La Plaza

News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Music

Ozomatli sings about 'Gay Vatos in Love'


The song is mellow and bluesy, with that distinct "Eastside oldies" vibe, like something you'd hear on an old Freddy Fender record. But the chorus of this track on the new Ozomatli album is sure to surprise any casual listener: "Gay vatos in love," the song goes. "Gay vatos in love."

With it, the iconic fusion band whose sound is seen as representative of multicultural Los Angeles is arguably taking one of its most politically daring steps this year. The track that celebrates same-sex relationships -- and also deals with gay violence and denial -- is included in the group's fifth studio record, "Fire Away," which was released April 20. (In his review, The Times' Reed Johnson gives the album three out of four stars.)

With its classic sound but sharply gay-friendly message, "Gay Vatos in Love" breaks into uncharted territory that borders on the music industry, politics, sexuality and Latino pop culture. "If the world can't understand," the song says. "Stand by your man." You can listen to an excerpt here. The full-length track is uploaded by a YouTube user here.

Raul Pacheco, one of the band's lead singers, tells La Plaza that there was "a lot of debate" within the band over how to approach the subject.

How would the fans react? The media? The LGBT community? And what about Latin American and Latino listeners? In those communities, "vato" is generally understood as a term referring to a tough male from a tough neighborhood. "I think the hardest thing was, how do we present this in a way that's not a joke? And not a hammer either. Pretty much saying what the song says: 'Do your thing,' " Pacheco said.

Continue reading »

The politics of Calle 13, to the beat of reggaeton

Residente calle 13 havana concert

Extensively tattooed and often parading around stages and streets without a shirt, reggaeton rapper Rene "Residente" Perez is an unlikely political commentator in Latin America. Yet these days the front-man of the Puerto Rican alternative-reggaeton group Calle 13 is perhaps the most outspoken critic of the region's conservative governments among celebrity public figures today.

In October, when he co-hosted the 2009 MTV Latino Music Awards in Los Angeles with a visibly uncomfortable Nelly Furtado, Residente hurled insults at Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Mexican President Felipe Calderon. He also took a moment to propose Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as "best pop artist." Usually, the United States and the current governor of Puerto Rico are also subjected to Residente's profane political jabs.

So on Tuesday, there was no better place to be for this swaggering performer than at the so-called Anti-Imperialist Plaza in Havana, where Calle 13 gave a rousing concert before a massive crowd of about 250,000 Cuban young people, just steps from the U.S. Interests Section.

Politically, and in news terms, Residente did not disappoint.

Residente reportedly said at one point during the show that he wished Puerto Rico could one day be "autonomous, because we are a colony," referring to the island's status as a territory of the United States. He also led his multi-Grammy-winning group in performing its most potently anti-U.S. song, "Querido FBI." The number, Residente said, was "dedicated directly to the building that's back there," according to this video posted on a Peruvian news site.

Rolling slide shows of photos from Calle 13's trip to Cuba are on view at La Jiribilla, a Cuban culture magazine. More photos are at Cuba Debate.

Residente keeps an active Twitter account. On Tuesday he tweeted characteristically of his politics: "If we can play in the United States, the only country in history to launch an atomic bomb, we can play anywhere."

Next up for the group? A concert in Miami. I wonder how the exile community will welcome Rene "Residente" Perez and his Calle 13.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Rene "Residente" Perez of Calle 13 performing in Havana. Credit: La Jiribilla.

Paquita announces show at gay disco to apologize for adoption comments

Paquita Paquita la del Barrio now says she's sorry. The Mexican singer who inflamed a controversy over her comments on gay adoption in Mexico City announced that she would hold a press conference and concert next week to offer apologies for saying she'd rather see a child die on the streets than be adopted by a same-sex couple.

The singer's apology event, set for Tuesday afternoon, will take place at Spartacus, a huge gay disco in Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl, the sprawling Mexico City suburb sometimes referred to as "Neza York." The singer is a longtime friend of the club's owner.

In one interview since the controversy erupted, Paquita said her comments were rooted in her "poor education" and small-town upbringing. (She isn't called Paquita la del Barrio -- or, "Paquita from the 'Hood" -- for nothing.) In another short interview, she told reporters that "the majority" of her friends are gay. "I don't have anything against anyone," Paquita said.

Jorge Cruz Garsias, the owner of Spartacus, told La Plaza he has been friends with Paquita for more than 20 years. The singer used to hang out on weekend nights at Spartacus before she became internationally famous, he said.

"I've never felt any kind of rejection from her, I don't know what happened this time," Cruz said. "I am not in agreement with what she said, but she is my friend, so let her make her retraction, and ask for forgiveness."

As outrageous as her comments might have been for many fans, Paquita's disapproval of gay couples adopting children is not that far out of the mainstream in Mexico. A recent poll by the firm Buendia & Laredo found that 71% of respondents were opposed to Mexico City's new law that allows adoption by same-sex couples. Only 10% were in favor.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Singer Paquita la del Barrio. Credit: El Sol de Mexico

Mexican singer Paquita la del Barrio on gay adoption: 'It's better that the child die'

Paquita la del barrio via milenioTen more same-sex couples were married in a public event in downtown Mexico City over the weekend, just days after the first landmark gay weddings were performed in Mexico's Federal District, or capital. The Sunday event reportedly turned into a spontaneous street party. On the surface, despite some protests, the last few days played out as joy and celebration for gay rights activists in heavily Catholic, heavily macho Mexico.

That was not the case, however, for Paquita la del Barrio. The iconic singer of ballads about scorned women and disgracefully sexist men said in an interview over the weekend that she did not approve of a portion of Mexico City's new same-sex marriage law that allows for gay couples to adopt children.

Specificity at this point is crucial. Not only did the singer say gay adoption was "not in my taste," she said she'd prefer a child die on the streets rather than be adopted by two adults of the same sex.

"It's better that the child die instead of that life for the little creatures," the singer said in response to a reporter's either-or hypothetical. Watch the clip, with English subtitles, at YouTube.

GLAAD, the U.S.-based Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, responded with a swift and furious condemnation of the comments -- in two languages. Several prominent gay-oriented groups also registered their outrage.

Paquita's loaded opinion might sound outrageous to her many gay fans on both sides of the border. But keep in mind, this is the same singer who recently admitted she has performed for narco kingpins at private parties, and that Mexico's drug lords have her "respects."

--Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Paquita la del Barrio.  Credit:

Mexican opera tackles the myth of 'Camelia la Tejana,' icon of narcocorridos

Camelia la tejana1

In the world of narcocorridos -- Mexican folk songs that recount the exploits of drug traffickers and criminals -- few are better known that "Contrabando y traicion," one of the earliest such tunes that was popularized by the trailblazing Los Tigres del Norte in the early 1970s.

"Contraband and Betrayal" tells the story of Camelia la Tejana, a woman who smuggles drugs into the United States then shoots and kills her lover in a jealous rage. (Here's an early video of the song on YouTube.)

The original author of "Contrabando y traicion" has long insisted the story is made up. Yet in 1986, in an issue of Mexico’s blood-and-gore tabloid Alarma!, a woman identified as "Camelia la Tejana" appeared in a news photograph weeping over the body of a lover who was decapitated by a train in Ciudad Juarez. Curiously, two different women subsequently appeared in the Mexican press claiming to be Camelia la Tejana -- and telling wildly divergent stories about their lives.

The myth of this narcocorrido figure is the subject of "Unicamente la verdad," or "Only the Truth," an experimental new opera that debuted this week at the Festival de Mexico in Mexico City. The opera, written and conceived by a pair of prominent artist siblings, tackles the border between fiction and reality, and the often taboo topic of Mexico's long and bloody history with drug smuggling along its border with the United States.

Composer Gabriela Ortiz and Los Angeles-based visual artist Ruben Ortiz Torres said they had been searching for a topic for a collaborative project when they came upon the old Alarma! clip. In their view, the story had all the elements of high drama necessary for opera, almost like a modern-day Mexican "Salome," the siblings said. But the presence of a contradictory myth and the context of a volatile drug conflict in Ciudad Juarez added challenging twists to the project.

"It was difficult to set Alarma!  to music," said Gabriela Ortiz, who incorporated into her score the accordion and tuba, instruments traditionally used in Mexican norteno music. "The music does have that flavor of the north, but more like a hybrid, and always through my lens."

With the help of grants, the Ortiz siblings put together an initial production of "Unicamente la verdad" at the University of Indiana in 2008. Ruben Ortiz, known for his often hybrid-themed video, photography and installation work, wrote the opera's libretto and produced videos that are projected onstage. Much of the footage was shot in Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, he said.

"I conceived this as more than an opera, but as a contemporary art piece," Ruben Ortiz said.

The revised production of "Unicamente la verdad" premiered March 11 to a warm audience reception at the Teatro Julio Castillo in Mexico City's Chapultepec Park. Nieves Navarro, an emerging Mexican soprano, anchors the opera, playing the three different "personalities" of Camelia la Tejana.

It hasn't been lost on the authors that these days in Mexico, some political forces are attempting to ban narcocorridos from the airwaves. It recently happened to Los Tigres del Norte over a song that criticized the government's campaign against the cartels.

"It's absurd," Gabriela Ortiz said. "I think what they should do is attack the reality. Narcocorridos exist because a problem exists."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Gerardo Reynoso and Nieves Navarro in "Unicamente la verdad." Credit: Festival de Mexico

Chile earthquake: Past 'American Idol' finalist rattled by Chile earthquake


Elliott Yamin came frighteningly close to the earthquake that struck central Chile early Saturday. The Season 5 "American Idol" finalist had just performed at the Competencia Internacional in Viña del Mar, Chile, the largest music festival in Latin America, representing the United States with the song "Rock Around the Clock."

Mere hours after his performance, Elliott tweeted, "Huge earthquake just now in Chile!!....I swear I thought this was the end of my life!!!!!"

Clearly rattled by the magnitude of the quake, whose epicenter was near the town of Concepcion, 212 miles from the capital, Santiago, his next tweets described, "complete and utter chaos on the streets" as the area completely lost power and a tsunami warning was issued. He wrote, "I am only a mile inland!" About an hour later, as dawn was approaching, Elliott and crew had gathered outside, wrapped in blankets from their hotel rooms. "We're all huddled on the street... No aftershox in a while," he tweeted, but three minutes later (about 12:30 a.m. PST), the ground was apparently shaking again.

Continue reading "Elliott Yamin rattled by Chile earthquake: 'I thought this was the end'" by Shirley Halperin on Idol Tracker.

Photo: Elliott Yamin performs at the Washington Ideas Forum in October. Credit: Ralph Alswang Photographer

Stars remake 'We Are the World' for Haiti relief

Twenty-five years after the all-star recording of "We Are the World" became a signature moment in celebrity altruism and pop-music history, a new collection of stars came together Monday at the same Hollywood recording studio to record a new version for Haiti earthquake relief.

Just as Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan descended on the A&M Studios on La Brea to sing for famine relief in Africa, Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Kanye West and Keith Urban turned up at the same sound stage (now called Henson Recording Studios) to join a celebrity chorus that was 100 voices strong.

The 1985 effort, called USA for Africa, raised  $63 million and became a template for famous-face fundraising. The new single will premiere Feb. 12 on NBC during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics with the hope that the download single can help funnel aid into the ravaged island nation.

Continue reading "An all-star 'We Are the World' remake for Haiti relief" in Pop & Hiss, the L.A. Times music blog.

-- Geoff Boucher


Haiti quake relief: How to help

Multimedia coverage: The earthquake in Haiti

Photo: In 2010, celebrities gather at the "We Are The World: 25 Years for Haiti" recording session held at Jim Henson Studios in Hollywood. Credit: Kevin Mazur / WireImage

L.A. band Linkin Park releases 'Download for Haiti' digital-only benefit compilation

Linkin_park Los Angeles-based hard rock act Linkin Park hadn't planned to resurrect a 3-year-old unfinished song, but in the days after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, the band went scouring through its vaults, eventually finding and completing the track "Not Alone" at 3 a.m. last Sunday.

The song, which was released online late Tuesday, is now the leadoff cut on the band's "Download for Haiti" digital-only benefit compilation. Artists including the All-American Rejects, guitarist Slash, Enrique Iglesias, the Dave Matthews Band and rapper Lupe Fiasco contributed to the album, available for free on the website Music for Relief, Linkin Park's disaster-relief charity.

Fans are encouraged to donate after downloading the album.

Continue reading "Linkin Park is quick to aid Haiti" on Pop & Hiss.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Linkin Park band members Chester Bennington, left, and Mike Shinoda. Credit: Christina Cotter / Los Angeles Times

Haitian music as a reminder to help earthquake survivors

The Times' music blog, Pop & Hiss, shares a few clips from the fascinating, inimitable history of Haitian music -- which bests even New Orleans in its heady influences of African spirituals, French pop, American jazz and Latin-Caribbean rhythms. Above is a brief summary of Alan Lomax's essential Haitian folk recordings (follow the link below to hear the music of much-beloved rapper Master Dji and pioneering jazz artist Nemours Jean-Baptiste). And please consider skipping the bar tab at a show this week and give to Oxfam or the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders instead.

See more video of Haitian musical performances.

-- August Brown

Haiti photos
Photo gallery: Earthquake hits Haiti | Twitter: Reports from Haiti | Resources: How to help

Opera star Placido Domingo does Mexico City concert

Star tenor Placido Domingo regaled a crowd in frigid Mexico City with a weekend Christmas concert under the gilded iconic El Angel statue in a central part of the city.

Tens of thousands of people, by the city's count, crowded into the Angel plaza and along the central Paseo de la Reforma boulevard for half a mile to hear the free concert Saturday night.

In addition to operatic and Christmas classics, Domingo included a rendition of the Mexican oldie "Besame Mucho" in his performance.

You can watch a Milenio TV report of the concert here:  

-- Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City



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About the Reporters
Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
Chris Kraul
Richard Marosi
Tracy Wilkinson