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Byline: Sandra Barrera Staff Writer

On a recent Monday morning in Ventura, Roco, singer of the pioneering Mexican alt-rock band Maldita Vecindad, is marveling at how far his genre has come since the late '80s.

Back then, the only gigs bands like his could get in the U.S. were small club dates or Cinco de Mayo festivals put on by Chicano cultural affairs groups, he says.

These days Maldita Vecindad finds itself sharing the same spotlight with compatriots Cafe Tacuba, Mexico's answer to the Talking Heads. The two recently performed at the Ventura Theatre as part of a nationwide tour that was orchestrated by the Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia.

``It's the big corporations that are building our scene now,'' Roco says.

He's onto something. In recent years, more of America's top advertising dollars have gone to footing the bill for tours featuring bands versed in the genre of Latin alternative.

This kaleidoscope of sounds ranging from urban regional to Puerto Rican- inspired reggae, hip-hop to metal, techno-pop to the singer-songwriter vein has even gained national exposure through TV ads.

For advertisers, it's a way of accessing the genre's mostly young, progressive fan base, which is part of a growing segment of the population sought after for its brand loyalty and spending power.

The hard cell

``The concert tours become overlays to product advertising,'' says Edithann Ramey, the U.S. Hispanic marketing manager for Nokia who organized the recent Latin alternative tour. ``What I like is we've talked to people on TV and in print, and now (the tour) brings the product alive.''

During the concert, fans could get their pictures taken on new Nokia 3205 phones and download MP3s of Mexican hip-hop act Control Machete, another featured performer on tour.

But the back-scratching goes both ways, as Ramey explains.

``These are bands that are popular but that aren't as mainstream as Shakira or Marc Anthony,'' she says, referring to the Latin crossover pop stars heard all over commercial radio, Spanish-language or not. ``These are bands that we could take to another level ... something that nobody else is bringing to the market.''

In the U.S., Latin alternative gets little if any radio airplay. The one station in Los Angeles that includes the music as a part of its day-to-day programming is KCRW-FM (89.9), the Santa Monica-based public radio giant.

There's also Indie 103.1 FM, which features the ``Red Zone'' Latin alternative show heard Tuesdays from 10 p.m. to midnight.

L.A. goes Latin alternative

But mostly the music is heard at concert venues across the U.S.

It's got enough presence in fact to warrant its own trade show, dubbed the Latin Alternative Music Conference. Regarded as the biggest gathering focused on Latin alternative music in the country, the conference gets under way for the second consecutive year in Los Angeles from Wednesday through Saturday with a series of free concerts.

They include the 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12 ``Women Who Rock'' show at the Santa Monica Pier, with performances by Andrea Echeverri of the Colombian pop group Aterciopelados, Mexican singer-songwriter Ely Guerra and L.A.'s bilingual pop band with a twist of new wave, Los Abandoned.

At 8 o'clock the following night, downtown's California Plaza hosts Latin electronic acts Bajofondo Tango Club (an ensemble whose members hail from Argentina and Uruguay) and Mexico's jazzier Nino Astronauta.

Latin Grammy nominee Kevin Johansen, the Argentine singer, shares the California Plaza stage with fellow nominees Superlitio of Colombia on the closing night of the conference.

``There's great music out there, and a lot of this does not get the exposure it should,'' says Tomas Cookman, who co-founded the LAMC in New York City five years ago to gain wider acceptance for the genre.

This year, the LAMC has expanded to include satellite events in Mexico City, Toronto and Buenos Aires in which powerful people that can green-light projects mix with artists, high-fliers and unfledged alike, all looking to stake their claim on what they are hoping will be the next big thing.

Ready to explode

``When I was at House of Blues Concerts, I saw groups like Jurassic 5 and Black Eyed Peas and OutKast go from being the opening band to selling out the Universal Amphitheatre,'' says John Pantle, a former talent buy who now represents bands such as Cafe Tacuba, Control Machete and Plastilina Mosh for the Agency Group. ``I see the exact same progression within Latin alternative market. I don't see any direction but up.''

Of course rock en Espanol impresarios have been saying this for at least a decade.

``Look, there is no world's largest thermometer like in Baker, Calif., that's ever going to tell you if Latin alternative music has made it,'' Pantle adds. ``The only thing we do know is who's investing in it, who believes in it and what the success stories are.''

One of those success stories belongs to Kinky, the Monterrey, Mexico- based electro-pop band that Rolling Stone magazine called ``feverishly danceable as a night in Ibiza.''

After blowing away advertisers during a showcase a few years ago, Kinky's songs have appeared in an avalanche of TV programs, movies and commercial spots - most notably one for Nissan that featured the song ``Mas,'' still a crowd-pleaser out on the road.

``You get a huge national promotion on a song on a commercial, and before you know it people in Indiana are humming your song,'' says Tom Baumgartner, who manages Kinky from his office in Los Angeles.

For all of its exposure, nobody in the band is driving a Ferrari just yet, although it has sold records and racked up a few Latin Grammy nominations in its four years together.

Hip Grammys

The Latin Grammys, now in their fifth year and broadcasting from the Shrine Auditorium Sept. 1 on CBS, have championed a number of alternative artists.

This year Kinky is in the running for best Latin alternative music album for ``Atlas,'' its sophomore release. Vying for the same trophy that night is Ozomatli, the Afro-Cuban, funk and hip-hop collective from L.A., and Plastilina Mosh, which hails from Kinky's hometown - and which soon will be singing jingles for Coors Light, just as beloved Mexican pop-rock band Mana did before it.

Plastilina Mosh was also recruited on behalf of the beer manufacturer for a nationwide tour with its fellow Latin Grammy contenders Ozomatli and Kinky, stopping at the Universal Amphitheatre on Sept. 3.

According to Jonaz Gonzalez, one-half of Plastilina Mosh, which includes programmer Alejandro Rosso, this is his band's second official tour of the U.S.

The first was in the late '90s as the opening act for DJ Spooky in front of about 50 people at Spaceland.

``We feel like amateurs,'' Gonzalez says.

The fact is that Plastilina Mosh would not be on the road supporting its Latin Grammy-nominated ``Hola Chicuelos'' if not for its playful, witty style of music.

``We live in a different economy over here in Mexico,'' Gonzalez says. ``It's not easy to get tour support from a label here, so this is our big chance to really put on a bigger, better show. This is our only tour support.''

Sandra Barrera, (818) 713-3728



6 photos


(1 -- 4 -- cover -- color) Clockwise from top: Cafe Tacuba, Kebo, Tren, Kinky

Dimitrios Kambouris/

(5 -- cover -- color) Pato of Control Machete

Michael Caulfield/

(6) For Jonaz Gonzalez, left, and Alejandro Rosso, who make up the band Plastilina Mosh, interest in alternative Latin music in the United States has translated into sponsorship dollars for a tour.

Kevin Mazur/
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 5, 2004

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