"A monthly exploration into Latin Rhythms across genres" reads the subtitle of Clandestino!, a highly rumored and now-realized Latin night at Crescent Ballroom. Does Phoenix have a "Latin Alternative" audience big enough to sustain a monthly party at the most relevant music venue in town? El Nico, curator and mastermind behind Clandestino! says Phoenix is ready for it. And if you were among the thousands of attendees at this year's Dias de la Crescent, you witnessed the fever this town is having for Latin traditional sounds -- Tucson's Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta were the true heroes of the packed festival. For a city where 40 percent of its population identifies as Hispanic and/or Latino (via U.S. Census Bureau), a night like that proposed by Clandestino! seems long overdue. The launch of the monthly party will bring two cumbia acts to the valley: Tucson's up-and-coming Chicha Dust (who could touch elbows with cumbia's greatest despite their status as newcomers), and San Diego tropical-dubsters Cumbia Machine. Also in the bill is the presentation of La Tropa Clandestina, a collective of local DJs who have percolated tropical music into the music scene of Phoenix for many years. Let the tropical enchantment begin.
From the cumbia nights at Palabra, FilmBar, Bikini Lounge, and now Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix had never showcased so much cumbia as it's doing today. This is beyond exciting for someone like El Nico, who has spent the last decade trending the genre amongst the hipsters in the valley. Up on the Sun talked to promoter and curator El Nico about the goals of Clandestino, cumbia's ability to become universal, and about the inevitable, young-blooded latino audience that's bound to thrive in Phoenix in the next few years.
Up on the Sun: Clandestino! promises to present an array of latin genres to the valley. What is the main goal of your party?
El Nico: The Phoenix indie/alternative music scene has been denying the need to showcase latin rhythms. The goal of Clandestino! is to present cumbia, tropical, and a variety of genres to downtown. We want to bring it to the table, to be able to expose it to the hipsters, to the metal enthusiasts, as well as the more traditional anglo music fans. Whether it is triggering nostalgia in Latinos or introducing the music to an entirely new audience, Clandestino! targets a truly diverse group of people. And although there's not a political agenda attached to it, I truly feel that an event that celebrates Latino cultural will eventually provoke social change. But we will see about that outcome in the future. For now, it's our job to provide a space for all this wonderful music.
Why the name Clandestino? Is there a political statement about immigration behind it?
Because of the political climate in Arizona, I can see how that could be presumed. Honestly, we just really liked the name. We knew we wanted something catchy and easy to translate. Clandestino! (which translates as clandestine) resumes our efforts to present these sounds to Phoenix. Just a few years ago no one cared about cumbia. Everyone was into indie rock and the so-called "polished" sounds. The members that now make up La Tropa Clandestina found ways to sneak in cumbia to rock-centered parties. At first people resisted to it -- it was the music our parents listened to, and rejecting it seemed like the cool thing to do. But eventually people got it, and we're finally seeing the outcome from stepping outside of the norm.
Are you envisioning your party as a gathering of hipsters? Is there a true self-sustaining Latin alternative audience in the valley?
To be realistic, we realize that cumbia at Crescent Ballroom is bound to attract hipsters more than any other group. But it's a night that welcomes anyone that wants to have a good time. It's cumbia music. What's more welcoming than that? Unlike something like heavy metal, which can be alienating, I think cumbia has a warmth that makes it universal. Cumbia is everybody. There's no wrong way to dance cumbia.
New cumbia is so often attributed to DJs. Will you embrace DJ culture or embrace acts with actual instruments?
DJs might work in many cities, but not here. People in Phoenix like instruments. They will only pay to see live instruments. Don't get me wrong, the role of selectors and turntables is crucial in the infrastructure of a scene, but it's unrealistic to think people will come out to listen to a DJ on a regular basis. Now that we have a space where we actually feel like we belong, we should take full advantage of the resources.
With acts like Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta and Chicha Dust, Tucson seems so ahead of Phoenix when it comes to the cumbia scene? Any thoughts on why?
Until recently, there was no cumbia or tropical scene in Phoenix. To me it's plain simple. In Tucson, young people become inspired by the arts and culture that surrounds them. Guys like Sergio Mendoza and Gabriel Sullivan grew up in a city that has embraced these sounds for decades. I am hoping that Clandestino! is able to inspire young artists some day. I truly believe that tropical music lovers are all around us. We're all scattered and barely finding each other.
The question everybody is asking. Is cumbia just a trend?
While it's definitely trendy, it's far from just a trend. It is, and will always be the most popular music amongst Latinos. In some ways, I see it almost as an excuse for bringing very creative people together. Always with the purpose of having fun all along. And this is something that's not only happening here in Phoenix. It seems every big city has a cumbia scene nowadays. Cumbia's universal appeal allows us to incorporate all kinds of art into Clandestino!, and that goes from our posters, to the curation of the performers. But Clandestino! isn't just cumbia. Latinos and our rhythms are truly diverse and we're ready to show that.
Clandestino! is scheduled to take place at Crescent Ballroom on Saturday, November 29.
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