cuba’s rap scene, MCs Odaymara Cuesta and Olivia Prendes began rapping more than a decade ago. As the hip-hop duo Krudas Cubensi, they’ve captivated fans around the world with their powerful socially-conscious rap that touches on everything from feminism to racism.

Their latest album “Highly Addictive” drops July 23 with an album release party at 9 p.m. at The North Door. The celebration, which is presented by allgo, also features special guests Dj Ang. G, La Vibra, Blakchyl and Gabi Allhues.

Austin360 recently featured Krudas Cubensi in the Emmy-nominated video and story series “Austin Gente,” which focuses on Latino/a identity in the U.S. In an interview for an episode centered on Latinx LGBTQ identity, Krudas Cubensi shared insights on their experiences in Austin.

“We’re Afro-Latin, queer, vegan, hip-hop artists in the U.S.” Prendes told Austin360. “At the end of the day we are by ourselves because no one shares those identities with us.” If they go to queer events, they may be the only Latinas. And if they go to queer events specifically for minorities, they may be the only immigrants speaking Spanish.

“We are queers for real,” Prendes said. “Even in the queer community, we are the queerest of the queer.”

Krudas Cubensi have become a fixture in Austin’s music and social justice scene, breaking new barriers with each song.



Pakistan showcase returns to SXSW

Wahid Allan Faqir performs at the second annual Pakistan showcase during SXSW.
Wahid Allan Faqir performs at the second annual Pakistan showcase during SXSW. Photo by Nancy Flores

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.



Music Monday: Bomba Estéreo’s “Fiesta”

Bomba Estéreo will perform at Fun Fun Fun Fest 2015.  JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Bomba Estéreo will perform at Fun Fun Fun Fest 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN


Cultura en Austin wants you to kick off the work week in style. We present a blog feature called Music Monday, where we highlight new or recent Latin alternative music videos from artists who should be on your radar. We’ll showcase Austin-based musicians as well as those who regularly perform in Austin or will soon.

Artist: Bomba Estéreo

The Colombian electro fusion group, Bomba Estéreo, is part of this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest lineup. The Austin music festival, which takes place at Auditorium Shores on Nov 6-8, will bring many acts like D’Angelo and Wu-Tang Clan for its 10th anniversary. Check out the rest of the lineup here.

Song: “Fiesta” Album: “Amanecer”

Bomba Estéreo will release its new album “Amanecer” this week, which includes the Carnaval de Barranquilla-inspired psychedelic song “Fiesta.” Check out the recently released trippy video.

If you’re a Austin-based Latin music band and are releasing a new video, let me know at


Manuel “Cowboy” Donley accepts national lifetime award in Washington, D.C.

Manuel "Cowboy" Donley
National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu presents a plaque to 2014 NEA National Heritage Fellow Manuel “Cowboy” Donley at the NEA National Heritage Fellowships Awards Ceremony on September 17, 2014 at the Library of Congress. TOM PICH

Austin-based Tejano music icon Manuel “Cowboy” Donley accepted the National Endowment for the Arts’ lifetime achievement award for folk and traditional arts in Washington, D.C. last week.

The beloved singer, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and composer was among 13 master artists and advocates in folk, traditional arts and jazz to receive the 2014 National Heritage Fellowship, which included a $25,000 prize. Donley, 87, also performed at a special NEA National Heritage Fellowships Concert, which was streamed live and can still be viewed online.

While at the ceremony with friends and family, Donley says that he was filled with emotion when his name was announced first. “It’s quite an honor (to receive an award) for things I’ve done all my life. And music, well, that’s all I can do. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen.”

The last time Donley performed in Washington, D.C. was in 1974 for the Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife Festival, where he was among several musicians invited to represent Mexican and Mexican-American musical traditions.

At the NEA concert Donley and his band, which included his daughter Sylvia Donley, performed many of his hits from the 1950s. Donley’s career began in the 1940s when he lit up dance halls across Texas and the Midwest with his band Las Estrellas.

“I’ve tried to do my best throughout the years,” Donley says. “It’s been my pleasure and honor.”

Donley will celebrate with Austin fans at a special Cactus Cafe show on Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. For ticket information, visit

Being Latino, beyond the labels

By Nancy Flores

Latinos in the U.S. don’t fit neatly into any one box. Diverse backgrounds, language skills, religion and skin color make it difficult for everyone — from politicians to advertisers across the country — to wrap their heads around the Latino experience.

Check out our new video and story series “Austin Gente,” which features Austinities sharing what being Latino means to them. Everyone has a different experience, but they all make up a part of the diverse Latino reality.

Our first installment features the personal identity stories of spray can artist Nathan “Sloke” Nordstrom, multidisciplinary artist Leticia Rodriguez Garza and poet Ire’ne Lara Silva. What’s your identity story?

Latin music at Wobeon world music fest

Latin rhythms will be among the global grooves featured at Wobeon, Austin’s world music festival happening Sept. 20 at Ironwood Hall. Deborah Sengupta Stith reported the details on Austin Music Source, but here are a few stand-outs bringing Latin music to festival. Also, check out how Latin rhythms inspire artists who are not from Latin America.

  • Dendê, percussionist playing Afro-Brazilian funk and groove
  • Maracatu Texas, a local community drum group showcasing Afro-Brazilian music traditions from Pernambuco
  • Kiko Villamizar, Colombian-raised musician who now lives in Austin and performs a fusion of Afro-Colombiano with reggae and other Latin world beats
  • Farah Siraj, Jordanian who incorporates Flamenco to her Jazz and Arabic music
  • Vivalda Dula, singer/songwriter from Angola who sings almost entirely in Portuguese

For more information about the lineup, schedule and tickets, click here.

Aleks Syntek to perform in Austin

Premios Texas 2010

Mexican pop superstar Aleks Syntek will bring his mix of catchy, danceable beats and heartfelt ballads to Austin on Sept. 12 at The Coliseum. Syntek, who is also a producer, singer and songwriter, has a musical repetoire that spans 25 years. His latest album, “Romántico desliz” released this summer and includes the telenovela theme song “Corazones Invencibles.”

Tickets are $25, and show starts at 8 p.m. Find the Coliseum near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport at 9111 FM 812. Keep on eye on this venue, which brings both English and Spanish-language acts. Next Friday, they’ll present Mexican synthpop group Belanova.

In the mean time, enjoy some Aleks Syntek grooves:

Pachanga Festival Launches Red Bull Panamérika Tour in Texas

Austin’s Pachanga Latino Music Festival expanded beyond the city limits today with the launch of the Red Bull Panamérika Tour that’ll go to several Texas cities this week.

Latin alternative artists and Pachanga Fest alums Bomba Estéreo and Los Rakas will be featured on the tour, which kicks off in El Paso. Other tour stops include Corpus Christi’s House of Rock on Sept. 11, Houston’s Warehouse Live on Sept. 12 and San Antonio’s Échale Block Party on Sept. 13.

“We couldn’t be more excited to bring a taste of the Pachanga musical experience outside of Austin and to the rest of Texas,” Pachanga founder Rich Garza said in a news release. This year’s Pachanga Festival scaled back to one day as the event prepared for its expansion.

“Red Bull Panamérika has been such a great partner at the festival; our musical tastes are perfectly aligned. We’ve both been looking to reach a broader audience, so going on the road together with some of our favorite bands made perfect sense for all of us,” Garza said.

Audiences across Texas can expect high-energy dance rhythms from Colombia’s Bomba Estéreo who masterfully blend hip-hop, dub and even Colombian folk rhythms to produce an explosive sound.

Oakland-based bilingual MCs Los Rakas is made up of Panamanian cousins who rhyme mostly in Spanish and Spanglish over heavy, dancehall- and reggae-infused beats.

Tickets, which cost $8 in advance and $12 (plus fees) on the day of show, are available at and at venue ticket outlets. San Antonio fans will have free admission since the show will be part of the larger Échale Block Party at the Pearl Brewery.