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LA’s Latino Fusion Revolution is coming your way

LA is the second largest Spanish-speaking city in the world — Mexico City being the first. Not surprising, since Los Angeles used to be Mexico, as did Texas and much of the Southwest. The Treaty of Gudalupe Hidalgo in 1848  ended the Mexican-American war and made Alta California just plain old California.

While government and sovereignty changed, the Mexican families living in California did not and neither did their music. The Spanish introduced the guitar (a different version than we now play) in the 1600’s and it was quickly integrated into music throughout the region. By the 1920’s, Latino DJ’s were programming blocks of time on local radio statewide, and by the 1950’s Spanish Language radio – and music – was a major force in Southern Californa. The “Tijuna Blasters” pumped out rock and roll during the day and banda and norteño and chicano rock at night with their illegal 50,000 watt towers, just over the border.

So it is fitting that I am writing this week’s LA LA Land from Jalisco State, Mexico, the birthplace of mariachi music. We are exploring Mexican music and recruiting Mexican bands for our bilingual radio show, MusicaFusionLA which covers the American Latino Music fusion revolution in Southern California. (Note: Latino refers to music from South and Central America; Latin music refers to music from Cuba and the Caribbean, although the terms are frequently interchanged)

Los Angeles boasts hundreds Latino fusion bands.  Many Latino bands, like jazz and pop singer Irene Diaz, are second or third generation Americans, and some, like Ozomotli, have members whose families go back five generations. Many are also immigrants, like Mexican fusion rock artist and producer Mitre, who is in LA on artistic visas (which brings a lot of money to local producers), or are permanent residents or citizens, like jazz singer Nancy Sanchez or members of the bands Chicano Batman,  Aparato, and La Santa Cecilia.

Added to this is a constant flow of bands and artists from Latin America who come through and play for the 4 million+ Latino audience that lives in the LA region. Recently, LA has also seen a trickle of artists from Cuba, like San Miguel Perez, who has teamed up with Men at Work guitarist Colin Hay and his wife, Peruvian-born producer/singer Cecilia Nöel, in a band that won this year’s LA Music Critic Award.   

Not to be outdone, LA’s mariachi music has fused with rock and roll, producing bands like Mariachi Manchester, adopting The Smiths/Morrissey music to the classic Mexican form. They are joined by a rising number of all-female mariachis like Las Colbri, whose music covers a full gamut of traditional and modern beats. Tourist and locals flock to Mariachi Plaza in the Boyle Heights neighborhood for mariachi, but are also surprised by mariachi fusion flash mobs that pop up in Metro stations and downtown parks.

Supporting this fusion explosion is a network venues like Los Globos and EastsideLuv, where Latino fusion rock, rap, punk, hip hop, jazz and pop are staples, plus salsa nights all over the city in places like The Mint, LA’s oldest rock club. Salsa clubs like The Mayan and the Conga Room give lessons and are packed and sweaty by 9pm nightly.  There are also major fusion concerts in venues like the Hollywood Bowl and Disney Hall, featuring touring stars and local bands. Add to this are weekly music festivals, CD release parties, and showcases.

The grand festival of Latino and fusion music in LA is Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Mexican holiday held from noon to midnight October 28, honoring dead family members with altars, food, and music in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the graveyard of the stars. Dia de Los Muertos boasts 3 music stages and dozens of local and national bands entertaining 40,000 or more people for the day. FYI: We will be there and will bring you news and video.

The Latino fusion revolution is spreading out across the country rapidly.  Fusion bands like La Cafeteras, La Santa Cecelia, and Chicano Batman now tour and get radio play across the country. It is easy to see why – when you combine the infectious dance rhythms of salsa, and cumbia with good ole’ rock and roll, you have a combination that gets people on their feet in any language.  So keep your dancing shoes handy because the fusion revolution from La La Land is coming your way, if it is not already there.

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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