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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Festival Review: The 2015 Latin Alternative Music Conference

By Ernest Barteldes

Latin Alternative Music Conference

Various Locations

July 8-12, 2015

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I must say that at first I felt reluctant to register for the LAMC this year – after all I now have a day job that does not allow me to fully participate events like these – sure, I do enjoy being part of them, but I feel bad that due to my hours I am unable to say, attend panel discussions or late-night music showcases when I have to be at work for most of the day and up and ready to face classrooms full of students.

Maybe if I had a desk job I could spend the day drinking coffee and dealing with paperwork, but students notice when a teacher looks hungover from lack of sleep – and probably assume your appearance has to do with something else. So ultimately I did the Brazilian thing and registered at the last minute, and decided to cover the event to the best of my abilities – something I will have to do until this blog grows into something – ahem – gainful.

On Wednesday afternoon I headed to the Affinia hotel in midtown Manhattan hotel to pick up my credentials and the gift bag that comes with various goodies, which included a compilation CD of some of the artists showcased at the event, the official T-shirt for the conference and some things – including a power pack for smartphone provided by Verizon, one of the event’s main sponsors this year and sat down to study the program and made plans for the shows I would attend. I knew the indie showcase that evening would be impossible but there would be a lot I could check out with my time availability.

After I wrapped up my classes at work, I returned to the hotel to check out the vendors – Gibson had a beautiful display of new guitars, and I spent some time trying them out. I am a huge fan of the brand (I actually own two of them) and I was eager to check out the new semi-hollow Les Paul model. It certainly did not disappoint – it had that sweet, mellow sound of the 335 with a very lightweight body.

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Later that evening I headed out to SOBs to catch the acoustic showcase.  Each band or soloist plays two songs to give the audience (mostly LAMC attendees) an idea of what the music is about. The evening kicked off with Argentina’s Estelares, who played two tunes – some were singing along with them, and they played with great confidence although they were out of their more electric comfort zone. They were followed by Raquel Sofia, a Puerto Rican singer-songwriter who has worked with several big-name artists and is now doing her own stuff.  She accompanied herself on guitar, and sang with lots of soul. I stayed for just one more singer – Chile’s Rodrigo Solo, who came backed by a small ensemble behind him – unfortunately I had a few personal things to do and could not stay any longer.

On Friday Renata and I headed over to Prospect Park, where Chile’s Astro was already on stage. Their music blended Latin electronica with psychedelic influences and other sounds.  Their sound was heavy on percussion but went into various directions. Some tunes were synth-heavy, almost with a 80s feel. The band members are very versatile, switching instruments throughout the set  – at one point there was something wrong with their electronic equipment, and they just played a punk-inspired tune on guitar, bass and drums with no apparent embellishments, proving their ability to adapt when something goes wrong – other bands might have just stopped playing until the problem had been solved.

After a brief break, Argentina’s Los Autenticos Decadentes took to the stage. They started out with a strong disco-influenced sound but their music is not limited to that at all – they play traditional music, cumbia, rock, drinking songs and other genres.  The band has a total of 12 members, and they switch lead vocals throughout the show.  The band is clearly meant to party to, and the audience responded to that by jumping and dancing through most of the set – the only exception being ballad they played halfway through. They overstayed their time and a presenter tried to make them stop – they responded by going into a short encore that left fans asking for more.

On Saturday we headed to Central Park to hear Mexico’s Ximena Sariñana. We almost didn’t make it in because the security guard at the press entrance questioned me why I don’t carry press ID (I am a freelance writer, this has never been an issue EVER) and then took issue with a selfie stick that had been given to me at the Affinia a day earlier.   I got angry and was ready to leave, but Renata had a cooler head and suggested we go through the main entrance, where no one gave us any problems. We then headed to the press table and got our passes and headed inside, where Uruguay’s No Te Va Gustar were wrapping up their set.

Sariñana came on backed by a six-piece band and kicked off with two fast-paced tunes, quickly going into a funky tune. Her set was packed with her singles including   “Sin Ti No Puede Estar Tan Mal,” the lead single from her 2014 album “No Todo Lo Puedes Dar” and also “Different,” an English-language tune from her second self-titled album.

Ximena

She is a highly talented artist who is poised to be the next Shakira if audiences are willing to pay attention. She is quite charming and is also a skilled keyboard player. She has yet to develop the stage presence of someone like Ivete Sangalo or Julieta Venegas, but at 29 she is definitely on the write path.

Vicentico

The evening closed with an appearance by former Los Fabulosos Cadillacs’ vocalist Vicentico, who brought a mix of hard-hitting rock songs and romantic ballads reminiscent of Eros Ramazotti. He had fans singing along with him for many of the tunes – including some from his former band. One of the highlights was “Tengo Derechos,’ a poignant song about those who disappeared during Argentina’s brutal military regime, which he sang solely accompanied by his own acoustic guitar and a crowd of thousands.

The Latin Alternative Music Conference has been instrumental in bringing these and many Latin artists to the spotlight and also has brought some great stars to larger stages. I would probably not be aware of many of the bands I have written over the years if not for this conference – which I haven’t missed since I first heard about it.

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.