Sunday, April 22, 2012

Music, Culture, and the Culture of Music

La Bloga Guest Interview by Ellen Georgiou

Pasadena Levitt Pavilion

Andrea Balency.  Gaby Moreno.  Girl in a Coma.  Los Rakas.  Carla Morrison.

Eddie Cota
They are some of the hottest names in Latino music today and just a few of the artists Eddie Cota booked last year for packed performances at Pasadena’s Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts and LA’s Macarthur Park.

Cota, Director of Programming for both venues, is only 29 and has already been credited with impacting the LA music scene.  He also assumes the larger task of bridging generations and gentrification and has a firm focus on what he calls his “Latin Alternative Agenda.”

Cota travels the world to festivals profiling new music to scout new talent including the hottest Latino sounds. Last year he booked Ana Tijoux from Chile -- a top lyricist in Latin hip hop; Ximena Sarinana, a crossover Mexican pop singer-songwriter; and Afro-Peruvian ensemble Novalima.
Cota talks to La Bloga about music, culture and the culture of music.

MacArthur Park 
When did you know music would be such an important part of your life?
Music was always playing in my house – from my father’s early hip hop, funk and oldies, to my mother’s classic r&b, freestyle and pop. But I really didn’t really understand its importance. I realized music “needed” to be part of my life in high school.  A transfer student introduced me to more conscious hip hop and artists like Mos Def.  I was fascinated by the word play and loved the way Mos Def was proud of being black in America.  I wanted to feel that cultural pride. I decided to study journalism so I could write about music and also took Latin studies so I could learn more about my culture.
Ana Tijoux
Did you grow up in the Latino culture?
My parents were Mexican immigrants but the culture wasn’t passed down to me. I struggled with identity because I was an American who was also a Latino. I tried to fit in by hanging out with Latino friends, tried to join clubs on campus like Mecha, but I didn’t feel like I knew enough to be there. Music was really the first culture I became part of.  With music came friends and community. I started going to shows and as an audience member you become part of something. The way you dress, talk to each other, what you decide to shout out, where you go to eat and drink before and after a show, deciding on the next show – it’s all part of the culture of music. 

Was there a turning point regarding embracing your Latino roots?
In college I registered for every Chicano Studies and Mexican History course offered. I learned my people were innovative, sophisticated and artistic and I was proud.  I was working at a pop radio station when Latino 96.3, the first bilingual radio station in LA started up. For the first time a commercial radio station spoke to what I was and suddenly Spanglish was acceptable on-air. I went to work with them and it was an exciting time as so many young Latinos found their identity with this station. Artists like Pitbull, Calle 13, Don Omar, Tego Calderon soared in popularity. This was happening on the local level, but then similar stations popped up across the country and MTV Tres started at the same time. My two worlds finally collided: Latino culture and urban music. I found my identity.  I also found my community. 
Ximena Sariñana
Where did you go from there?
I became an independent producer.  My first big gig was Pitbull and Rakim y Ken-Y at the Shrine Auditorium.  I realized that I had come full circle in not only being a part of the culture I was seeking, but providing that experience for others.

Why the move to nonprofit Levitt Pavilion?
After hustling to sell tickets and promote concerts, I wanted to do something that was more about the love of music. Levitt was a small concert series, but with free admission, it had a built-in audience that filled the venue based on trust. I took advantage of that and started getting creative with programming and made it what it is today – a nationally recognized concert series.

What about LA’s MacArthur Park?      
MacArthur Park’s programming had problems figuring out what music worked there and breaking the stereotype of an unsafe neighborhood.  Our concerts are now bringing people in from all over LA and the new vibe in the community is amazing. Latin Alternative is one focus, because it brings in young Latinos from other areas, along with traditional Latin music familiar to the local immigrant community.  What’s exciting is that MacArthur Park has the potential to be the #1 multicultural melting pot in LA, if not the U.S. It’s the most densely populated Latin immigrant community in the United States and is surrounded by artsy, hipster, and young professional neighborhoods. When you put the right artist on stage, they all spill into the park. Experimental music is working there because it really is an experimental community.

What is Latino Alternative?
I actually don’t like the word “alternative” because I like working with music that crosses many styles, but it’s useful to market to our audiences. What I’m looking for in “alternative” is modern electronic, rock, and hip hop music that fuses traditional sounds. Colombian artists are great at this and educate their audiences as to who their influences are. Thus, they help instill culture in youth. One of my favorite bookings last year was Sexteto Tabala – a traditional Afro-Colombian group from Palenque de San Basilio. The audience was filled with people that I usually see at alternative shows. They knew the importance of this group and that they were a major influence on today’s artists. Culture was being exchanged. This needs to happen with all of Latin America.

You are offering a great forum for Latino artists. Are there increasing opportunities for them?
I feel MacArthur Park should be the most important stop of a Latino artist’s tour. It’s a free public venue in the heart of Latino LA. I also like to take chances on artists that normally wouldn’t be presented at a performing arts venue. Sure Ana Tijoux is a creative hip hop booking, but I also had rap that was more street like Akwid. Both were equally successful. At the same time, artists that need to cross over and not be limited to Latino audiences can play at the Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena – two different experiences.

What is the most exciting Latino music right now?
I like the young artists who are preserving their roots in music with styles like alt-norteño, moombahton, tribal, son jarocho, electro-cumbia. They understand how deep this music goes and make an effort to educate themselves on where it comes from. Music is the gateway to culture.

What Latino music are you listening to right now?
I really like Monsieur Perine, new Columbian folk with American Jazz influence; Il Abanico based in Brooklyn with more of an indie experimental sound; Criolo, a hip hop soul artist from Brazil.

Have you booked them?
One of them.  I’m working on it!

Eddie Cota
Ellen Georgiou--our Guest blogger, is an experienced journalist, writer and editor who has worked at the BBC World Service, HarperCollins, and The Cyprus Weekly.  She is a senior writer at iMinds PR in Pasadena and continues to write articles for publications in the U.S. and around the world.  

If you are in Los Angeles TODAY, don't forget to get out to USC for The LA Times Festival of Books!  Our own "La Bloga" writer, Melinda Palacio will be there.  Check out "The Smokin' Hot Indie Lounge," representing Tia Chucha Press, along with Luivette Resto from 11:45a.m. to 1:30p.m.  Melinda and Luivette will be reading their poetry.  The Indie Lit Lounge gives gente a chance to make their own book.  Orale!  Don't miss it!

May 4--Check out Manuel Ramos' interview on La Bloga with Rudy Anaya!  La Bloga will also be having various posts on Anaya's books from various perspectives.  

1 comment:

Javier said...

Great blog. I'm with OYE Magazine. Please contact me at jreynaldo(at) We might be interested in featuring some of your content. Thanks.