Los Angeles is known worldwide as a creative hub, and it has one of the biggest Latino populations anywhere. But on the eve of three of the Western hemisphere's biggest and most important music festivals — South By Southwest, Vive Latino, and Coachella — one has to wonder: Where is the L.A. Latino musical influence? After all, we have only a handful of Latin bands headed to SXSW, one at Vive Latino, and none at Coachella.
Don't get us wrong, Los Angeles is represented by some great Latin groups, like funk and fusion stalwarts Ozomatli, who can headline the Hollywood Bowl. Then there's a ton of new groups who are making big waves, like La Santa Cecilia, who recently signed to major record label Universal. Chicano Batman is on the rise and gaining strong support, and Las Cafeteras are creating excitement for their style of folk music. Oh, and don't forget Quetzal just won a Grammy for best Latin rock, urban, or alternative album.
And transplants like Kinky and Ximena Sarinana from Mexico and Gaby Moreno from Guatemala are helping keep L.A. on the map. But their roots are not from here.
Meanwhile artists from other genres — say, Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus — routinely come of Los Angeles to influence the rest of the world. But why is this city not grooming Latin artists like Ana Tijoux, Calle 13, or Bomba Estereo? If examined from an international perspective, it's hard to call L.A.'s Latin music scene any better than average.
So what gives? Sure, we know it's difficult for bands to make it anywhere, especially a place as competitive as Los Angeles. Still, there are more resources here than most places, more labels, more talent scouts and bloggers on the lookout for talent.
One possibility is that Latin artists are going to have a tough time if they're only targeting other Latinos. Latinos in L.A. are fans of all styles of music, and if your band is just average they won't support you just because you're Latin. Before too long, you'll lose your Latin fans to other scenes.
Another theory is that the city is in the midst of a cultural shift, and the groups who gain momentum here are those who embrace a multicultural experience. It's almost as if Latin culture and Los Angeles culture have merged and evolved into a multicultural hybrid of everything.
We see this at parties like Subsuelo — a monthly party at Eastside Luv in Boyle Heights – which explores the different soundscapes of the city. The party's audience has folks of all races, and celebrates diversity. These small cultural hubs throughout Los Angeles that experiment with styles could well help craft a formula for our next big Latin artist.
We think Los Angeles will eventually get there, and that we could well see another breakout Latin act before long. But then again, maybe that's the wrong way to think about it; maybe in an increasingly hybrid scene, the term “Latin music” will no longer be relevant.