Latin Alternative Music Conference, Day 1
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Central Park Summerstage & Mercury Lounge, New York
An overcast sky over Central Park and a severe weather forecast that never came to fruition almost marred the first live show featured on this year's edition of the LAMC, a citywide event that focuses on Latin-flavored performers from different parts of the continent who come together every year in New York to discuss, network and showcase their music among journalists, colleagues, publicists and label scouts.
Though the audience at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield wasn't exactly numerous, Yerba Buena vocalist Cucu Diamantes cheerfully came on stage dressed in a see-through silver dress with a yellow bikini underneath, bringing plenty of energy to introduce us to music from her upcoming solo disc, which is slated to hit stores later this summer.
Backed by a 10-piece band that included a masked drummer and a DJ, she played songs that blended Afro-Cuban influences with electronica and dance. Since she was singing mostly to a non-Latin crowd, she took some time to explain what the Spanish-language songs were about (most had romantic themes) and added some personal comments on the origins of each tune. She closed her set with a high-octane tune whose lyrics spoke being “still in love” after the end of a love affair.
I didn't hang out for a the two films scheduled for the evening, opting instead to head to Lower Manhattan's Mercury Lounge to check out the Independent Music Showcase, which began with the Brazil's Forro In The Dark, a band that began informally about five years ago when a group of musicians came together to play Wednesday nights at Nublu, a small Lower East Side club that also spawned dance/electronica group The Brazilian Girls, who coincidentally is featured at LAMC this time around.
As expected, they didn't disappoint and lit up the crowd with their take on Brazil's northeastern rhythms Not a surprise, since these are musicians who regularly play with the likes of Lila Downs, Miho Hatori, David Byrne and Bebel Gilberto (the last three guested on the band's debut CD, Bonfires of St. John). Following them was Los Angeles-based Pilar Diaz, a Chilean-born vocalist based in Los Angeles who is launching her solo career after abandoning bilingual new wave outfit Los Abandoned (pun intended).
Not having brought a backing group, she assembled a handful of New York-based musicians and rehearsed at the eleventh hour as she arrived into town (at least that is the story that former Cuban Cowboys bassist Madelyn Burgess told me).
It was an interesting gig – she began by singing over a prerecorded backing track, and slowly the other bandmembers trickled in – Burgess came on stage after the second tune, while a third member alternated on trumpet, drums and keyboards. It was quite a surprising set that went into several directions, from the beautiful Mariachi-inspired “Perdido” to “Ilegal,” a pungent, in-your-face punkish song that reflects on what goes on as new immigrants cross the border from Mexico with the “help” of coyotes.
Another highlight of the evening was Brooklyn's own Zigmat, which only has one Latin member, Puerto-Rican born Monica Rodriguez (which begs the question – what exactly makes a band qualify as Latin? More on this in future blogs).
The band met a few years ago while studying at Boston's Berklee College of Music. Formed by Rodriguez, Alon Leventon (guitar, keys) and Stephen Yonkin (bass), the trio categorizes itself as an electro-indie-rock band, which means that they are highly influenced by techno but prefer to play their music in a more organic manner. The songs mostly have English lyrics with some Spanish peppered in between. They are accomplished musicians who use a playful facade to make music that is quite serious – just watching them perform you could notice that they are extremely focused in their art even if their sound is pure fun.
Other bands featured at the showcase included Colombia's Don Tetto and two Miami bands, Guajiro and Afrobeta. Unfortunately we couldn't check them out due to time.
This year's LAMC in New York is quite promising, and will include the likes of Plastilina Mosh, Julieta Venegas, the aforementioned Brazilian Girls, Pacha Massive and Alex Cuba among tens of other lesser-known groups that many of us will soon be hearing about.
- Ernest Barteldes