SXSW 2013 Highlights

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” -Billy Joel

It’s an almost unexpected surprise, especially traveling from Chicago and its winter madness, to get swept up in the warm, sunny embrace of a musical Austin welcome. This is even better when being carried about on the energy of a capital city that shines a well-deserved spotlight on global sights and sounds. The annual South by Southwest music festival is the ideal platform where international artists, some already quite well established in their own country, seek to launch new careers. It is also the perfect location for thousands of music enthusiasts to partake in the official debut of hundreds of new artists, everyone united in looking for that lucky break promised by the incredible spectacle that is SXSW.

Specifically seeking out certain showcases, we were still overwhelmed by the amount of artists sharing their talent. We witnessed frenized performances featuring unique hybrid versions of chinamera rock, Tejano punk, urban son jarocho, dubstep pow wow, post-modern baile funk, Andean hip hop and entire line-ups of styles almost unimaginable.

Sociopolitical infrastructures were empowered, or destroyed, through personal stories of struggle and success—all of this displayed brilliantly on stage. Later, through direct interviews we learned about the many sacrifices made in order to converge upon what many called the festival of festivals. Austin was kept weird in the best ways possible.

We’ll be posting the video interviews to go along with some of these memorable bands, and in the meantime we have to mention them so you can get a head start on listening to some of the fabulousness we were exposed to at #SXSW2013.

La Cuneta Son Machin

From Managua, Nicaragua, this six-piece band was dancing maniacally on stage when we caught their performance at Copa. The enthusiastic bunch drew us in with their approach to chinamera which was charged with an exciting dose of  funk, rock and cumbia. Together since 2009, the band has two albums out, El Zafarrancho and Amor Fritanguero, which can be found for free download on their website. They create this type of music so their country’s youth learn how to embrace and appreciate music normally considered less than desirable. With their new fusion, they’re able to push a new concept that’s being quickly embraced. During our interview they revealed an endearing fact… it took them two years to save up enough money to head to Austin for their showcases.

La Chiva Gantiva

These Colombian percussionists joined forces in Brussels in 2005 (they were missing their home and wanted to find a way to reconnect) and have been busy entertaining audiences ever since. Currently on tour in promotion of their newest album, Pelao, their Afro-Colombian style vocalized in Spanish, French and English is enriched by the addition of rock, funk, jazz and balkan brass beats. They performed at Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago following their numerous concerts in Austin. Pelao is available on Crammed Discs.

Las Cafeteras

We had previously met this lively young group of son jarocheros in New York during the annual Latin Alternative Music Conference. They are from Los Angeles and have strong ties to the immigrant struggle. They believe everyone’s story needs to be heard—and what better way than with a modern version of the regional folk music style of Veracruz to which they’ve incorporate hip hop? Their alternative sound, which got its start in 2005, is used as a tool to build autonomy, community and solidarity. They stay true to the energy of son jarocho by expertly handling the marimbol, jarana, requinto and adding fused sounds through the cajon, flute, harmonica and glockenspiel. Their zapateados kept everyone on their feet at “Sol Collective’s Listen Global, Act Local” showcase at Kenny Dorham’s Backyard as well as during their performance at Copa. You can find their first full-length album, It’s Time at their website.

A Tribe Called Red

Formed in 2010 by Bear Witness, NDN and Shub, this Canadian DJ collective provokes the masses with their eclectic blend of dance hall and hip hop beat. Their work makes space for Aboriginal and Native urban culture events known as Electric Pow Wows, which they are given credit for creating. Also known as Powwowstep, this genre mixes traditional pow wow vocals and drumming with cutting edge electronic. At SXSW 2013 they were part of “Sol Collective’s Listen Global, Act Local” show as well as performing at Swan Dive, Townhouse and the Speakeasy, which is where we caught up with them. In addition to keeping folks mentally engaged while on their toes, they also keep audiences entertained with one-of-a-kind political and sometimes humorous visuals.

Tiarra Girls

These three teenage sisters were part of the “Tiniest Rockstars of Texas” showcase. Tiffany, Tori and Sofia headlined for a reason: they know how to rock a stage and a crowd. Playing a combination of covers and originals, these Austin natives proved versatile as a three-piece rock band, taking us back in time to a teenaged version of Girl In A Coma if GIAC had gotten started at such a young age. The Tiarra Girls enjoy performing together, “Quintanilla style”, as they said when asked about their cover of Selena’s “Como La Flor.” They’ve only been performing for a couple of years but they’re clearly talented and on their way to Texas-sized success.

Additionally, even though we couldn’t catch their live performances, we were able to interview artists like alternative rockers Grammy Award-winning Cuarteto de Nos from Montevideo, Uruguay; lo-fi sound enthusiasts The Copper Gaminsfrom Zinacantepec, Mexico; Spanish Irish folk-influencedTrack Dogs; Pachamama Crew’s Hector Guerra representing Spain and Bolivia and the engaging and eccentric Grammy-nominated pop starMax Capote from Uruguay.

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