SXSW 2020: The Latin Bands We Wanted To See Before The Coronavirus Cancellation : Alt.Latino In the wake of the cancellation of SXSW this year, Alt.Latino explores the bands we had wanted to see this year in Austin, Texas.

The Bands We Wanted To See At SXSW 2020

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FELIX CONTRERAS, HOST:

From NPR Music, this is ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras, and I'm not in ALT.LATINO world headquarters. I'm sitting at a table on my terrace behind my home in Silver Spring, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C., the temporary satellite ALT.LATINO world headquarters.

The entire world is facing a very uncertain time, and NPR has required us to work from home. And I'm going to continue to produce ALT.LATINO as much as I can, given the circumstances, in as many forms as possible, and I'm doing that for two reasons. First, we're all in this together. We're going to explore this new reality as long as we can together. And second, this affects everyone in different ways, and the artistic community is included within that.

We may think of our favorite artists as entertainment or sources of inspiration, but many are also moms and dads, sons and daughters with financial obligations that are now threatened. So as we have in our entire 10-year history of ALT.LATINO, we're going to continue to support our creative brothers and sisters in any way we can. And this week, that takes us to SXSW.

It was one of the many economic casualties in this crisis. In particular, hundreds of bands that had hoped to showcase and display their art cannot do that, after all. So instead of looking back at what we would have seen during this past week, I have gathered Marisa Arbona-Ruiz and Catalina Maria Johnson to talk about the bands that they had hoped to see. And reflecting a bit of social distancing, Marisa and Catalina are recording at their own homes as well. So, Catalina, welcome to this new reality, and describe where you're sitting.

CATALINA MARIA JOHNSON, BYLINE: Well, hey, Felix. Welcome to the new normal, and lots of love and light, cariño, support for everyone from Chicago. So I'm actually next to a closet (laughter), which is, I thought, the best acoustic space on the 16th floor of a building in Chicago - my apartment - and glad to have this conversation, glad to share some of these artists and glad to speak with my buds and colleagues even though you're far away.

CONTRERAS: Glad to have you. Marisa, where are you?

MARISA ARBONA-RUIZ, BYLINE: I am on my deck surrounded by cardinals and squirrels and kids running around. And it's actually rather nice to work from my deck, although the sun is just trying to peak out from the clouds. I too am disappointed that SXSW had to be canceled, but it's for everyone's benefit. So here we are.

CONTRERAS: All right, let's just jump right into the music. Catalina, you go first. Who was on your list that you had wanted to see?

JOHNSON: So my first choice is someone who's kind of very close to my heart and to my home, Chicago's own Kaina. She's been on my radar for a while - some wonderful, kind of slightly experimental rhythm and blues, very unique and lightly touched with the Caribbean. And in fact, in her video, she's making arepas with the entire crew, and there's her family. Her identity and her roots in Venezuela and Guatemala are very much a part of the themes of her songs and her spirit. So it's a treat to be able to share music from Chicago. I would have loved to have seen her live, and I hope that I have a chance to soon. This is Kaina.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN")

KAINA: (Singing) Sky could be blue as can be. Grass could be green, green, too. My love the same as them - they're facts. It's true. It's true. Sky could be blue as can be. Grass could be green, green, too. My love the same as them - they're facts. It's true. It's true. When I leave someday, my hands will hold with yours, and every piece of me lives in the sand, in the air, oh, with you. It's true. It's true. I've been through so many moons. You've seen them too. Doubting is hard to undo, but know me for my truth. Sky could be blue as can be. Grass could be green, green, too. My love the same as them - they're facts. It's true. It's true. Sky could be blue as can be. Grass could be green, green, too. My love the same as them - they're facts. It's true. It's true. I've been through so many moons. I've been through so many moons. Sky could be blue as can be. Grass could be green, green, too. My love the same as them - they're facts. It's true. It's true. Sky could be blue as can be. Grass could be green, green, too. My love the same as them - they're facts. It's true. It's true.

CONTRERAS: Great choice, Catalina. Very nice, thank you for introducing that one. OK, Marisa, you're up. What do you have?

ARBONA-RUIZ: I have La Doña. La Doña is a San Francisco-born Chicana named Cecilia Cassandra Peña-Govea, and she has a great voice and a multifaceted musicality. I love that on her Spotify bio, she writes that she explores her, quote, "radical brown femininity, inspired by love, sex, pain and climate catastrophes." What a combination. So she's got Caribbean beats, reggaeton and hip-hop, and I really like that she grew up performing professionally as a trumpeter in her parents' conjunto band. And she also plays guitarrón, vihuela, guitar.

CONTRERAS: And I need to point out that La Doña has been featured on our playlist - our weekly playlist. Stefanie Fernández is also a big fan, so I'm sure she'll be glad to hear this one. And we're going to play a song, "Cuando Se Van" from La Doña.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CUANDO SE VAN")

LA DOÑA: Desde San Francisco para el mundo, “Cuando Se Van,” (singing) De dónde vienen y cuándo se van, ratas que quieren comer nuestra pan, que nos ofrecen y qué es que nos dan, de dónde vienen y cuándo se van - San Pancho, te quiero. Nací aquí. Cuánto te debo. Ya ni te conozco en la forma que tu estés. La gente pintada, sus caras tan blanqueadas, ha cambiado todo - su dinero y maldad. Demolieron las casas. Reemplazan con vidrio y acero. Cortaron las venas de mi linda ciudad. Vaya donde vayas, no eres nada sin tu gente. Quizás algún día, ellos regresarán y regresarán y regresarán. Eso lo sueño yo. De dónde vienen y cuándo se van, ay, cuando se van, ratas que quieren comer nuestra pan, corriendo, ay ratitas, que nos ofrecen y qué es que nos dan, qué es, qué es que nos dan, de dónde vienen y cuándo se van, ay, dime cuando se van. Sueño con terremotos, la ciudad para nosotros. Sueño con temblores, y ellos se van. Sueño con terremotos, la ciudad para nosotros. Sueño con temblores, y ellos se van, y ellos se van, ellos se van. Si la tierra tiembla, si la tierra tiembla mañana, y si la tierra tiembla, si la tierra tiembla, va a suplir. En las congas, Sergio Durán. (Singing) Si la tierra tiembla, si la tierra tiembla mañana, y si la tierra tiembla, si la tierra tiembla, va a suplir. En la trompeta, Miguel Morea, nota a nota, suena, suena. De dónde vienen y cuándo se van, ay, cuando se van, ratas que quieren comer nuestro pan, que nos ofrecen y qué es que nos dan, qué es que nos dan, de dónde vienen y cuándo se van, de dónde vienen y cuándo se van, de dónde vienen y cuándo se van, de dónde vienen y cuándo se van, ratas que quieren comer nuestra pan, que quieren comer nuestra pan, que nos ofrecen y qué es que nos dan, que nos ofrecen y qué es que nos dan, de dónde vienen y cuándo se van, cuando se van, ay, cuando se van, de dónde vienen y cuándo se van, de dónde vienen y cuándo se van, de dónde vienen y cuándo se van, cuando se van.

CONTRERAS: La Doña really caught my attention when I heard some of her stuff earlier this year. And you're right. I'm really disappointed that I didn't get a chance to meet her and see the performance live. But, you know, anything can happen coming up in the year, so it's something to look forward to. Thanks for bringing in La Doña.

OK, just for clarification, I'm going to let Marisa and Catalina share their music. I have one pick that I'm going to do at the very end, but there were so many artists that we all wanted to see that we're just going to try to squeeze in as many as we can but not make it go on too long. So Marisa and Catalina are going to tag-team on this one, and let's see. That means, Catalina, you're up next. Who do you have?

JOHNSON: Well, here we go with another pick that - someone who was on my radar as of fairly recently. This is Natanael Cano from Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico and kind of at the forefront of this whole new genre, which they're calling corridos tumbados, urban corridos - fascinating to me to see this kind of epic genre from Mexico that told the story of the revolutionary heroes, also the stories of their horses, sometimes the battles they faced, to go urban and yet maintain some elements like the bajo sexto, the classic guitar, maintain some of - of course, the storytelling. But in this case, the storytelling went to kind of, you know, young men's urban exploits - hanging, driving around and other things like that. He's a bit of a heartthrob, and this is Natanael Cano's "Amor Tumbado."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR TUMBADO")

NATANAEL CANO: (Singing) Para ser directo, no me arrepiento cosas de la vida o de la mía. Tú fuiste un momento, y te agradezco. Pero no eras mía, y lo sabías. No fue mucho tiempo. Eso lo acepto, pero creía lo que sentía. No respondías, y me moría. Tú me tenías, y lo sabías. Yo no soy aquel que te dio rosas, pero te di mi corazón. Y es más valiosa la forma en que te trataba, y lo superé. La canción se acaba, y tú constante - el WhatsApp me lo estás llenando de mensajes. Hey, ya no llames. Que el amor también se vuelve odio recordé. Little b****, Nata, (vocalizing).

No fue mucho tiempo. Eso lo acepto, pero creía lo que sentía. No respondías, y me moría. Tú me tenías, y lo sabías. Yo no soy aquel que te dio rosas, pero te di mi corazón. Y es más valiosa la forma en que te trataba, y lo superé. La canción se acaba, y tú constante - el WhatsApp me lo estás llenando de mensajes. Hey, ya no llames. Que el amor también se vuelve odio recordé.

ARBONA-RUIZ: It's cool, really cool.

CONTRERAS: That's really fascinating. It's a very interesting mix 'cause there's corrido - the acoustic guitar corrido, but it almost sounds like a jazz musician playing it. That's a really interesting pick, Catalina.

JOHNSON: Well, let me tell you that I'm not the only one that thinks he's great. Bad Bunny did a Natanael Cano remix, and that was...

CONTRERAS: Wow.

JOHNSON: Yeah, so, I mean, with Bad Bunny's blessing, you know, this young man's going to go places. He's like 18, 19, something like that.

ARBONA-RUIZ: That's amazing. I love it. I love, love, love that.

CONTRERAS: All right, you're listening to ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras. And we're going over the bands that we wanted to see at this year's SXSW. And we want to remind you to go ahead and take a look at our website 'cause you'll be able to find the bands there and as well as maybe purchase their music to help support them in this year that we have to face where nobody really knows what's going on. I'm on the line with Catalina Maria Johnson, who's in Chicago, and Marisa Arbona-Ruiz, who is here in the Washington, D.C., area. So let's see. Marisa, you're up. What do you have?

ARBONA-RUIZ: OK, well, you know, this was (laughter) - it's always hard for us when we go to South by because there's so much great music. And in this show in particular, we decided we were going to pick newer bands so that we could dedicate it to musical discovery because there were so many great artists who, of course, we know of, and we would still love to see and talk to and interview. But in search of new artists, I found an indie duo based in Costa Rica, and they go by the name of Reserva Fantasma. And it's Andrés Saborío from Costa Rica and Myles Karp from the U.S. They are multi-instrumentalists, sound designers and producers, and their music is a blend of psychedelic to folk infusion. And it's leaning toward the hypnotic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIDERA")

CURANDERA: (Singing) Quiero dejarme ser y verte, teniéndote aquí de frente, dejándome entender. Ay, ay. Si quieres gozar, si quieres bailar, si quieres gozar, si quieres bailar - ay, ridera, mira cómo llega, y déjate llevar. Baila lo que llega. Siente lo que quiera, y luego vuelve acá. Ay, ridera, mira cómo llega, y déjate llevar. Baila lo que llega. Siente lo que quiera, y luego vuelve acá.

Ay, dímelo otra vez que no recuerdo lo que yo vi. Si dejaras de ser un poco de ti, un poco de mí - ay, ridera, mira cómo llega, y déjate llevar. Baila lo que llega. Siente lo que quiera, y luego vuelve acá. Ay, ridera, mira cómo llega, y déjate llevar. Baila lo que llega. Siente lo que quiera, y luego vuelve acá. Lo que eres, lo que quieres, lo que eres, lo que somos.

CONTRERAS: That would have been fun to see. I really love that sound. Good call, Marisa.

ARBONA-RUIZ: Thank you.

JOHNSON: Yeah, that was really a discovery for me because Marisa discovered it.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: We went through this long, long list of all the - you know, at least a generally identified Latin, Latinx, et cetera. Well, we were going to get to the et cetera in a bit.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: Artists - but I have to admit I'm kind of biased, and I started with all the women, you know, and there - 'cause I like, you know, uplifting the ladies. So I had gotten to way over my five-song limit, and then Marisa sent her list. And I was like, oh, good choice, good pick, yeah, love that. Thank you.

ARBONA-RUIZ: Well, I do the same thing. I always try to give women a platform because we have always been excluded, so - but I also try to balance things out as well.

CONTRERAS: OK, let me ask you guys a question. First, you, Marisa, tell me something that you're going to miss apart from the music from SXSW this year.

ARBONA-RUIZ: I'm going to miss everything. It's so fun to be there. First of all, when I'm at South by, I generally walk 8 miles a day between everywhere I go in search of bands and following artists to do interviews. I love doing the interviews over at the food trucks. And it's just really exciting and meeting new talent. And also because I'm a musician, it's even more thrilling for me because I'm seeing so much talent, and I can relate on that level as well.

CONTRERAS: That's always one of the fun parts for me, too, is meeting the musicians one-to-one and getting to know the people behind these links and the different forms that the music comes to us and actually meeting the musicians from all over Latin America and the U.S. So, yeah, I agree with you on that. What about you, Catalina?

JOHNSON: OK, (laughter) I have to say after the music, one of the first things I thought was those fish tacos I always get.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: Oh, no, oh, no. I - you know, I start, like, planning my - as we all know, artists present more than once usually. So I start planning my schedule physically. It's like, oh, good, I'm going to be over by 6. I can go get a fish taco in between this band and that band. So that was - I am going to miss just the way the entire city and literally hundreds of thousands of people kind of surrender to the music. It's just everywhere.

And I'm also going to miss the surprise. We've planned and gotten some really extraordinary picks, but there's always that chance time that you're running down the street, going somewhere, and something catches your ear. And you're like, oh, my God, what is that? And you approach the stage or the venue or the little - teeny, little bar, and there in a corner is somebody doing something amazing and fresh. And you've never heard it before, and you go on Facebook, and they have - you know, as a band, they have three likes. And you're like, but they're so good, you know, that kind of element of surprise as well as - definitely at SXSW, of course, I focus on our beat. But I always - and I'm always kind of pulled also by artists that are totally out of my comfort zone, so I'm going to miss that chance too.

I think I'll be able to slowly but surely work my way through the artists that are in all of our comfort zones. But it was the surprise, the chance, you know, that the artists that don't have the name that indicates to you, you know, where they come from and - I don't know. It's just that - I'm going to miss it all, miss it all, and I sure hope - I'm hoping for the best for the future in terms of the festival itself.

ARBONA-RUIZ: One thing I really miss is that I stay with my friend, Suzanne Gamboa from NBC Latino, and she's a wonderful host. And one of the things that I'm really going to miss is that walk from her house into town because every block that I turn, there's - in every single bar and restaurant, there's all kinds of sound just pouring out, different sounds and people everywhere just there for the music, just loving it and experiencing it. And it's just beautiful. It's a musician's dream to be there, I think.

CONTRERAS: A musician's dream and a music fan's dream. It's nonstop music. The other thing that I miss is - being from California and not being able to get Mexican food out here on the East Coast on the regular. I'm going to miss stopping at Güero's for the enchilada plate special on South Congress...

ARBONA-RUIZ: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: ...And in the chorizo and egg breakfast in the bakery in east Austin. But, you know, that's just me.

ARBONA-RUIZ: Right. And I do want to say also what I love about SXSW is that Alicia Zertuche has booked so much Latin music talent there, more than any place I've seen anywhere, so - and always growing, always featuring a wide range of genres and talent. And I just got to hand it to her. She's done a fabulous job.

CONTRERAS: Shout-out to Alicia, definitely, for the work that she's done for well over 20 years and making SXSW one of the most important stops for Latin bands from throughout Latin America and the United States. So shout-out to Alicia Zertuche for that.

JOHNSON: Yes, for sure, shout-out to Alicia and her incorporation of, like, just the very wide world of what is Latin, which is going to be my next choice (laughter).

CONTRERAS: OK, then, nice segue. You're next. Go ahead.

JOHNSON: OK, well, this was actually - this is an artist named Blaya from Brazil and Portugal. And I had seen her as part of another project, and I saw her at SXSW a few years back. Blaya, who is a fabulous singer but also the most amazing dancer, was a part of Buraka Som Sistema and also a band that takes in a lot of the influences that she's bringing in and giving her own touch, her own version of Buraka Som Sistema's kind of techno and kuduro, the progressive kuduro sound - just fabulous stuff and irresistible. I mean, if you don't dance to this, something wrong with you. So this is Blaya and luso brasileira, and I was so looking forward to experience her solo music project. And now we're going to hear this track by Blaya, "Faz Gostoso."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FAZ GOSTOSO")

BLAYA: (Singing in Portuguese).

CONTRERAS: From Brazil, where are we going next, Marisa? Who's your next pick?

ARBONA-RUIZ: I really like Angélica Garcia. She's young, creative and edgy. Her roots are Mexican and Salvadoran, and a lot of people may have already heard her song "Jícama" that made the New York Times Top 10 list in 2019 and Obama's song list of the year. That song is about not being seen as someone born in this country, and I think that's what struck a nerve with so many people, not to mention her sound. The song that I really want to play, though, is called "Karma The Knife." It's a reggaeton meets dancehall, and I really love the way she sings this.

CONTRERAS: And we get to give a little preview. She recently did a Tiny Desk Concert, which was fabulous, and that'll be up sometime soon. And she was also featured on Morning Edition with an interview with Noel King. Let's check out Angélica Garcia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KARMA THE KNIFE")

ANGÉLICA GARCIA: Pretend. Hey, pretend, cha-cha-cha, cha-cha-cha, cha-cha-cha, (singing) laid it on the table, yeah, so everyone had a perfect view, yeah, so everyone understood what, yeah, kind of hell they were getting into, yeah. To err is to be human, yeah, but to gamble's to be a fool, yeah. Better not be reckless, children, yeah - pride's the ultimate Achilles' heel, yeah. Oh, I call karma the knife, oh, karma the knife, oh, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, karma the knife, oh, (vocalizing). I lack the discipline. I've proven time and time again. I f***ed up last week, and I'll probably f*** up the next. The universe is cyclical. Everything comes right back around. And I'd hate to have something as silly as yesterday be what chains me down. Cowards only talk about their fears, people just denying their bad habits through the years. I'm not one to boast about my ways, but I'd like to spend my glory days with my ducks in a row and my heart in tow without aching over what I owe. I'll overthink about it, and I'll be singing along in my own way, yeah.

Oh, I call karma the knife, oh, karma the knife, oh, yeah, oh, yeah, oh, yeah, karma the knife, oh, (vocalizing), yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So we would say, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, and so I believed. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, and so I'll be repeating it and repeating it and repeating it till you see, till you see. Yeah, yeah, yeah, so I say, so I say what so I believed, and so I'll be repeating it and repeating it till you see. Yeah, yeah, so I say, so I say, so, so I believed. And so I'll be repeating it and repeating it till you see, yeah. Oh, I call karma the knife. Oh, I call karma the knife. What? - the knife. What? - the knife. What? - karma the knife, oh, (vocalizing). Oh, oh, oh, oh.

CONTRERAS: OK. As we wrap up our look at the bands that we had hoped to see at SXSW with Catalina Maria Johnson and Marisa Arbona-Ruiz, Catalina, let's hear your last pick. Who do you have on your list?

JOHNSON: Well, here's another perhaps controversial pick. OK, so when you look at the list, of course, and you're trying to figure out who might be Latinx, who might not be, what are the members like, what's the sound like, there's always the issue of, like, identity. Well, who do I put in this category? And this band, which is all women, is from the U.K., and I think - it was hard to find, but I think only one of their members comes from Uruguay. But this is Los Bitchos and they do what they call - and they live up to this promise - instrumental psychedelic sunshine cumbia.

I love their sound. It's definitely, you know, smack in the cumbia. So what do you do with a band that has, I believe, five members and only one - at least as far as I can tell - and they don't sing in either language, right? But it's cumbia. I loved it. Definitely one of my discoveries - thanks to SXSW. This is a band that probably would not have come on my radar other than - thank you, SXSW, and thank you, Alicia Zertuche, as we've mentioned. And the other thing is that, well, I thought we all need some sunshine these days, right? So here's my little - what is it? - grain of salt to add to your sunshine, sunshine in the form of psychedelic cumbia - Los Bitchos.

Of course, I have to add before playing Los Bitchos that I was pronouncing it in Spanish, and it's hard to say since they're instrumental and since they don't announce themselves in any way. Like, many of our groups say, aquí vienen Los Bitchos. You know, that doesn't happen. So just in case it could be Los Bitchos. I don't know. But anyway, it's - it is definitely cumbia. It is definitely cumbia. You will not be able to fault me on that one. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOS BITCHOS' "PISTA (GREAT START)")

ARBONA-RUIZ: OK, so my next choice is Candeleros. They are from Madrid, Spain, and they are super prolific. They're a sextet, and the members are from Venezuela and Colombia and Spain. But they all met in Spain and started jamming together, and they've come up with some really interesting music. Their sound is a blend of psychedelic, Afro-Caribbean fusion, and it's very cumbia-heavy, which I love. And the track that I chose is off of their new album called "Candeleros (Remixes)." The whole album features remixes of all their previous songs, and it's called "Sonidub (Coconutah)."

(SOUNDBITE OF CANDELEROS' "SONIDUB")

CONTRERAS: That was the great sound of Candeleros, Marisa Arbona-Ruiz's last pick of bands that she had hoped to see at SXSW, Catalina Maria Johnson, also. Thank you both for going above and beyond by recording your parts from your respective homes as we face this new reality here on ALT.LATINO. So thank you both for joining me today.

ARBONA-RUIZ: Thank you for having us. It's always special.

JOHNSON: Can't wait to see you guys in the flesh again, but in the meantime, this was really wonderful. Thanks for having me, Felix.

CONTRERAS: I'm going to end the show with a musician that I was going to include on our SXSW ALT.LATINO showcase on Friday night. This is a guy named Yasser Tejeda and his band Palotré. He's from the Dominican Republic. He's a cuatro player and most recently working a lot with the vocalist Vicente García. He has an amazing collection of music on his most recent record that's Dominican cuatro jazz rock, if you can believe it. It's - super, super talented young musician, great band, and I'm going to end the show with one of his tracks.

Again, you have been listening to ALT.LATINO. If you have bands that you had hoped to see at SXSW, write to us on Facebook and Twitter and let us know who you wanted to see. Again, thanks to Marisa and Catalina for joining us. You have been listening to ALT.LATINO from NPR Music. I'm Felix Contreras. Thank you for listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF YASSER TEJEDA'S "MAMBODEGA")

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