Latinos Tune Up at the Alternative Music Conference

Carlos Davalos Jul 10, 2009

A renaissance in the world of independent rock, hip-hop and electronica with Latin roots is about to take off, and the tenth Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC) has done much to expand interest in this musical niche.

“This is the first time we have such an extended geographic diversity,” said Josh Norek, one of the co-founders of the event, “we have people coming from Latin America and also parts of the United States that are really new to the conference.”

When the LAMC started in 1999, transnational music corporations held the upper hand in the music industry, effectively limiting the number of independent artists. However, as the industry switched to a more digital form of production, it opened the door to a new generation of self-produced musicians.

“Artists don’t need anyone to produce and distribute their creations any more,” Norek said. “And the LAMC exists to provide a solid ground for networking.”

Conference attendees featured an array of Latinos working in the music industry, ranging from musicians and managers to producers and programmers.

Held from July 7 to 11 at the Roosevelt Hotel  in midtown Manhattan, the event introduced Latin music to an audience that otherwise wouldn’t hear it. “Maybe 60 percent of our guests are American with a Latin origin and the other 40 percent come directly from Latin America,” Norek said, while showing Malverde, a Mexican-American hip-hop artist who has released two albums with Universal/Machete, his way out.

In addition to musical showcases featuring over 20 artists, ranging from Mexican rock singer Natalia Lafourcade to Bomba Estereo, a Colombian band that fuses dancehall and the sound system culture, the conference also included panels hosted by music and business representatives and artists.

One of the five panels that took place over the course of the conferece, “Politik Kills: Latin Artists & Political Engagement in the Era of Obama,”  included Ana Polanco, a social justice advocate from Amnesty International and Maria Teresa Kumar, the executive director of Voto Latino. A fresh energy filled the elegant salon , which featured elegant wallpaper and chandeliers.

Speakers shared experiences, suggestions for upcoming artists and critiques. “I would like to see more Latino artists talking about the death penalty and immigration detentions,” Polanco passionately said.

Other speakers, like Marco Werman, the senior producer and anchor of The World, a Public Radio International-BBC co-production, talked about the natural ability of Latin artists to “describe their personal environments through lyrics.” Werman also criticized the slim amount of airtime Hispanic artists get on American radio and television stations.

Greg Landau, the producer and founder of Round Whirled Music, who has also received multiple Grammy nominations, discussed the importance of having a strong link between politics and music, especially in a community that’s under-represented in government spheres.

“Through Latino music you can know about new changes and a culture that sometimes is unknown,” Landau said. “Latin artists are strongly reflecting on their own identity through music.”

The conference also enabled participants to expand their contacts and knowledge of the Latin music industry. Uriel Waizel, a music programmer in Mexico City, traveled to the conference to further his work.

“This is a great opportunity to meet different people in the music business,” Waizel said. “It is also an amazing platform to show what we are doing and move it in a completely different direction, where the industry reasoning operates differently.”

The Latino community in the United States is rapidly expanding and incorporating new elements in the melting pot of American cities. Music, being one of the most powerful vehicles of expression, will continue re-inventing itself, looking for new ways to crack the corporate or technological padlocks.

“It’s an extremely exciting moment for Latin artists,” says Norek, raising a fist in the air and declaring a bicultural victory.

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