If you want to hear Latin music on a regular basis, you can find its glossy, commercial end in the music of Jennifer Lopez or Pitbull. If you want to hear rawer, more alternative Latin music — live, and in the Philadelphia area — you can look for whatever Rahsaan Lucas and Marangeli Mejia-Rabell have booked. The curators behind Philly's 11-year-old AfroTaino Productions have long booked not only respected elders of Latin alternative sound (e.g. Joe Bataan), but also its new-school practitioners (think Dayme Arocena) and recordings that DJ Lucas himself spins around town. Then there's the AfroTaino pair's Nuevofest — its fifth iteration, now held in tandem with WXPN's LatinRootsLive series and free-of-charge — all-day Sunday, July 16, at FringeArts.
"Nuevofest emerged as a space to explore creative synergies — a core component of AfroTaino's work — by curating a lineup of emerging and established acts to celebrate the Sounds of Latin America," said Mejia-Rabell. "Our team is extremely proud of how the festival has evolved, each year marked by its own flavor, which is key to keep the audiences' appetite for it while maintaining the essence of the experience." (The show is free, but you must register at latinroots.org.)
Along with finding seven innovative acts representing Venezuela, Chile, Colombia, and Puerto Rico — as well as El Mariachi Manchester from East Los Angeles, a five-piece mariachi ensemble that plays covers of Morrissey and The Smiths — Lucas crows about how two of the acts, Pielago and Rubio, will be playing for the first time in the U.S. For Balun, Tribu Baharú, and Javiera Mena, it will be their first Philly appearances.
"This year's lineup is not just a powerhouse in terms of selection — with eight bands, it's our largest Nuevofest yet — but also an important one, as some of its artists are cultural ambassadors for underrepresented communities," Lucas said. Besides WXPN's coverage, the concert will be streamed live on Vuhaus.com, reaching online communities across the globe.
"Colombia's Tribu Baharú will bring down the house with their 'champeta' — an original Afro-Colombian genre — that, like hip-hop and reggaeton, faces backlash from conservative politicians," said Lucas. "With all of this talk of walls and borders enforced, Mariachi Manchester will bring their A-game. Venezuela's La Vida Boheme will have plenty to express in regards to the stifling situation in their homeland." Nuevofest patrons looking for conscious sociopolitics with a Latino-arena-rock feel must be on the lookout for La Vida Boheme who, Lucas assures, will be an elegant and important must-hear. "La Lucha, their new album, will make them one of the most important Latin American bands in history," he says. "Think about what 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' did for U2."
As several bands that played past Nuevofests have gone on to to win Grammys, Lucas knows what he's talking about, and takes pride in knowing that AfroTaino's programming reflects the larger accents of the region's international communities and provides a cultural oasis for often-ignored Latin American and world-music aficionados.
"The thing of America is more recent, a given in a very organic way, after having focused my career in South America, Mexico, and Spain," said Jimena Mena, whose new album, Otra Era, shows off her dance-pop side. "It is very nice to begin to know this public who enjoy music in Spanish because it is a very beautiful and musical language" she said. "Nuevofest responds to an audience in Philadelphia looking for Latin music with an alternative tinge."
"AfroTaino and WXPN joining forces," said Lucas, "is a powerful union with a simple goal: to bring the best musical experiences to the people. And we've only just started."