July 15, 2013 -- If there was a definitive moment that illustrated the diverse breadth of the music in all five days of performances, panels, and pressers at the 14th edition of the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York City, it was probably in between the sets Catupecu Machu and Astro at the Gramercy Theater showcase on Thursday night. The venue transformed into a 90's arena-rock palace as the beloved Argentinean rock vets powered through a handful of their hits. The Chilean band of 20-somethings that followed then transported the crowd to their electro-pop present and their natural habitat: a celestial wilderness where synthesizers, drum machines, and orangutan shrieks help make raucous dance rock alchemy. Astro accepted this year's "Discovery Award" after the set and with it the tacit confirmation that electronic indie pop is right at the fore of Latin Alternative music in 2013.
Chilean band Astro at Gramercy Lounge. (Instagram by Monika Fabian)
This year's LAMC and adjoining events felt like a conversation between the past, present, and future of Latin alternative music. In addition to inviting back a number of acts to headline its Summerstage and Celebrate Brooklyn! shows, the LAMC also spotlighted iconic alt-Latin figures and moments in U.S. Latino music history this year.
Famed Panamanian singer-composer and Fania All-Star alum Ruben Blades began his Q&A session on Thursday, for example, by explaining that salsa was alternative at first because radio stations refused to play it.
"Alternative music then was defined as that which had no commercial appeal," he said in Spanish. Blades's session evolved into a master class filled with encouraging anecdotes and sage, practical advice.
Salsa legend Ruben Blades. (Instagram by Monika Fabian)
LAMC also hosted concerts and screenings (like "Fania All Stars: Live in Africa") uptown—in Harlem, El Barrio, and the South Bronx—where salsa and hip-hop were born and raised. The From Mambo to Hip Hop event also featured a live performance by the late-60s Bronx Latino rock group, the Ghetto Brothers.
Read More:The Nuyorican Roots of Hip Hop
The panels, in contrast, revolved around more timely topics like online streaming, TV & film licensing, and DIY career development. Another addition to the conference were live art and literary events held at La Casa Azul bookstore, an independent Latino bookstore in El Barrio. At Friday's spoken word event, Mexico City emcee and poet Bocafloja and others illustrated the musicality of language and rhythm to images through poems about politics, resistance, love, and of course, music.
Poet Sheila Maldonado at La Casa Azul bookstore in Spanish Harlem. (Instagram by Monika Fabian)
The official showcase acts included many of the brightest indie and alt-Latin musicians of the past few years. One such group was Torreblanca http://torreblanca.tumblr.com/, the six-piece band from Mexico, that filled Mercury Lounge with cheery, organic pop during its LAMC and New York City debut on Wednesday night.
Collaboration and spotlight-sharing were huge trends at LAMC 2013. Lila Downs invited Benin singer Angelique Kidjo onstage at Central Park Summerstage Friday night. Julieta Venegas sang duets with co-performers Carla Morrison and Alex Anwandter at their Saturday concert. She also welcomed Argentinean musician Sol Pereyra (who earlier that day was Carla Morrison's trumpeter) to guest rap the song "Eres Para Mi." Venezuelan pop-punks La Vida Boheme invited Natalia LaFourcade to perform a poly-rhythmic calypso-pop tune during their Gramercy set. LaFourcade later kicked off her own closing set duetting by with Dominican singer Alex Ferreira then Colombia's Esteman. The day before, Ulises Hadjis ended his indie showcase set by performing a song with Juan Manuel Torreblanca. And afterward, Torreblanca launched into a song co-written with Hadjis during his band's Mercury Lounge set.
Mexican frontman Juan Manuel Torreblanca at Mercury Lounge. (Instagram by Monika Fabian)
At this year's growing crop of non-LAMC indie and alt-Latin parties and showcases, a slew of even newer and emerging indie rock, pop, electronic, hip-hop, global bass, and cumbia acts--like MiniTK del Miedo, and Puerto Rican band, Los Chinchillos del Caribe, who both made the debuts at #FutureRoots parties on Wednesday night—took to stages around town as well this week. The San Juan trio says they came up with their "sancocho [stew]" of cumbia, rock, and hip hop in 2009 because they saw a need. "We started thinking: 'every Latin American region has its own cumbia—there's villera, chicha, sonidera—why not make Puerto Rican cumbia real?'," Chinchilla member Sr. Bizarro said in Spanish. "Now Puerto Rico has its own cumbia, with sazón Boricua: we have cumbia criolla."
Both Los Chinchillos and MiniTK talked about the importance of attending the LAMC for newer acts in spite of the economic and physical tolls. "It's something that's worth doing as a band because after facing a situation like this, you gain a lot of muscle and experience--including in doing an interview like this--and you surround yourself with people and contacts who can help you grow," MiniTK member Diego Maldonado explained in Spanish.
But in light of so much promising, under-the-radar talent, others wonder how to help the industry itself grow so that there's room for more artists to gain exposure and opportunities.
The LAMC wrapped up on Saturday on a confusing but ultimately joyous note. One song into Chilean pop singer Alex Anwandter's opening set at his Summerstage show alongside Julieta Venegas and Carla Morrison, it was announced that the New York Police Department ordered the cancellation of the concert and immediate evacuation and closure of the venue due to severe weather forecasts.
No strangers to NYPD overzealousness, audience members initially refused to exit and even after doing so, lingered on the sidewalks, in the park, and surrounding neighborhoods to wait out the "storm" and learn whether the show would go on.
Alex Anwandter at Central Park's Summerstage. (Instagram by Monika Fabian)
An hour later, the cancellation was canceled. Twitter summoned the masses back and by the end of Anwandter's set he was singing to a packed Central Park again. By the time headliner Mexican alt-pop artist Venegas hit the stage and chorus to her opening song "Hoy" [Today]: Deje puesto el corazon en tu ventana/ Sal y ve al sol como esta brillando hoy [Leave your heart at your window/ Step outside and see how the sun shines today]
Gold and silver glints of sunlight peered through clouds over Manhattan's west side and shone on Rumsey Playfield. That prescient refrain from Los Momentos, her latest, could easily be the week's ultimate takeaway: bask in the music of the moment.