Photo Credit: Christopher Gregory, the New York Times.
I’m normally okay with the New York Times, liberal puppet that I am, and I guess it would be wrong to say that I’m not okay with their article on the Latin Alternative Music Conference, which Remezcla goes understandably apeshit over every year. (Take a look at our music page – in case it wasn’t clear, we attended LAMC, and we enjoyed it a great deal.) My deal with the Times piece, ultimately, is that it just seems…lazy.
Take the title for instance:
Overflowing Latin Festival
What the hell does that even mean? Overflowing with what? What kind of festival? Latin what? Keep in mind: someone looked at that title, nodded in approval, and sent it to publication. We do better headlines at Remezcla and we mostly just play with magnetic letters on a refrigerator.
Residente’s T-shirt came off long before Calle 13’s finale. “Latinoamericano,” a tribute to Latin American struggle, unity and tenacity. It was a fitting centerpiece to the conference’s concerts, which often returned — in this election year — to thoughts of self-determination, immigration and political power.
Latin alternative music is the open-ended term for non-mainstream rock, pop, hip-hop and dance music, both imported and made in the U.S.A. It’s a music-business underdog because it largely defies current marketing niches and radio formats, particularly in the United States, where lyrics in Spanish face a language barrier.
That describes alternative music in general.
At its best Latin alternative music is a hybrid and a harbinger, devising and flaunting multicultural possibilities as the Latino and bilingual population grows in the United States.
Okay, I actually like that. BUT…
At its worst it’s American and British pop in translation, a reminder that economic power assists cultural dominance.
…that’s pretty much bullshit of the worst possible white-guilt, exoticizing, paternalistic, condescending kind. Yes: economic power assists cultural dominance, but cultural sharing is inevitable and should be encouraged. Unless the author is also under the impression that lilly white strains of music, too, should be kept free of influences from others, which, taken to its logical conclusion, would mean that there would be no American or British pop at all, what with Americans and Brits biting off of each other forever, while each cribbed heavily from the brown folks they subjugated.
To deny that Latin American musicians can have a legitimate interest in English language music – free from any nefarious imperialistic brainwashing – and be influenced by it is to deny that Latin Americans are people with their own tastes and their own thoughts, as capable as anyone else of drawing from other cultures without denying their own. Mexican kids like Morrissey because Morrissey is awesome, not because they’ve been deceived; they’re as allowed not to like rancheros, despite being Mexican, as white American kids are to not like banjos, despite being white and American.
In many ways the whole point of the LAMC is that the definition of “Latin music” is wider than it’s often given credit for. To not like American and British pop is one thing; to claim that a Latin artist influenced by it must be so because their innate Latin-ness is being pushed out by imperialism is unfair.
Saturday’s bill also included 3BallMTY (pronounced “Tribal Monterrey”), a Mexican group that had a major Latin hit with its debut album, “Inténtalo,” released at the end of 2011.
They pronounced the group name correctly! So many people still don’t get that right! TRIBAL MONTERREY, not Three-Ball Em-tee-why. If the NYT can get it right, so can you.
The current epidemic of simplistic synth-pop has not spared Latin America. Smaller conference showcases at the Mercury Lounge and the Gramercy Theater had more than their share of forgettable programmed ditties.
I chuckled at this while I sipped my tea, my pinky sticking up ramrod straight.
But they also included performers forging Pan-American music with both roots and contemporary ideas. The Mexican songwriter Carla Morrison — who won, rightly, the conference’s Artist Discovery Award for this year — used her sweet, clear soprano in pristinely romantic love songs, with hints of 1950s ballads and of Mexican tradition; she dedicated one of them to Mexico’s student resistance movement.
I’m not saying Carla Morrison doesn’t deserve awards – I like her music a lot, personally, and admit to once having a small crush – I’m saying that the timing seems weird for this particular award (she was nominated for Grammys last year, dudes) and that she certainly doesn’t need to be congratulated by the Times for including her “roots” in her music – as if that alone justified the award – because it does not make her better or worse or more or less “authentic,” somehow, than a Latin American musician that chooses not to.
New York Times I love you, but you’re bringing me down. I’ve long known you were super duper into othering people – try to make it through one of their “hipster” trend pieces – but this cuts a little deeper.
Tomas Cookman, head of Nacional Records and the LAMC, had this to say about my befuddlement concerning Carla Morrison winning this year’s Artist Discovery Awards, a confusion which has less to do with talent than with timing.
Very familiar with her story and her rise. If this was LAMC Mexico or Buenos Aires (which we have had in the past) she would have won earlier but here in the US, it has taken her a few more minutes to make noise. When you are trying to break an artist, timing is a big part of that strategy and I felt it was better for her to win this year then last year – when Los Rakas (who were selected) were making a lot of noise.
There is a method to the madness.
Thanks for the response, Tomas!