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LA LA Land: At the source: checking out the Latino talent flowing into LA

(Chapala, Jalisco State, Mexico) The Music Friday/MusicaFusionLA radio team has been in Mexico for the past two weeks, scoping out the bands here. Mexico, and all of South America, are huge sources of talent, feeding the voracious Los Angeles music market. Cities like Tijuana, Mexico City, and Guadalajara have modern music infrastructures and strong music markets, so they are ideal incubators for artists and bands that either come through LA for concerts or relocate for a year under special O-1 artist visas, provided to artists of  extraordinary talent. Those that do stay temporarily on the O-1 visas work with local producers, session players, promoters, labels and, of course, the local gringo and second, third, and even fourth generation Latino musicians living in LA, to produce the ongoing American Latino Music revolution.

Some of the more fertile training grounds for these artists are the small towns with large expat populations of Americans, Canadians, and Europeans who create a demand for fusion music entertainment. Towns like San Miguel de Allende, Tijuana, Cabo San Lucas, Ajijic, Chapala, Rosarita Beach/Ensenada, and others boast a profusion of clubs, restaurants, bars, and even large venues where local bands can develop. Most of the music is jazz and rock cover songs for dancing, but even here the Mexican bands make the music their own, fusing Latino sound with rock, jazz, and blues.

I had the pleasure of getting to know one of these bands this week, known variously — depending on the night’s configuration — as the Blue Velvet funky band or the Jazz Duet. Regardless of the name or the number of players on a particular night, guitarist Juan Castañón Acasia and saxophonist Roberto Cantú are well-seasoned virtuosos who can put together a group as tight as any band in a top-tier LA club.

I saw them perform twice this week, both times with a full band made up of Eleazar Soto, Miguel Soto, Gilberto Rios, Roberto Cantu, and Juan Castañón Acasia. Thursday night they were at an upscale restaurant/venue in Chapala, known as Adelita, and again Sunday night at Ocampo71, a hip bar/venue in Ajijic, about 40 min south of Guadalajara. Both times they were tight and well-rehearsed. But they were also energetically innovative, playing covers laced with Mexican sounds and stunning guitar, drum, and sax solos, as well as their own jazz-rock and funk compositions. And no matter what they played, the dance floor was alive with both rocking anglos and hip-swaying Mexicans.

Blue Velvet funky band is only one of many young Latino bands from Mexico, Columbia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Venezuela, and other countries SOB (South Of the Border) who cut their teeth and build their chops in local venues large and small, and learn to satisfy gringo and Latino audiences while creating blended fusion music. Whether they cycle through LA on a US tour, come down for a week of recording with locals, or stay for a few months on an O-1 visa and record by day and rock the local music clubs by night, they enrich our scene here in the Southland. Their style of mixing and up-mashing with local gringo and Latino artists brings work and money to our producers and session players and has helped launch a fusion revolution that is now moving across the country as bands like Chicano Batman, La Santa Cecilia, Las Cafeteras and Gabby Moreno tour and play on radio nationally. And it all starts here.

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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