Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Traffic along Santa Monica Boulevard was a hell of a lot more congested than usual on Saturday afternoon, as Hollywood Forever Cemetery hosted the 12th annual Dia de Los Muertos festival. The traditional Mexican holiday honoring dead loved ones gaining on the other American holidays, in terms of popularity. Angelenos and foreign tourists showed up by the thousands to the unique theme-park-like event taking place atop an, of course, actual cemetery.
This year's headliners included Rubén Albarrán -- the notorious singer for famed Mexico City rock en Español band, Café Tacvba -- with his newish spiritual slanted side project, Hoppo. Also on the bill was Astrid Hadad, a Mexican performance artist known by millions for her eccentric and progressive sound.
This cemetery party was mad crackin' yo. There must have been more than three thousand inside, easily. Altars to popular dead artists were set up along the pathways that led up to the stage.
I walked in right when Hoppo started their set. Call them the Mexican reincarnation of Simon and Garfunkel, just about. Albarrán even referred to their songs as "super mantras." Their sitar-twanged spiritual sounds seemed fitting for the occasion but it's pretty hard to not associate his elastic high pitched voice with Café Tacvba.
Shortly after Hoppo, Hadad came on stage. A friend of mine calls her, "The original Mexican Lady Gaga, before Gaga was even born." Her music combines time-honored Mexican rancheras, salsa, rumba, '50s rock n' roll bass lines and even a pretty fast punk rock breakdown in her song, "La Tequilera". Her music is labeled as "Heavy Nopal" sometimes.
The stage -- and her dress -- was lined with fragrant yellow Cempasúchil blossoms, aka marigolds, as this is the official flower for the holiday. Her set for the evening was titled "Sobre una Tumba Una Rumba " and it was a pleasantly vocalized homage to Mexico's history, from the Spanish conquest to the modern day state of corrupt government and narco-violence. She sang some songs in the Aztec language of Nahuatl, and some in Oaxacan Zapoteco. A lot of them were based in Aztec mythology, too.
She designs all of the dresses she wears during her performances, and basically changes wardrobe from song to song -- in fact, she changed right on stage. Her male fans whistled, to which she replied, "A que? Nunca han visto como se viste una diosa?" ("What? You've never a goddess dress before?")
She went through tons of dresses through out her set, ranging from a jet-black half stepped flapper dress to one that unveiled a Donkey Kong-like imprint of a codex when she opened her arms. I've never seen anyone that could sport a cubist-designed Mexican pyramid as a skirt, but she pulled it off.
It is hard not to be entertained by her cocksure exhibition. She displayed her witty sense of humor, and her songs strategically paired contrasting genres of music, bewitching the listener. Flutes, violins, keys and a guitar were all tuned to minor keys.
Just to see Hadad perform her duet piece "La Muerte Chica" with Albarrán made the show worthwhile. She culminated her act with two encores, "El Calcetin" -- in which she sings about tough love and being stepped on -- and "La Tequilera", a political punk rock-like corrido that requires her to swig a couple of Tequila blanco shots. (Maybe that helps her headbang?)
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By the end of her ethereal set a thick layer of fog had rolled in out of nowhere and made things quite unearthly.
Critical bias: Can somebody spell...cultural capitalist rape and exploitation?
The crowd: Latino families from all over Los Angeles and a handful of curious Westsiders.
Overheard in the crowd:: "Lady Gaga ain't got nothing on her!"