Next stop: Austin. You kind of get used to the fact that, year after year, most of the best Latin albums of the year are not released in the U.S. But can the artists at least stop in San Antonio while on tour? What is it about our city that prompts most of the edgy Latin alternative bands out there to avoid SA like a plague?
The latest example/casualty is Manu Chao. The Frenchman, former leader of Mano Negra (one of the most influential bands in the history of Latin rock and world music), is at his peak and bringing his Radio Bemba machine to Austin on June 11 (at Stubbs; sold out, folks), but not San Antonio (frustrating, but predictable) or Houston (insane). Why?
For starters, there’s nothing wrong with San Antonio itself. Despite its regional reputation as — let’s face it — The Kingdom of Boredom, SA has plenty of great venues and warm, friendly crowds, hungry for life beyond Fiesta.
“Personally, I love San Antonio,” says Tom Cookman, Manu’s manager, founder of New York’s yearly Latin Alternative Music Conference, and owner of Nacional Records, a key LA-based indie label specializing in Latin alternative acts. “It is one of the most truly bicultural cities I have ever seen. I have felt that way since I first visited many years ago with Los Fabulosos Cadillacs,” he adds, via email.
Then, why isn’t Manu — who plays Dallas’s Palladium on June 10 — even coming to Houston, the biggest market in Texas?
“In Manu’s case, it is a timing issue,” says Cookman. “Interestingly, Austin sold out within days and Dallas is moving along slowly.”
Even if somebody in SA comes up with the dough upon reading this, there is no way Manu will stick around for a few more dates. “I would love to but we have to be in New Orleans right after Austin,” Cookman says.
The problem, with regard to Latin alternative music, seems to be a lack of SA promoters willing to take risks and, well, promote. “I would love to do `Colombia’s` Aterciopelados there,” Cookman says, “and our booking agent can’t find a promoter!”
John Pantle, a booking agent for United Talent Agency in Beverly Hills, who handles major acts such as Café Tacuba, Molotov, and Calle 13, agrees.
“It’s hard to find good promoters in the `SA` market,” he said in an email. “I really want to find someone I can trust with all my acts — Anglo and Latino — on a long-term basis. One day, it will happen. But it’s 2007 and we are still hit and miss. For such a great city, it’s a shame how limited the agent’s options are.”
After Mano Negra, Manu released Clandestino (the best Latin alternative album of the ’90s, hands down), the follow-up Próxima Estación: Esperanza (“next stop: hope”… yikes) and produced several albums for other artists (most notably the brilliant Dimanche A Bamako, by Mali’s Amadou & Mariam). So, if you can’t make it to Dallas, at least get Clandestino and seriously consider becoming a promoter.
An inconvenient truth: Reggaetón sucks. Except, of course, for Tego Calderón and Calle 13. You might have heard The Underdog/El Subestimado (if not, get it now and take a Berlitz crash course — the guy can write, and he has the best flow in Spanish). But today’s hottest and baddest album is Residente o Visitante, by Calle 13. The Puerto Rican duo stole Shakira’s spotlight at the Latin Grammys last November (three nominations, three victories) on the strength of their delightful Calle 13, a mix of reggaetón beats, intelligent rhymes, and an endless array of Latin-American folk rhythms.
Residente o Visitante is the filthiest Spanish-language album you’ll hear this year, but also one of the most adventurous: it features collaborations with Bajofondo Tango Club (the Latin Grammy-winning tango/electronica collective led by two-time Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla) and Andalusian rapper Mala Rodríguez (if you ask me, the best Spain has to offer along with Bebe and flamenco fusion powerhouse Mártires del Compás). If you’re gonna talk trash, the least you can do is write like Calle 13.
A Raro opportunity: If you’re in your 40s, come from a tiny, obscure South American country, and have a rock band, chances are your best days are in the rearview mirror (nobody signs anybody over 16 anymore). But Uruguay’s El Cuarteto de Nos (produced by Juan Campodónico, producer of Jorge Drexler) might just be the exception to the rule. Raro, the band’s 11th album (they’ve been together since the early 1980s), has been spreading like wildfire and caused a tug of war between the majors since its original release in 2006. They were finally signed by Virgin Spain, and the U.S. release might be near.
“I’m obsessed with them,” says Mexican singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas. “I can’t stop listening to them and recommending it to everyone. It’s crazy, really. They mix intelligence with musicality. They’re like ... geniuses.”
After a successful tour in Spain, the Cuarteto comes to Mexico on May 4-6 and is willing to come to El Norte. Any promoters out there?