Tropicália is a Latin music Fest unlike any other. Instead of bringing in international alternative acts like Supersonico or compiling heavy hitters from the rock and metal world like La Tocada, this first-year fest (happening Saturday in Long Beach!) combines both new and old acts from not only across once-disparate Latin genres, but also Western sounds like hip-hop, soul, country, garage rock and more.
The result is a cross-cultural soundtrack built specifically for the next generation of Southern Californians, those who know intimately the messiness of the modern world and reject the idea that music lives within stark divisions.
Though the lineup includes local Latin-alt newcomers like Chicano Batman, Cuco, Buyepongo and Thee Commons, the most impressive lure for Tropicália is the nostalgia factor, made possible by the swath of legendary Latin acts playing everything from cumbia to norteño to reggaeton. From bands that redefined rock en espanol to those you most likely danced to at your prima’s quinceanera, here’s six old-school acts not to miss at Tropicália.
Os Mutantes is often referred to as a Brazilian psych band, but that’s an unfairly reductive description that ignores the larger goals around their uniquely South American fusion of folklorico ate ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, garage and more. The subversively political three-piece (which broke up in the ‘70s but re-formed in the aughts) is instead a prime example of Tropicália, an aesthetic that was as much about fighting their country’s looming dictatorship through cultural cannibalism as it was about trippy acid fuzz. It’s no wonder this weekend’s entire festival takes its name from this movement, which through thoughtful sonic mash-ups, sought solace in their utopian dreams.
Los Tigres Del Norte
To say that Los Tigres Del Norte are Mexican-music legends is an understatement. Since the 1960s, the iconic NorCal-via-Sinaloa quintet has released over 50 albums of everything from cumbia to balladas to puro norteño, a regional genre that uses polka-style accordion, stand-up bass, saxophone and the guitar-like baja sexto. They’re best loved for their epicly long sets and catchy corridos, sonic narratives about drug dealers and border crossers and recent immigrants trying to make new lives in a strange new country. More than a band, Los Tigres Del Norte have become social and cultural leaders too, helping multiple generations of immigrants navigate the often confounding new life they confront here and helping guide political conversations for Latin-Americans in the States.
Eclecticism has always been a defining characteristic of groundbreaking Latin alternative band Cafe Tacvba, which formed in the Mexico City suburbs a quarter century ago and quickly became flagbearers for a movement of new bands that mixed punk urgency with traditional regional Mexican music. Fronted by singer Rubén Albarrán and his signature scratchy vocals, Cafe Tacvba’s pulled from corridos, son jarocho, balladas and more to make its eight studio albums. The band’s latest, Jei Beibi, the first in five years, is less of the snarling Albarrán of the band’s breakout ‘94 album Re, and more a pensive array of songs marked by notes of classic rock, electronic and modern indie eclecticism.
Puerto Rican born Ivy Queen is called the “Queen of Reggaeton” for a reason: since the dem-bow music’s rough and tumble beginnings in the late ‘90s, she’s been the loudest (okay, one of the only) female voice in the scene, rapping about female empowerment, life in Puerto Rico and the sexual politics of the dance floor. Her breakout album, 2003’s Diva, included hits featuring Wyclef Jean and her last project, 2015’s Vendetta, proved the legendary reggaetonera’s effortless versatility with four separate discs structured around songs of different styles: salsa, bachata, hip-hop and urban.
La Sonora Dinamita
Anchored by that cheery, hip-shaking bassline that perpetually flows through Colombian cumbia, La Sonora Dinamita made its mark as the genre’s most prolific ensemble, putting the dance music of South America’s poor — along with its propensity for double entendres, love songs and outright sexual lyrics — in an international spotlight. Though members have consistently cycled out over its 40-plus years of existence (many of them splintering off and, confusingly, starting their own versions of the group), the brassy, 10-piece orchestra is always fronted by no less than two vocalists, at least one male, who compliments asses and sometimes talks about his “big hat,” and one dominating female, who wears something tight as she coos about shaking said ass, chasing her philandering man and all the good and bad that love brings.
At 64 years old, Celso Piña still plays his accordion like George Thurgood wields his blues guitar — with a grittiness steeped in traditional music that floats with the influence of more contemporary styles. Known around the world as El Rebelde del Acordeón (the rebel of the accordion), the self-taught Piña developed his signature sound by combining the same cumbia that he first heard in his home state of Monterrey, Mexico nearly 40 years ago with norteño, hip hop, ska, reggae and more. An effortless frontman who always wears a smile, Piña’s approach to raw vallenato continues to pushe the limits an accordion could be.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.