July Preview: What to Listen and Watch in the Midsummer

By Ernest Barteldes

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Aterciopelados, LAMC at Summerstage, July 11

July comes with even hotter temperatures but also brings a full calendar of outdoor shows in many locations. Again, as we did on previous months, we will focus on shows that are either free of charge or with a suggested donation, as is the case with most performances at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn and at Summerstage.

At Bryant Park, the Summer movie series continues with a program that includes classics like Carrie (the Original 1976 with Sissy Spacek and a very young John Travolta), Coming to America and Goodfellas among some lesser-known titles. Films begin at sunset, but you should come early, since space in the grass is occupied as early as 6:00 PM.

The month of July marks the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of The Latin Alternative Music Conference, a citywide event that includes various showcases, panel discussions and other goodies, but for the general public there are free shows around the city. These performances include an opening show at Central Park Summerstage headlined by Mexico’s Ximena Sariñana  (Wednesday, July 10th at 5 PM), one of the most respected young pop artists in her native country. Her style brings to mind girl-power singers like Avril Lavigne and (if you think of the 90s) Alanis Morrissette. Also on the bill are iLe and Nathy Peluso. The following day, LAMC will host a showcase in Queensbridge Park (July 11th) featuring legendary Colombian band Aterciopelados, Diamante Electrico and DJ Dayansita

Later in the weekend the conference moves to Celebrate Brooklyn, where Guatemala’s Gaby Moreno (Prospect Park, July 12th) a bilingual artist that mixes pop and traditional sounds  will be sharing the bill with Mexico’s Enhambre and El David Aguilar, and then things move back to Central Park (Saturday, July 13th) with tith a big 20th anniversary party featuring Vicente Garcia, ChocQuibTown, Macaco & Guaynaa. On the same evening, Malian living legend Salif Keita will headline at Prospect Park – making it one heck of a busy weekend if you plan on attending every show.

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I’m With Her, Celebrate Brooklyn July 18

Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan are three artists with respectable careers in their own right, but when they get together for their “Supergroup” I’m With Her things get far more interesting, as they use more harmonies and musical textures that go beyond their solo works. Opening the evening is Darlingside, a four-piece group from Boston that takes inspiration from 60s groups like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Simon & Garfunkel but put their own personal imprint, being both retro and contemporary at the same time. (BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn, July 18).

I’ve heard Chilean-French rapper Ana Tijoux multiple times over the years, going from her rather raw debut appearance at LAMC almost a decade ago to her more evolved, social justice-conscious phase, where her angrier raps became more melodically intricate.  She continues to evolve, so don’t expect her to simply rap to the beats in her breakout hit “1977.” She has a deeper, more powerful message these days. (Summerstage at Corporal Thomas Park, July 20)

One of the biggest hits on Broadway in recent years, Fela! The Concert celebrates the times and music of iconic Afrobeat founder Fela Kuti with a ten-piece band, dancers and singers – some who were part of the original production – a great opportunity to watch the show again or for those who missed it to actually watch it for free. (Summerstage at Coney Island, July 26 and July 31 at Central Park)

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Alceu Valença, July 27 Brazil Summerfest at Summerstage

Brazil Summerfest is a two-week long festival that celebrates everything Brazilian, kicking off with a free street fair featuring traditional music, food and even some artisanal works. There are several ticketed shows, panel discussions and movie screenings throughout the event, including a free show at Central Park Summerstage featuring Alceu Valença (July 27), a legendary singer-songwriter in Brazil but who hardly ever performs in the US (at least from memory, I cannot recall ever hearing of him performing Stateside in the two decades I’ve been here). His music is a blend of traditional Northeastern beats with theatrics and rock. He is a consummate perfectionist in spite of his eccentric stage persona – I once saw him stop a show because the sound was not of his liking, but he did apologize to the audience for that, and later gave a stellar performance after the problems were solved.

August is also promising as Celebrate Brooklyn, Summerstage and Lincoln Center Out of Doors continue their free programs – tune back in at the end of July for some cool recommendations.

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LAMC Showcase at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn

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Girl Ultra

LAMC Showcase at BRIC

Celebrate Brooklyn

Mala Rodriguez, Ana Tijoux & Girl Ultra

July 13, 2018

by Ernest Barteldes

On the Celebrate Brooklyn night of the 2018 edition of the Latin Alternative Music Conference, the audience was presented with three very different female voices with very distinctive styles that gave us a glimpse of what is going on in the Latin music scene.

Mexican R&B singer Girl Ultra (Mariana de Miguel) opened the proceedings backed by a simple band that featured keyboards, bass and drums, and she sang mostly original material. Early on the set, there were some technical problems with the keyboards, and instead of interrupting the set, she just began to improvise with the bassist and the drummer for about five minutes, creating music on the spot to the delight of the crowd, who got the chance to see the artist in an unfiltered format, just being creative with whatever she had in her mind at the moment.

Girl Ultra’s music is clearly inspired by contemporary R&B with a retro feel – she clearly draws from the likes of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston but does not have their vocal power. She does, however, have tons of creativity with her vocals, and uses her limitations to her advantage. I believe what we heard was a diamond in the rough – she has great potential as an R&B singer, and I’m hoping to hear her more down the road.

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Ana Tijoux

She was followed by Chile’s Ana Tijoux, who has evolved incredibly from the first time I saw her at an earlier showcase at Central Park Summerstage. She started out with a Spanish-language song written in the 1970s that she said was “relevant to our times,” and was very vocal against the current U.S. administration. During the set she alternated between her earlier rap hits (which included her signature hit “1977”) and more melodic material. At one point, she brought in a violin trio for a tango-inflected tune called “Asaltemos a Un Banco” (“Let’s Rob a Bank”) which was followed by a “Somos Sur,” socially conscious number which she described (in Spanish) that “is about what Latin America is – it’s not a postcard, it’s about where we live. Our culture comes from the streets – to be Latin is all about the places.” Another tune talked about how the rich put the poor down by denying them access to education and dignity, inviting the listener to “join the fight” against racism and blind capitalism.

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Mala Rodriguez

Closing the evening was Spain’s Mala Rodriguez, who came accompanied by a DJ and two female dancers in very skimpy white outfits, delivering a set of dance-inspired music that seemed a bit out of step with the more acoustic nature of the previous sets, but audiences seemed to dig it – like in every LAMC night, it was an opportunity to hear diverse voices and get a feel for the direction of pop, rock and other genres within the umbrella of Latin Music.

Preview: The Latin Alternative Music Conference 2015

By Ernest Barteldes

It is no secret that I am a fan of outdoor concerts during the warm summer months, but there is one event that I eagerly wait to come around: The Latin Alternative Music Conference, the annual event that takes place all over the city, including shows in Central Park and Celebrate Brooklyn and other select venues. Though some of the concerts are for participants only such as the various showcases, most are open to the general public – a treat for fans of Latin Alternative artists.

But what exactly is Latin alternative in the first place?  A few years ago, one editor included in an article of mine that it is basically about Latino artists that ‘don’t play salsa.’ Though for most readers back then that might have made sense, I did not really like that definition because rhythms like mambo, cumbia and salsa are actually part of the genre, just not in the traditional sense.  After all, reggaeton is the ultimate blend of a quintessentially North American genre with the sounds of the Caribbean. Aterciopelados is a rock band that incorporates traditional Colombian music into their songs, and Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux (who was by the way first showcased in America at LAMC before she broke out internationally) does not hide her home country’s influence in her rapping.  At least they are no longer calling it “rock en español,” a dreadful label that came to be in the 90s when some Latin bands broke into the pop scene in America.

The LAMC is more than just music – it’s an opportunity for musicians to network with label executives, journalists and ultimately their own peers. When I first attended about a decade ago (has it been that long?) the conference had what I would describe as more of a party atmosphere, but it has since grown up and become one of the principal opportunities to exchange ideas and try to find the answers for questions about the state of the music business today – which has been changing in breakneck speed.

During the entire conference, several panel discussions are held to look at the state of music today and how to stay current in it – I recall sitting at one panel that included professionals involved in crowdfunding, then a novel idea that not many in attendance could understand.  This year, streaming is one of the topics up for discussion. Sure, it is not exactly a new idea, but now that large companies like Amazon and Apple are embracing it, what does it mean for a struggling independent artist who can no longer rely on downloads to make a living? Their music might be featured on NPR, but that is not going to pay their bills – new music comes out at a crazy pace these days, and it’s becoming harder and harder to focus on what the next thing might be (believe me, as I write this I am trying to go through my never ending pile of music to review).

For music fans, this year’s attractions are indeed a treat. The fun begins tonight (July 8) at Central Park Summerstage, where three up-and-coming bands will showcase their music – Starting with Electronic music artist Helado Negro (Roberto Carlos Lange, who I’m guessing changed his stage name because of another popular artist called Roberto Carlos), an Ecuadoran native who now calls Brooklyn his home. His sound bears a lot of influence from his former Miami home, but you can hear a lot more in what he does.

Following him is Systema Solar, a Colombian electronic collective that (as I mentioned before) blends lots of their native sounds with more contemporary sounds – it’s not for everyone, but it is certainly innovative.  Closing the evening is Compass, a collaboration between Camilo Lara  –  a frequent collaborator to the LAMC – and Toy Selectah, a DJ and producer with a large resume that includes Morrissey and Calle 13, to name a few.  On Friday (10/7) we go to Celebrate Brooklyn for a three-part set that includes veteran Argentinean band Los Autenticos Decadentes, one of the great luminaries of their country’s pop scene for over thirty years – who apparently are enjoying a comeback.

On Saturday we return to Central Park for another great afternoon that will feature Ximena Sariñana, a Mexican breakout singer who has been crossing over thanks to her efforts in English-language songs such as “Different,” an infectious song about not conforming to expectations.

There is much more going on – just check out the schedule for further details. It is a great opportunity to get out of the American pop box and discover some new sounds. I always have a lot of fun there and am always reporting – so please follow my Twitter feed @ebarteldes for more.

Concert Review: “Gracias A La Vida” tribute to Violeta Parra featuring Ana Tijoux, Colombina Parra and Illapu

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Gracias a La Vida: The Rebel Spirit of Violeta Parra

Pace University

April 17, 2015

New York, NY

By Ernest Barteldes

In an evening of dedicated to trailblazing singer-songwriter Violeta Parra named after what is arguably her most celebrated songs, rapper Ana Tijoux opened the proceeding accompanied by an acoustic guitarist, opening with a stripped-down version of “Sacar La Voz,” a tune originally recorded as a duet with Jorge Drexler, following that with “Mi Verdad,” a poignant tune on the class differences in her native land – a growing problem all over Latin America.

She closed her short set with “Antipatriarca,” a feminist  statement against machismo around the world whole lyrics say  “you will not humiliate me/you will not shut me up/you will not oppress me” during the chorus.

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Tijoux adapts well to a more intimate setting – she presented a similar set during the acoustic showcase at the 2014 Latin Alternative Music Conference acoustic showcase, singing with a more melodic feel, taking advantage of the empty spaces to give a fuller vocal delivery.

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Backed by a three-piece group (guitars, percussion), Colombina Parra took to the stage with no introduction, playing a set of psychedelic-inspired original songs with no apparent reference to her aunt.  Her music was quite aggressive and electric. She didn’t seem too eager to connect with the audience, and the only time she did have any interaction was when she interrupted one of the tunes to briefly introduce the band.

Her music seems to come from various influences – one song had a Bob Dylan-esque quality, and another ended with a cacophony of sounds that reminded me of the Beatles’ “A Day in The Life.” Her stage persona was, however, a bit off-putting.

After a short intermission the six-piece Illapu (pronounced ih-lah-PUH) began with an uptempo Andean number. The sextet often switched instruments, often playing with different pan flutes, charangas and regular guitars in addition to percussion and bass guitar.  Their set included songs by Parra and also by Victor Jara, the composer and singer tortured and murdered by the Pinochet regime in 1973.

The group, however, does not dwell in sadness but celebrates the music of the harsh times that eventually led to the entire band being exiled from their home country.  In fact, one of the most celebrated songs of the set was “Vuelo Para Vivir,” a song that talks about their return to Chile with footage of the group being received in Santiago airport to hugs and tears from fans and family members.

Colombina Parra was invited back to the stage to sing lead on “Gracias a La Vida” with Illapu.  She read the lyrics as she sang (to the surprise of many in the audience – the song is very well known throughout Latin America.  They closed with “Arriba Quemando Al Sol” with Parra on lead vocals and very tight four-part harmony vocals from the group.

Chicago and West Coast Beat: Gracias a La Vida, A Tribute to Violeta Parra

By Ernest Barteldes

Violeta Parra was one of the greatest singers and songwriters to emerge during the
“Nueva Cancion” (“new song”) movement in South America, and was incredibly influential not only for her contemporaries but also to many fans and musicians who came after she took her own life in 1967.

Parra is arguably best recognized for “Gracias a La Vida,” a song that celebrates the gifts of life – the tune was recorded by luminaries like Mercedes Sosa, Brazil’s Elis Regina and countless others.  The lyrics speak of gratefulness and the happiness of being in love, but some interpret the words as a suicide note.

The tribute will feature Ilaipu, an Andean group formed in 1971 that had first-hand experience of the excesses of the Pinochet regime:  after wrapping up a tour in 1981, they found themselves barred from their own country due to the political content of their lyrics. They lived in exile for almost the remainder of the decade, when the dictator finally stepped down in 1988 following a successful opposition campaign to strip him from the presidency.

Also on the bill is Colombina Parra (a niece of Violeta’s), who started her career as a punk/grunge singer-songwriter in the 1990s.  Her style did evolve, and now she incorporates various acoustic and regional elements into her music – an example of that is “Volvamos a Encontrarnos,” a sensual tune in which she almost whispers the vocals with the backing of percussion and acoustic guitar.

The Chicago concert is part of a four-day event entitled “ Gracias a la Vida: The Rebel Spirit of Chile’s Legendary Voice, which celebrates Parra’s legacy with field trips, film screenings and lectures.

Saturday, April 18, Old Town School of Folk, 4544 N Lincoln Ave · Gary and Laura Maurer Concert Hall; 773.728.6000; 7:00; $30