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Kumbia Queers: Cumbia Is More Punk Than Punk

Six girl punk rockers got together one day and decided to start a side project, just for fun.

But Ali Gua Gua, the lead vocalist, refused to start another rock band. She believed rock had gotten too fancy, too conservative, and too macho.

So they decided to go form a cumbia cover band and call themselves las Kumbia Queers. Latino USA interviewed vocalists Ali Gua Gua and Juana Chang.

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Kumbia Queers vocalists Ali Gua Gua (left) and Juana Chang (right). Ali and Juana also play the charango and the guiro, typical cumbia instruments. Photo by Flikr user Montecruz.

They released their first album, Kumbia Nena! in 2007, queering up classics like The Smith’s ‘Lovesong’ (‘Kumbia Dark’), Black Sabbath’s Iron Man (‘Chica de Metal’ or ‘Iron Girl’) and even Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’ (“La Isla con Chicas”, or ‘The Island With Chicks’).

The side project became a hit in Latin America, and their interest in cumbia just kept growing. For their second album, La gran estafa del tropi-punk (‘The Great Swindle of Tropi-Punk’), the Kumbia Queers teamed up with Pablo Lescano, the “godfather” of Argentine cumbia villera, an urban style of cumbia born in the shantytowns of Buenos Aires. Lescano produced the album and mentored the Kumbia Queers in the ways of urban cumbia.

For their latest album, Pecados Tropicales (‘Tropical Sins’), they decided to go back to their DIY roots.

Like other queers before them, the Kumbia Queers have been out to disrupt the disruptors. They’ve gotten backlash from the very male-dominated Latin American rock community.

 

Kumbia Queers in concert. Photo by Flikr user Montecruz.

Kumbia Queers in concert. Photo by Flikr user Montecruz.

 

MAKING THEM ANGRY

“All the rockers started getting angry because we touched their precious The Cure or their precious Black Sabbath,” says Ali Gua Gua.  “In that way it’s good to find that playing cumbia is more punk than playing punk.”

They’ve also been booed off the stage with lesbophobic insults when opening for traditional cumbieros. But the Kumbia Queers thrive in the backlash. They’re used to being picked on for being different, queer, and the criticism fuels their punky spirit.

The Kumbia Queers took up the word queer as a rebellion against labels. But it’s not queer theory or queer issues that interest them. Politically, las chicas are very committed to changing the situation of women in Latin America. “I hope we encourage queer Latino women to do whatever they want to do,” says Ali Gua Gua.

In the US, different forms of cumbia play at parties and concert venues organized by queer Latinos. The Kumbia Queers’ message resonates with the queer Latino communities in California, Texas, Chicago and New York, where they visited on their 2014 US tour.

“We know it’s really hard for Latino people, they have to resist a lot,” says Juana Chang, vocalist and charango player. “People were really grateful for us being here because they had a little space of Latin Americanity.

Las Kumbia Queers are Ali Gua Gua and Juana Chang on vocals, Pat Combat-Rocker on the bass, Flor Linyera on the keyboard, Ines Pektor on the drums and Pilar Zombie on the guitar. Ali and Juana also play the charango and the guiro.

Photo courtesy of Kumbia Queers website

 

 

 

Snow In Africa: A Puerto Rican’s Musical Dream

By the time he was twenty-one, J.T. Lopez had the kind of success many musicians can only dream of. He was a highly sought after session player in his native Puerto Rico, playing gigs and touring with some of the island’s top musicians. But he gave it all up to follow his own beat.

Photo by Maria Loewenstein

Get a peek of J.T.’s new band, Snow In Africa.

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photo_dbockDiane Bock produces stories for public radio. She’s inspired by this quote from Pete Seeger: “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”

 

 

Chicano Rock Bigfoot: Little Julian Hererra

Little Julian Hererra was a heartthrob singer in East L.A.’s rock and R&B music scene. But one day, he disappeared, taking with him the secrets behind his identity and his fate.

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Alex Schmidt is an independent radio reporter and producer as well as a digital strategist. She is an alum of WHYY in Philadelphia, 20th Television, The New Yorker and other fine outlets. Alex currently lives in, and is a native of Los Angeles, though she has familial roots in both Mexico and Eastern Europe — much like Little Julian Herrera.

Eugene Hutz’ Pura Vida Conspiracy

Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz talks with Maria Hinojosa about how Latin music has influenced him, living life across borders, and his band’s new album, Pura Vida Conspiracy. (LGT Amazon discount site thru 12/31).

Eugene Hutz shared 3 acoustic versions of his songs exclusively with Latino USA.

 Klavs Bo Christensen/AFP/Getty Images

The Chicano Elvis

For almost 25 years, Robert Lopez has been putting on an Elvis suit and becoming El Vez, the Mexican Elvis. Performing as an Elvis “interpreter” started out as a dare when Lopez was an art gallery owner in Los Angeles, but the act has become a loopy tribute to The King and other rock icons, as well as tongue-in-cheek vehicle to reference Chicano culture and politics. It’s equal parts homage and satire.

Lopez describes his alter ego this way: “It’s like if Liberace taught Chicano Studies, if Viva Las Vegas became Viva la Raza.”

El Vez has done many themed shows, including “El Vez for Prez” in 2008. But his “Mex-Mas” show is one of the most popular, and he tours with it every year. “I put a mustache on white Christmas,” said Lopez, who tweaks the Irving Berlin classic song and sings, “I’m dreaming of a Brown Christmas.”

El Vez official site here. For 2013 Mex-Mas tour dates, go here.

 

 

Nadia Reiman has been a radio producer since 2005. Before joining the Latino USA team, Nadia produced for StoryCorps for almost five years. Her work there on 9/11 stories earned her a Peabody Award. She has also mixed audio for animations, one which won a DuPont award, hosted podcasts, and has guest hosted and produced for Afropop Worldwide on PRI. Nadia has also produced for None on Record editing and mixing stories of queer Africans, and worked on a Spanish language radio show called Epicentro based out of Washington DC. She graduated from Kenyon College with a double major in International Studies and Spanish Literature.

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of Randall-Michelson

Xmas Jollies Playlist

No holiday is complete with a good holiday playlist, so Maria Hinojosa talks with prominent music journalist Bill Adler about this year’s iteration of his annual Xmas Jollies Mix CD, a collection of rare, obscure, dug up Christmas tunes that he’s gathered over the years. Adler discusses his favorite Latin picks from the Jollies CD and shares his secret behind how he finds his music.

 

 

bill adlerBill Adler is a music journalist and a former Def Jam publicist. At Def Jam he worked with artists like Kurtis Blow, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J and De La Soul. As a journalist he has written for the Rolling Stone, People Magazine, High Times, The Boston Herald and The Village Voice.

 

 

 

This Week’s Captions: LOST & FOUND

THIS WEEK’S SHOW:

On the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Latino USA visits Staten Island, where the storm caused severe losses in immigrant communities. We’ll examine echoes of Sandy’s effects in Colorado’s recent floods, hear about people of Hatian descent who have lost their citizenship in the Dominican Republic, hear the tales of immigrants deported, saved from detention, and saving an indigenous Mexican language. Also: why radio is important, especially in emergencies, two musical oddysseys, and some words of wisdom from a Marine who recovers the long lost.

ABOUT CAPTIONING:

Latino USA, the foremost Latino voice in public media and the longest running Latino-focused program on radio, is the first radio program to commence equal-access distribution via Captioning for Radio. “Research has shown that Latino children have a higher incidence of hearing loss and deafness than other populations,” according to Latino USA’s Anchor & Executive Producer Maria Hinojosa. “When the opportunity to break this sound barrier came to our attention, we were pleased to embrace this new technology developed by NPR Labs and Towson University for the thousands of Latinos with serious hearing loss.”

The International Center for Accessible Radio Technology (ICART), a strategic alliance between NPR and Towson University, is co-directed by Mike Starling of NPR and Ellyn Sheffield of Towson University.

For each week’s captioning, check back on http://latinousa.org/captions.

Brazilian Choro Music Makes A Comeback

An improvisational style of Brazilian music called choro makes a comeback in Washington, DC. Meet the band “DC Choro.” David Schulman reports.

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David Schulman at Storm King 2David Schulman‘s work as an audio producer includes serving as senior producer of BBC Americana 2009-2011, and creating and producing Musicians in their Own Words, a series of radio portraits that has twice been awarded national CPB grants. Featured performers include Poncho Sanchez, Yo-Yo Ma, and the late Bo Diddley. Close to 70 of David’s features have aired nationally on NPR, PRI and APM (Morning Edition, All Things Considered, The Story, Hearing Voices, and other programs). He was awarded the Best Documentary: Silver Award at the 2004 Third Coast International Audio Festival, and has been a guest artist at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Also an electric violinist and composer, David’s solo performances have been described as “spontaneous and completely unique” by Washington City Paper. He loves to create and perform music for modern dance, and also makes soundbeds for radio, podcasts, theater, and video. His debut album can be heard at quietlifemotel.com. More info at schulmancreative.com.

Jarana Beat Will Make You Dance

Reporter Willis Ryder Arnold introduces us to Jarana Beat, a New York fusion band that plays everything from a Spanish gypsy guitar to a donkey jawbone.

Photo courtesy of Jarana Beat

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C2_JaranaBeat_Willis_Headshot_CredWillis

Willis Ryder Arnold is a multimedia journalist specializing in radio reporting and photojournalism. He currently lives in Brooklyn. More of his work can be found at willisryderarnold.com.

This Week’s Captions: LIVE IN SACRAMENTO

THIS WEEK’S SHOW:

Latino USA is on the road and brings you this week’s show live from Sacramento. Host Maria Hinojosa interviews Californians about art and activism, writing and radio, and how the growth of California’s Latino population may indicate how the rest of the country adapts as Latinos become the largest minority.

ABOUT CAPTIONING:

Latino USA, the foremost Latino voice in public media and the longest running Latino-focused program on radio, is the first radio program to commence equal-access distribution via Captioning for Radio. “Research has shown that Latino children have a higher incidence of hearing loss and deafness than other populations,” according to Latino USA’s Anchor & Executive Producer Maria Hinojosa. “When the opportunity to break this sound barrier came to our attention, we were pleased to embrace this new technology developed by NPR Labs and Towson University for the thousands of Latinos with serious hearing loss.”

The International Center for Accessible Radio Technology (ICART), a strategic alliance between NPR and Towson University, is co-directed by Mike Starling of NPR and Ellyn Sheffield of Towson University.

For each week’s captioning, check back on http://latinousa.org/captions.

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