Another October/November brought another Día de Muertos festival at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. This year’s edition was my first time attending since 2017. The event was packed with people, but not as dense since it was split in half:a daytime festival focused on cultural, family events and a nighttime festival focused on live music.
As in years past, the altars were amazing, the food was delicious and the music was incredible. It was great to finally watch Ed Maverick perform live in concert after years of being a fan of his work. Here is an excerpt I wrote about Maverick and the festival:
Maverick didn’t have too much to say between songs and let his music do most of the talking. However, when he did speak to the crowd, he had to pause with a smile and wait for the lull between screaming and cheering fans to be heard. He ended the night with a lengthy guitar solo that cemented his newfound status as a rock star and new king of the sad boys.
Café Tacvba arrived to town this past weekend and it was one of the best concert performances I’ve seen in my entire life. I wrote a short recap of the night for LA Taco.
Here’s an excerpt:
After eight songs, all classics re-envisioned for acoustic performance, Jerzaín Vargas (trumpet) and a brass band joined them on stage for a trio of songs, starting with “La Muerte Chiquita.” Gustavo Santaolalla also made an appearance to play a charango during “Olita de Altamar.” The gasps and applause that emanated from the audience when the stage lights revealed his face would have one believe that royalty had mysteriously coagulated from mist.
The artists at Daptone, such as Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Antibalas, Charles Bradley, Menahan Street Band and The Sugarman 3, to name but a few, were at the tip of a steadily rising wave of a new generation of soul artists. The Dap-Kings even found themselves working for a time for the late Amy Winehouse. They recorded most of “Back to Black” with her and producer Mark Ronson in the studio and performed with her as her stage band on many occasions.
The stature of an artist like Winehouse coupled with the general misunderstanding of soul music as a product of a bygone era provided Lipsky with some challenges when she set out to write “It Ain’t Retro.” She initially wrote the book as a scene study of soul music but had a difficult time selling it to a publisher.
“After working on that for some time, it turns out it was too broad and too niche,” she explains by phone. “No one wanted to buy it and I had to pivot. A lot of the time, the people that are making these editorial decisions, be it in publishing or in journalism, this really isn’t their bag. Soul music is Motown and it’s oldies and that’s pretty much it. Then there was Amy Winehouse and that’s pretty much it. My experience was that a lot of folks didn’t really think that there is a market for telling these stories.”
“Lucha libre is something very dear and personal to all Mexicans,” continues Arau. “All of my work, be it music, animation, film or art, is about popular Mexican culture and lucha libre is one of the most visible things there is. Compare that with the culture here, the gringo culture, where a mask is usually something associated with terrorism, with sadomasochism. There’s no tradition behind it whereas in all of Mexico, the Indigenous communities use masks, all of the fiestas in every state utilize masks, there are museums dedicated to masks made of different materials. For us, masks are something very natural.”
The space features a store that sells custom lucha libre merchandise including apparel such as shirts, hats and leggings printed in-house at the Republic of Lucha Print Shop. There are small baskets filled with plastic-mold action figures of masked wrestlers. Two large, glass cases contain mannequin heads adorned with various wrestling masks worn in official matches by wrestlers such as Fenix, Penta, Psycho Clown, Tinieblas Jr., and others, all for sale. They also host the Lucha Movie Club most Saturdays each month when the rooftop is converted into an outdoor movie theater to screen classic lucha libre films, such as the ones featuring El Santo and Blue Demon, and more.
My latest for KCET is my interview with a half-dozen artists who are part of a new wave of souldies artists. Souldies, a.k.a. Chicano Soul, has a distinct flair and sound that’s also connected to a specific cultural context, which I write briefly about in the story.
The familial connection to the music and the culture is one shared by nearly all the artists involved in this resurgence of oldies music. Samano recalls his parents putting artists such as The Delfonics and Brenton Wood on heavy rotation during his childhood. Lane grew up on gospel and studied “the pillars of northern soul” while studying music in college. Garcia’s father had a record collection that included Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells and Brenton Wood plus dozens of doo-wop artists.
The same goes for Vicky Tafoya, founder and singer of Vicky Tafoya and the Big Beat, who grew up surrounded by the sounds of doo-wop, big band and Motown. As the youngest of 12 children, she inherited the vinyl records that each one of her siblings left behind as they moved out. She became completely enamored with the music and had a life-changing experience in 1989 when she joined The Doo-Wop Society of Southern California. It was there that she would spend years watching and even performing acapella doo-wop on the same stage as the artists she listened to obsessively at home: Vernon Green and The Medallions, The Teenagers, The Six Teens, The Chantelles and many other legendary artists.