The son of a Cuban-American mother and a Scottish stepfather, with a biological father reported to be a direct descendent of Buffalo Bill Cody, Canyon Cody seems fated to be drawn to those places where cultures mingle. But growing up in Ojai, Cody compartmentalized his music tastes — and, to some extent, his identity.
“I kept it all very separate,” he says. “Cuban music was for when I was with my grandparents. Rock was for when I was with my mom. Hip-hop was for when I was with my friends.”
That changed at college in Boston, where he majored in international studies, became music editor of his campus newspaper and fit in two summers in Cuba, doing independent research projects on its hip-hop scene.
“As I was getting more politically involved and trying to study culture, I was struck by how my identity was separated into these different contexts,” he says over lunch at Mofongos, a Puerto Rican restaurant near his North Hollywood home. “Eventually I brought them all together. That's kind of where I am now.”
As co-founder of Subsuelo, a music collective and “global bass” party held the third Wednesday of every month at Boyle Heights' Eastside Luv, Cody brings an ethnomusicologist's sensibility to his music and DJ sets. “African diaspora music” is the way he sums up the sound at Subsuelo, which leans strongly on flamenco (including a live dancer, La Tigresa) but includes heavy doses of cumbia, reggae, salsa and hip-hop.
Subsuelo grew out of the 2011 documentary Kumpania, about an L.A. flamenco group. Cody, fresh from studying new forms of flamenco music in Spain on a Fulbright scholarship, was hired to do the soundtrack. Recording sessions at his house would turn into all-night parties: “100 people over till dawn every weekend.”
In Spain, Cody was surprised to learn that flamenco's roots were as complicated as his own. “I got over the idea that there was once a pure flamenco and now it's being changed by outside influences. … The more I studied the history of it, the more I realized it was never a pure thing. It was always this mishmash of different peoples and backgrounds” — North African, Arabic, Romani, Jewish.
Music, he says, “not only brings groups together … it also could be one of the few things that can transcend those groups. And I was interested in both things: How does music coalesce a community, and how does it also help transcend those separations?”
Those interests have led the seemingly inexhaustible 31-year-old into positions at Latin alternative label Nacional Records, where he was director of publicity; and Red Bull Music Academy, where he occupies the intriguingly titled position of “Mr. X,” scouting talent and guiding “priority candidates” through a complex application process. More recently, Cody landed his “dream job” as vice president of A&R for Fania Records, the “Motown of salsa.” His first big project: pairing young remixers with classic tracks by such artists as Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and Rubén Blades, giving them an electronic dance music makeover.
“It's all the music I grew up with, hearing it played in my grandparents' house,” he says. “I'm really excited.”