You submitted nominations for the best and brightest emerging Valley creatives, and the results are in. Presenting the 2015 Big Brain finalists.
Nicolas Paredes has some strong opinions on why there's no active cumbia scene in Phoenix.
Sure, Paredes, a.k.a. "El Nico," runs Clandestino, a monthly DJ night at Crescent Ballroom that specializes in "tropical bass," the umbrella term for the broad genre of music that includes cumbia, moombahton, and other modern amalgamations of various types of Latino music. But Paredes and his partners in crime at Clandestino -- including DJ Melo, DJ Tranzo, DJ Musa, and M. Rocka -- just DJ. The live music component of Clandestino -- that is, bands playing original music in the tropical bass family -- so far has consisted of bands from outside the Valley of the Sun, many from Tucson.
"It has to do with everything [Phoenix] is . . . with the politics, with Arpaio, everything else," Paredes says. "It just keeps the Latino culture down. Tucson has been a city that has embraced Latino culture. People here try to fight Latino culture."
A quick survey of bands to the south seems to confirm Paredes' assertion. Whereas Tucson boasts the phenomenal Latin big band Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta, smooth cumbia rockers Chicha Dust, and Tejano-influenced Calexico, there just doesn't seem to be much demand for alternative Latino music in Phoenix. At least, there's no audience that has yet to jell and unify around the music. And that's where Clandestino comes in.
So, yes, there's deeper motive behind Paredes' dance night. But the number one reason is simply to throw a good party.
Clandestino started in November, and since then, the once-a-month event has pulled upward of 300 people a night. Cumbia has an interesting role in Latino culture, as Paredes tells it: The genre has a reputation as dad rock for the children of Mexican immigrants.
"Growing up, I didn't listen to merengue, salsa, cumbia," Paredes says. "[Modern interest in cumbia] is a renaissance of what your parents used to listen to."
Paredes' interest in exploring tropical bass began after he met Jorge Ignacio Torres (who now owns Palabra Hair Art Collective) at a concert. They didn't get along at first, Paredes says, but they soon became fast friends -- DJing parties together, playing a variety of music. At one fateful party, one of the two put on a "ghetto fab" (Paredes' words) song by a group called Mi Banda El Mexicano called "Mambo Lupita," and what happened next shocked the two.
"People went nuts," Paredes says.
It was that moment that confirmed to him that there might be pent-up demand for modern takes on some of the classic rhythms to which young Latinos grew up listening. In short, there's an alt-Latino audience in Phoenix. Now, Paredes and his cohorts at Clandestino are trying to locate and congeal it.
Paredes finds that some Latinos still resist modern tropical bass, but their resolve wavers once they walk in the door of a Clandestino night.
"I have friends that will not listen to cumbia," he says. "But once they're here, they're always enjoying it."
The 2015 Big Brain Award winners will be announced on Saturday, May 9, during New Times' Artopia, an evening of food, drink, art, and music at Monarch Theatre. For details and tickets, $25, visit www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bigbrainawards.
Correction: The initial version of this article incorrectly indicated that DJ Smite was part of Clandestino. The spelling for the name of Jorge Ignacio Torres' name has also been corrected.
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