Latin Musicians Bring A Message Of Resistance To SXSW
(SOUNDBITE OF TROKER SONG, "LA TRAMPA")
FELIX CONTRERAS, HOST:
From NPR Music, this is ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras, just back from about a week in Austin, Texas, for the annual South by Southwest Music Festival. Now, normally, I spend my time searching out new bands because many travel from all over Latin America to go to South by Southwest, and it's a great chance to see them live. But this year, I concentrated on bands I was already familiar with to check in on them, to see how they're maturing and growing artistically. And I'll have more on that on later shows.
But what I want to share this week are bands that were all about resistance in their music. Many musicians from here in the U.S. and from across Latin America are reacting to things like the immigration policies of the current U.S. administration or, for example, a continuing dissatisfaction with the current administration in Mexico - all things politics. And it comes out in words and music. And that's what this show is all about - Resistance with a capital R.
(SOUNDBITE OF TROKER SONG, "LA TRAMPA")
CONTRERAS: We're starting with some music from Troker. It's a Mexican jazz band that I first saw in Mexico City a few years ago, and I checked in with them again at South by Southwest. And while their instrumental jazz doesn't directly address social or political issues, the band says their hearts are with those who do stand up and speak truth to power. This is "La Trampa" by Troker.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA TRAMPA")
TROKER: Ayer falleció en el seno de la Iglesia Católica mi adorada hija Ernestina (ph). Murió a consecuencia de un descarrilamiento cerca de León, Guanajuato. Rogar a Dios por ella.
Ernestina, puesto que su padre se opone a nuestro amor, me detesta y calumnia llamándome bandido. (Inaudible) Tuyo.
(SOUNDBITE OF GINA CHAVEZ SONG, "SHE PERSISTED")
GINA CHAVEZ: So this song, if you've been following everything in Washington - which if you're here tonight, I think you probably have. This song is called "She Persisted."
CONTRERAS: That's Gina Chavez. She's an ALT.LATINO favorite, for sure. I mean, we featured her music on the show. She's performed at Tiny Desk concert. She even hosted the show once. So you know about her music. But what you may not know is that Gina is very active in her hometown of Austin in a variety of efforts towards social justice and change. And on a Saturday night during South by Southwest, she introduced a new song called "She Persisted"
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE PERSISTED")
CHAVEZ: (Singing) My hands are tied. Your hands are, too. Now we don't know where to go.
CONTRERAS: The song is a reference to an incident in which U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren was advised to stop reading a statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate. She continued with her statement, however, and was shut down by a rarely used parliamentary rule. The title of the song is part of a quote by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who shut her down and who said she was warned, and yet she persisted.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE PERSISTED")
CHAVEZ: (Singing) They told her to sit down, told her to work hard, told her to stop and wait her turn, told her shut up, listen. Nevertheless, she persisted.
CONTRERAS: Many musicians for sure choose not to make statements in their art. Gina Chavez is not one of those kind of artists.
CHAVEZ: I want to have a message. Many times, it's not that overt, but I think with this time that we're living in right now, I feel like I've been living at the Texas Capitol, for instance, and going there. I've played there - you know, for the Women's March, we had the most historic gathering of people, not only women, but people - 50,000 people at the Texas Capitol, which has never happened before. And I actually was honored to play that event. And so I've also been thinking of when I'm going to the Capitol and going to these rallies. I'm like, we need new music. I love the music that we have in our history, and "This Land Is Your Land" and things like that, but we need new things that speak to the things that we're living right now, that speak to all the voices. And so, you know, I think with that in mind, some of the new music I'm writing is trying to reach that. You know, what can I sing in any environment - not only a, you know, a small coffee shop or something, but something at a festival like South by Southwest or something at the Capitol - that is going to speak to people and the reality that we're living right now?
CONTRERAS: Gina says music with a message can be healing for both the audience and the artist.
CHAVEZ: There's something deep in our humanity that longs to use our voices. And so I remember hearing - I can't remember who it was. It was a classical pianist who, after 9/11 happened thought to himself, you know, what could I do, you know? And he was just so distraught with what had happened. And then the next day, he sees people out on the corner in New York City gathering to sing. And the idea that there's something so human about raising our voices together that - I feel as a musician that that's not only something that I've been wanting to do, but specifically now, being a Latina, being a Catholic, being a lesbian, being, you know, all the things that each one of us are, we have to, like, sacar del pecho. Like, we have to bring that out of ourselves and be able to bear it naked so that other people can say yes. Like, that is exactly what I need right now, is I need to use my voice and bring people along for that journey, and so create music that can invite other voices.
CONTRERAS: And finally, she says it is an honor to share her music and her passion with efforts to make the world a better place.
CHAVEZ: I am not going to lie. I'm trying not to really accept gigs these days so that I can songwrite. And so when I was asked to play the Women's March, you know, a month before it happened, I was like, oh, like, I would love to. I'd love to say yes to all the causes that I can, you know? And then I ended up saying yes, and I'm so glad I did, because it ended up being this historic event that, as I'm preparing to go on stage after all of these amazing speakers and poets and musicians, I'm finding myself backstage, like, about to cry because it's - like, seeing the mass of humanity that came out to say, you - we will not go quietly, you know? And realizing, like, wow, I've been invited to have a moment on this stage and offer something for people that I have to step up to the - like, now is the time to say yes or to go into the shadows. And we can't. We can't go into the shadows. So I think it's inspiration, but it's also saying every voice is important, no matter what you look like, no matter what ZIP code you live in, no matter what your gender is, you know, you matter. You matter no matter who you are. Because you are breathing and living and you are human, you matter.
CONTRERAS: Here is another little bit of Gina Chavez's new song, "She Persisted."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE PERSISTED")
CHAVEZ: (Singing) Tell us to work hard. Tell us to stop and wait our turn. Tell us to shut up, listen. Nevertheless, we are persistent.
CONTRERAS: Thursday night at South by Southwest featured a big outdoor free concert sponsored by the nonpartisan voter registration group Voto Latino. It was dedicated to resistance through music, and one of the bands featured was the Mexican reggae and ska band Panteón Rococó. Backstage, I talked politics and music with the band's lead singer, Dr. Shenka, who said it was impossible to avoid messages in their music because their band was born during the Zapatista uprising in southern Mexico in 1994.
DR SHENKA: In the case of Panteón Rococó, it was born in the middle of a war in Mexico, between the government and the Zapatistas. And I think so we start to learn since the beginning - you know, this kind of part of our work about to tell the community, to talk about our social problems, to talk about the problems that we see in our communities and in our home. And I think - so since the beginning, we start to learn to do it, you know? And now we think that Panteón has to necessity - ¿cómo se dice? - necesidad - well, to tell something. And our crowd, our people, our fans, they are always waiting (inaudible). They always waiting what we think about the problems that we live in Mexico, that we are living in here in the States. And I think - so for us is now an obligation, you know? Not just that we can do it because we love them. But at the same time, the people is asking for us to get up (inaudible) to tell something about it, you know? And this kind of situation will obviously take us to make some music and some lyrics talking about this kind of problems.
CONTRERAS: Even with the harsh language coming from the White House toward immigrants these days, surprisingly, Dr. Shenka says he prefers the direct approach of the current U.S. president.
DR SHENKA: It's preferable, I think. So I prefer. Want people that play with all the con todas las cartas sobre la mesa, tell you what they want - you know? - and tell you, I don't want you. I don't want you here. And it's preferable. I don't know. I personally think Obama is the president that did a lot of deportations than ever in the history of the States. So hay veces que prefiero mil veces esta parte. I prefer this...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Honesty.
DR SHENKA: ...Honesty. Exactly. Exactly. And I think so - it's better and make you to do something about it, you know? You must react to this kind of situation. And I think so we must be wise to do it. For example, now, and a lot of interviews that I did before, the people tell me, hey, what are you going to do? And on the stage, what you want to talk about it? Well, I'm going to talk about it, but I must to be wise, you know? Because it's not like, you know, f*** Trump. No, it's not like that. Yo creo que tenemos ser un poquito más inteligentes y pensar mejor las cosas to get this these union and to get to the people, to start to see each other and fight against this kind of things that that are happening right now.
CONTRERAS: Dr. Shenka says that ultimately, it's the universality of the human condition in their music that connects Panteón Rococó to audiences around the world.
DR SHENKA: This kind of situation will obviously take us to make some music and some lyrics talking about this kind of problems. And this kind of lyrics will take us to travel around the world and we start to see that songs like "La Carencia" or songs like "La Ciudad De La Esperanza" will start to get some kind of network between the countries and the music from Panteón. And when we go to Argentina, for example, and we sing something about "La Ciudad De La Esperanza" o "La Carencia" and you're talking about Argentina, or when we go to Spain, we are talking about Spain, and we start to see that the music do this kind of part, you know? Do this kind of - ¿cómo se - eslabón, como la parte que une a... Exacto, ¿no? That evolve between the people and the music from Panteón.
CONTRERAS: This is "Ciudad De La Esperanza" (ph) from Panteón Rococó.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA CIUDAD DE LA ESPERANZA")
PANTEÓN ROCOCÓ: Súbelo (Singing) Es una ciudad de esperanza. Es un perro que nunca me alcanza, que me tira la mordida mientras corro por mi vida. Es la trinchera que me convierte en fiera. Cárcel gigante, de millones de habitantes que no quieren saber nada de nada con el reloj, corriendo por sus venas y la vida que se va con tantas penas. Más aprisa el mundo se alista y va en el metro con tanto aprieto. Y a las mujeres les meten mano hasta en lugares que pa' qué te cuento. Y en la calle, el despapaye, tráfico intenso, ambiente denso. Uno se pasa un alto, otro comete un asalto. La gente amontonada en los servicios y en la embajada y en las instancias de (inaudible) gobierno todas las colas son un infierno. Y no hay nadie que no vea. Y no hay nadie que no vea. Y no hay nadie que no vea. Y no hay nadie que no vea que el descontento social ya no es nada anormal. Hasta en un hospital te tratan como un animal. El descontento social ya no es nada anormal. Hasta en un hospital te tratan como un animal. Oye, venga (inaudible).
CONTRERAS: You're listening to ALT.LATINO and I'm reporting back from my week at South by Southwest in Austin, a week that saw lots of Latin music and musicians taking up the theme of resistance. Like the band Ozomatli, who also played that big outdoor free concert. In fact, making a political statement was how their band started, according to guitarist Raul Pacheco.
RAÚL PACHECO: So Wil, our current bass player, and original drummer who is no longer with the band, Anton, worked for an organization. They went on strike. They took over a building, created a community arts center, mainly for youth of Los Angeles, in a part of town where there was nothing happening for kids and, you know, you had to play soccer in the parking lot and cops harassed you if you rode a skateboard. And, you know, and maybe kids wanted to do graffiti art. And they were - it just wasn't a space. So there was a friend of ours who was their boss, Carmelo, and with them, they opened up the spot. They kind of took over a building. And we were the house band. You know, they needed to raise funds and Wil-Dog hit everybody up and said, hey, you want to play, you know, for this cause? And we thought for sure. So we were all the ones who showed up. That's how it started.
CONTRERAS: Pacheco also says that the impact of music with a message has roots in the power of music to convey emotions of all kinds.
PACHECO: You know, I think the role of any artist is to, you know, express your experience. And I think most art that we have a tendency to love and that has any kind of longevity, there is a personal element in it a lot. And so you know, as humans, we experience it just like anybody else. And, you know, there's songs have moved people since the beginning of time, whether it's church, whether it's gatherings, whether it's anthems, whether it's a sentiment that we all can connect with. But one of the things I think music does often and I'm very happy that I'm a musician because of this. I don't - I can meet anybody anywhere in the world and play them a song and they'll have a feeling about it. And I could hear something from someone in a style I'm not even, you know, accustomed to and something that might be new in a different language and it can move me. And so I think that it's very powerful. And I think musicians have always gone together for that reason.
CONTRERAS: Pacheco is philosophical about how to interpret differences between people in everything from culture to politics.
PACHECO: I think people are - all over the world are good. And people all over the world are nice. And people all over - and the stuff you hear on the news, it's such a few people, you know, that kind of like have any kind of hatred toward others. And there's some people in this country who, you know, are expressing that right now, but still, I just believe and in my experience, you know, most of us do not. Most of us want to live in peace. Most of us want to do the same things all over the world. Maybe have some opportunities to work, provide for ourselves, for our families, you know, and live life, you know, in a way that we can enjoy it.
CONTRERAS: And I asked him about the strong sentiment of us versus them that seems to be part of the political discourse these days.
PACHECO: You know, I'm one of the people who think but it's always been there, you know? And I think that this - so for people to think that I didn't, it's kind of naive in my perspective, you know? And you know, there's always a back and forth in this country. You have a Black president who identifies as that and that, I think that pisses a lot of people off, you know? And I'm hoping that people can talk frank about it and really express their views. You know, can we come together as a country like all that stuff? Like, I don't know. But I know that you're being a little bit more forced to make a choice, you know? And I think our choice has always been on the side of people who want to express themselves in a way that is very uplifting, you know, that includes people, that sees difference as a beautiful thing, as a rich, you know, experience. And that the other, whoever that is, is welcome, for sure. And, you know, we're still doing it. We've been doing for 20 years. We're one of a long line of bands who stand for these things, and there's plenty of them out there right now. And we're all in solidarity and we play this show tonight at South by Southwest, specifically about Latino resistance. But I think for all, you know, types of people who just don't jive with this kind of message that is one that is of kind of a nationalist, closed experience. We think that, you know, we have a voice and we're going to use it. And we encourage everybody to use it.
CONTRERAS: This is "Burn It Down" from Ozomatli's album, "A Place In The Sun," released in 2014.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BURN IT DOWN")
OZOMATLI: (Singing) In my mind, my body under attack in every direction can hold back from climbing a wall. It once did save me but now it enslaves me. Like money and greed you fuel desire that leads to a time when conscious retires. In all the confusion let the fusion burn the past. We're burning, burning, burning till it all falls down. Set in on fire, ah. Oh. Set it on fire, ah. Oh. Set it on fire, ah. Oh. Set it on fire, ah. I rejoice moment to moment fills a path in every direction which will last and break down this cage that was protection but now's inflection. What I needed before has served a purpose. You must take a chance, change the course of this wall of confusion. Let the future burn the past. We're burning, burning, burning till it all falls down. Set it on fire, ah. Oh. Set it on fire, ah. Oh. Set it on fire, ah. Oh. Set it on fire, ah. Burning, burning, burning till it all falls down. Set it on fire, ah. Set it on fire, ah. We're burning, burning, burning till it all falls down.
CONTRERAS: Not all of the bands that had a message were limited to the Night of Resistance at the outdoor concert. The San Antonio punk band Fea is, by definition, a band with a message. Fea is the Spanish word for ugly woman, and the name is a statement about the power of words to hurt or stigmatize women. Band members Phanie Diaz and Jenn Alva started the band while on break from their first band, Girl in a Coma. And I caught up to them as they stood next to their van just before their own gig at South by Southwest.
PHANIE DIAZ: Hi, this is Phanie from Fea.
CONTRERAS: OK, so a lot of bands coming through this week with the theme of resistance. And art has always played a role in social movements in general, but now seems to be - especially among Latin bands or bands from Latin America and here in the United States, it's Resistance with a capital R now. You know, what is your take on the role of musicians in speaking to some of these things that are just out there?
DIAZ: I think now is a very important time for musicians to speak up and use the platform of music to kind of educate, you know, young kids in just kind of what's going on politically. You know, we're a queer Latina feminist group, so - and we've been singing about being feminist, you know, the political system that we're in now that Trump's in office. Now's the time. People pay attention to lyrics. And I think it's very important to talk about these issues and get people involved and know what's going on 'cause a lot of people just listen to music, and, you know, it's fast-paced, but now I think now's the time to speak up, basically. It's now. Now is the time.
CONTRERAS: Do you get a feeling from audiences just in general since - let's say, since November or at least since the inauguration?
DIAZ: Yeah, definitely. I think we - when we started Fea, we already knew that we were going to be a political Chicana punk band without knowing - you know, when Trump had signed up, i thought it was a joke. I didn't really think it was going to really happen. So we were already kind of singing about these issues. And now as soon as that happened, we had a lot of emails of people, you know, a lot of Latinos, Latinas, saying, your band is important. Your band is really important right now. And, you know, we take that to heart, and we're just almost feel like we're on a mission now. Definitely.
JENN ALVA: Yeah. There's definitely - this is Jenn Alva from Fea. We're definitely fueled. I remember when we had a show election night and it was a punk show, we felt very much, you know, at home, I guess. And as soon as he got elected on the televisions, it's like the crowd switched over. And, you know, there was this one guy I got in an argument with because he was all cheers to Trump. And I was like, no, you can't do that. We're at a punk show, and it's a very sensitive issue, you know? It was just weird. And I felt like maybe people felt like they could speak out, you know, a little bit more. And now we feel like we can speak out a little bit more. So I think both of them are - you know, pro-Trump, anti-Trump, we're all speaking.
DIAZ: People started feeling comfortable.
CONTRERAS: Say that again?
DIAZ: People started - at that show that she's talking about, the gentleman who had yelled out, you know, you know, Hail Trump or whatever it was, you know, and then told us Latinos can't take a joke - already he felt comfortable to be almost machismo, almost racist. No, he was racist. And that's why now it's important for us to speak up. If they feel comfortable coming out like that, well, now is the time for us to say, hey, these things are wrong. Kids, listen up. Now is the time for us to come together and really pay attention to what is going on around you.
CONTRERAS: This is Fea and their song, "Feminazi."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEMINAZI")
FEA: (Singing) You sure like me, when I'm sitting quiet. You sure like me, when I'm sitting quiet. But then I raise my voice. I'm too opinionated. Can't fucking stand when my team is celebrated. I'm not trying to bring you down, man. Don't tell me it's not relevant. Don't tell me it's not relevant 'cause we're still oppressed, we're getting paid less, judged by the looks and the way we dress. I don't want to bring you down, man. I just want us to meet in the middle. I am, I am a feminist. Yo soy, yo soy feminista. Je suis, je suis une féministe. Ich bin eine feministin. Watashi wa feminisutodesu (ph). I am a feminist, yeah.
CONTRERAS: Message music is not new. It's probably as old as music itself. What is new is how people are paying a little more attention than normal to politics these days and how that is spilling over to music that they listen to. And this year's South by Southwest Music Festival may have been the first gathering of the year of musicians who are looking to make a difference with words and music. We want to remind you that you can hear all the songs that we played today on our website at npr.org/altlatino. Let us know what you think. Contact us on Facebook and Twitter. We are NPR's ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras. This has been ALT.LATINO. Thank you for listening.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEMINAZI")
FEA: (Singing) I am, I am a feminist. Yo soy, yo soy feminista. Je suis, je suis une féministe. Ich bin eine feministin. Watashi wa feminisutodesu. I'm a feminist, yeah. I am, I am a feminist. Yo soy, yo soy feminista. Je suis, je suis une féministe. Ich bin eine feministin. Watashi wa feminisutodesu. I'm a feminist, yeah. I am, I am a feminist. Yo soy, yo soy feminista. Je suis, je suis une féministe. Ich bin eine feministin. Watashi wa feminisutodesu. Watashi wa feminisutodesu. Watashi wa feminisutodesu. Oh, yeah.
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