La Mera Candelaria is essentially Stephani Candelaria, a Bay Area transplant who arrived in Los Angeles three years ago, armed with a mountain of songs that blend salsa, cumbia and son cubano. The Mexican-American musician blends Latin styles to great effect, but that’s only part of the story.

Candelaria is a badass. A passionate and “sassy” (her word) performer with biting wit and no-nonsense feminism in the lyrics. She mashes the traditional and contemporary together, resulting in music that crosses the generational gap.

“I started singing in a band back in 2008 in Oakland,” Candelaria says. “I had a group up there called Candelaria, and we were together for about six years. It was a different style to what I’m currently playing ⁠— it was kind of a cumbia-reggae project. When I moved to L.A. about three years ago now, I formed this group, La Mera Candelaria. We’re about to release our third album, and we’re going on a couple of little tours this summer so things are going really well.”

Candelaria says that the first EP was essentially her by herself  — a solo record. She moved to L.A. without a permanent band, but quickly realized that it would be beneficial to have something recorded that she could present to bookers, labels and other musicians.

“So the first album is very, very simple,” she says. “It still has the tropical feel that we continue to play now, but a lot more simplified and toned down. Between that one and the second one, you can really hear our growth. The second one includes all of our current members. The stylization evolved and our arrangements grew a little bit more complicated. We threw in some Caribbean salsa style in there on top of what we were playing before, and now the third one that’s coming out is really reflective of our current lineup as well as our setlist in general — what we play when we perform. It’s really got a tropical party dance vibe. Very lively. Just a dance feel.”

For those not in the know, cumbia is a Columbian style of music and son is Cuban — a sort of Caribbean salsa. Candelaria’s mother sings salsa, so she grew up in a musical house, though her first experiences as a performer were with cumbia.

“This new project is a combination of my experiences growing up with my mom and her music, as well as my original music dipping into the Latin music scene with the Columbian style cumbia,” she says.

As well as that glorious multi-culture, Candelaria says that there are differences between the Latin music scenes in Northern and Southern California.

“When I was starting to make music up there, cumbia was seeing an emergence,” she says. “It became really popular. A lot of people wanted to have cumbia bands at their parties and events, so it was like a renaissance for that style of music, especially for people who were doing more traditional styles versus what you hear on the radio style of cumbia — it’s two completely different things. So it’s definitely a smaller community up there. Oakland itself is probably like less than a tenth of L.A. size-wise. It’s smaller and a lot more intimate, and that I would say is the biggest different — how small the community is up there. A bit less opportunities to make a living as a musician up there, especially within the Latin music community, because a lot of venues have a radius clause. If you play in Oakland on a Friday night, you can’t play anywhere within 30 miles for the next two weeks. So it makes it difficult for anyone to make a living as a gigging musician out there.”

Conversely, L.A. is vast and there are plenty of venues here that open their doors to Latin music, grassroots places that encourage new artists and experimentation. At the same time, the music is still growing in popularity here — it hasn’t peaked yet.

“We’ve got a lot of great bands coming out in L.A. that are all very unique and have their own twist in these traditional styles,” Candelaria says. “The commonality, I would say, is that in the actual community of musicians, there’s a lot of support for each other, a lot of people that work together or collaborate with each other. I still even collaborate with some of my musician friends from up in the Bay, even remotely. I’ve got a few Bay Area musicians that are going to be featured on this album, I had a few folks on my last album. So there’s just so much collaboration and love within the Latin music community, even though we’re hundreds of miles apart.”

For those of you not utterly familiar with Latin music but looking to dip your toes in, Candelaria suggests a night out at La Cita or Eastside Luv. Bands such as La Santa Cecilia and Cicano Batman got their start at those places. Then of course there are the Summer Luvin’ and Tropicalia festivals, both in Long Beach. The latter, Candelaria says, is the “Burning Man of Latin music in California.”

La Mera Candelaria performs at Gold Diggers this week, and Candelaria says that we can expect a lot of fun.

“We’ll be playing a lot of new music from this album, and some unreleased stuff,” she says. “We’ve been working on a few new songs that so far have had a really good response. We’re definitely doing a lot more salsa in our set, so when I used to say cumbia-salsa, I now twist it to salsa-cumbia because that’s starting to be more what we do in our live set. We’re also very excited to be hosting really good friends of mine from San Francisco at that show, called LoCura — they do like a flamenco dance fusion. They’re really awesome and they’re gonna be opening for us.”

After that, Candelaria will be performing at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival at the end of July, at the opening ceremony. The band has plenty of other stuff coming up, so keep your eye on their website. But be sure to check out Candelaria, or one of the countless other amazing Latin artists in SoCal, if you haven’t already.

La Mera Candelaria plays with LoCura at 7 p.m. on Friday, July 5 at Gold Diggers

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