On The Ground In Guadalajara, In Search Of New Latin Sounds

May 28, 2017

With the start of summer just around the corner, music festival season is heating up — and for many artists in Latin America, the destination of choice is FIMPRO, or the Feria Internacional de la Música Profesional. This year's event kicked off on Thursday in Guadelajara, Mexico, and alongside the many fans in attendance, booking agents and talent scouts from all over the world are there searching for the next big talent.

Also in the crowd this year is weekends on All Things Considered contributor Betto Arcos, globetrotting DJ and host of the podcast The Cosmic Barrio. He joined NPR's Michel Martin to share a few samples of what he's heard so far; hear their conversation at the audio link, and check out the music below.

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Finally today with tomorrow being the unofficial beginning of summer, thoughts of ways to spend those long summer days are on our minds. And music festivals are one item that might be on the agenda. For many artists from Mexico and Latin America, the destination of choice is FIMPRO. It started Thursday in Guadalajara, Mexico.

And along with fans, booking agents and talent scouts from all over the world are there searching for the next big talent. Guess who's also there? Our regular contributor Betto Arcos. He's been enjoying the music, and he joins us now from Guadalajara to give us an example of what he's heard so far. Betto, thanks so much for joining us once again.

BETTO ARCOS, BYLINE: Always great to be with you, Michel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So first can you tell us a little bit more about FIMPRO? How did it get started and why has it become so important for Latin American and Mexican artists?

ARCOS: It started about 10 years ago. It's Feria Internacional de la Musica Profesional or Professional International Music Fair. And it's a, you know, one of these initiatives is trying to bring about an understanding of the complexity and the diversity of the music of this continent.

So this is really an initiative of the University of Guadalajara to promote this music outside of Latin America. They want promoters. They want programmers, the booking agents, talent scouts from Europe, from North America to come and see what we have in the continent.

MARTIN: You know, all week we've been covering the bombing in Manchester, England, which took place at a concert. Are people talking about it? Is it dampening the mood at all? Do you see any sense of any extra security measures being taken? I mean, is that on people's minds there?

ARCOS: You know, it is, and it isn't. I mean, remember this part of Mexico are no strangers to violence. I mean, this is a country that's been racked by the narco wars, and this city in particular has seen a lot of really horrible things. But at the same time, that hasn't really touched those big events. It hasn't touched concerts. It hasn't touched public spaces like, you know, you mentioned in Manchester.

And yet, people are well aware, and they're always taking precautions. But at the same time, you know, people are just really happy to be listening to some great music.

MARTIN: So with that being said why don't you tell us about what you've heard so far?

ARCOS: I want to first share with you a band that is really, really wonderful. They're from Guadalajara. They play jazz. They play jazz with a very specific sound. And that is the sound of traditional Mexican music.


ARCOS: This tune is called "Colima." The state I'm at is Jalisco. The neighboring state is Colima. The leader in this band. His name is Vico Diaz, and he was born in Colima. But when he was a little boy, his parents moved to Guadalajara which is obviously the biggest city here in the region. He went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

He learned jazz. He learned how to play Vander's straight-ahead jazz. He's a bass player, and he came back. And he founded a band called Tokli. And so what he's interested here is in bringing together the traditional folk music of Mexico, and blending it with jazz to create a completely new sound.


MARTIN: Cool. Thanks for that. So then there's a band from Peru that you're eager to tell us about.

ARCOS: Yeah. This is a really cool story. The band is composed of, you know - there's eight, nine members in the band. They play reggae. You never imagined that there would be a reggae band or a reggae scene in Lima, Peru.

So the leader Mariano Palacios, the main songwriter, interestingly, he went to school to be a psychologist to help people deal with their problems. And he realized pretty soon that he wasn't going to be solving the world problems by being a psychologist individually, right? So he thought I think music is more, you know, more of a powerful tool to change the world.


MARIANO PALACIOS: (Singing in Spanish).

ARCOS: He was particularly attracted to the vision and the concept and the sense of the world and what we can do to fix things by Bob Marley and the whole culture of reggae of - not necessarily of Rastafari, but more about the, you know, stop being a victim and then do something to change the world. And this is what this song is about.

It's called "Somos Pocos," "We Are Few." And it's a message of, look, we may be a few people, we may be a little crazy, but we're going to change the world little by little. And we're not going to be let down by those that are in power.


PALACIOS: (Singing Spanish).

MARTIN: And finally, you've got some music from Colombia that you want to tell us about.

ARCOS: Yeah. I've been crazy about this band for a while. This is a band called Bogota Orquesta Afrobeat. Now, keep in mind here that this is a band based in Bogota, Colombia, but that is influenced significantly, tremendously, by the music of Fela Kuti, the creator or what we called - what's called Afrobeat, music from Nigeria, music that, you know, told truth to power.

Fela Kuti wrote songs about what was happening in Nigeria about the government and the corruption and the brutal dictatorship during those years in the '70s and '80s. So here's this band in Bogota, Colombia, that takes the inspiration from the music of Fela Kuti to create something completely new. What you hear in their music is Colombian rhythms mixed with Afrobeat.



ARCOS: Now, one thing that I have to say about this particular tune is that they invited a very special singer from the black region of Colombia from the Pacific coast of Colombia. Her name is Nidia Gongora. This is a singer that is all about defending the rights of black people in the Pacific Coast of Colombia. And she has her own project, but she's guesting here in bringing her own style of music, her own traditional sounds from the Pacific Coast.

And you'll hear in this tune a little bit of the marimba. The marimba is a traditional instrument from this region of Colombia. So it's this wonderful blend of the music of the Pacific coast of Colombia with a little bit of Afrobeat and other rhythms from Colombia. It's really just a fantastic band.



MARTIN: That was Betto Arcos joining us from Guadalajara, Mexico, where he's been covering the FIMPRO Festival. It wraps up today. He also hosts the music podcast the Cosmic Barrio. Betto, thank you.

ARCOS: Thank you so much, Michel. Great to talk to you.


BOGOTA ORQUESTA AFROBEAT: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.