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Alt.Latino Stakes Out SXSW: The Chamanas, Jenny And The Mexicats And More


Every March, our colleagues at NPR Music clear out of the office and head down to Austin to cover the annual South By Southwest Music Conference. Our friends at Alt Latino are among those wading into the musical madness. Felix Contreras is on the streets of Austin to give us a report on some of the great Latin music he's hearing at South By Southwest. Hey, Felix.


MARTIN: All right, so let's get to the music. This is a festival that attracts fans from all over the U.S. and Latin America in particular. So which country are we going to focus on first? What Latin American hotspot?


MARTIN: Canada? No.

CONTRERAS: Yes. I saw it a band called Mariachi Ghost. They're from Winnipeg, Canada, and here's their back story. You know, they were started by a guy from Mexico City. His name was Jorge Requena. He tried to make a name for himself in Mexico, but, you know, that music market is just so overwhelming. He's also a filmmaker. And he took a job in Winnipeg doing some film work and the lightbulb went off. He said, hey, I could start a band up here. So he started a band with some Canadians and another guys from El Salvador, and their sound is a cross of Son Jarocho from Vera Cruz and rock. So after I saw them last night, they really impressed me with their performance - very energetic - they sent me an audio file of a new song from an upcoming album, so this is the Alt Latino and WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY premier of their song "Susana."


MARIACHI GHOST: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTIN: OK, "Susana," there it is - the premier.


MARTIN: So as I understand it, these performances, when you go to Austin to South By - these things are happening all over the place. There can be some official venues, but most of the time, these shows are taking place in what could be tiny little bars or clubs. Sometimes there's a whole lot going on - a whole lot of back noise. And the space really informs the performance, right? What have you noticed about that?

CONTRERAS: Well, I saw one band - it was a guitar duo with a voice - and underneath the club and the bar below, this incessant thumping of electronic music just sort of ruined the mood. But they powered through it. It was very brave of them, but they pulled it off. But I went to a place last night - there's a bar on Congress called Townsend. It has a very small room in the back. It's very intimate. And it was a perfect venue for the marriage of sound and space because it was just right for this quietly powerful sound of this band called The Chamanas. They're from El Paso, Juares - the border area.


THE CHAMANAS: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: Very, very captivating singer, lead singer. This is a track from their album. This is called "Las Penas," and the album's called "The Chamanas."


THE CHAMANAS: (Singing in Spanish).

MARTIN: It's a cool sound. I like it. Anyone else who caught your ear?

CONTRERAS: You know, Rachel, I had a true discovery this week - a band that I'd never heard of before and didn't hear until I got here. The lead singer's a woman Jenny Ball. She's from England, and she's a trumpet player, vocalist. And she was travelling in Spain and happened to meet these two flamenco musicians who were from Mexico, oddly enough. They added a percussionist from Spain, and called their band Jenny and the Mexicats. And what they've done with those influences is create this really impressive mix of rockabilly, cumbia, jazz, flamenco, and they perform it in both English and in Spanish. This is a track from their album - it's called "The Song For The UV House Mouse."


JENNY AND THE MEXICATS: I've been sitting by the fire, progressively feeling higher. There's no limit to this day. I've been sitting by the fire, progressively feeling higher. There's no limit to this day.

MARTIN: They got it.

CONTRERAS: Yeah - very cool sound.

MARTIN: Felix Contreras is the host of Alt Latino, NPR Music's podcast about Latino arts and culture. He's been in the thick of the music at this year's South By Southwest in Austin. Hey, Felix, thanks so much. Have fun.

CONTRERAS: Thank you. I'll try my best. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.