My latest article for L.A. Taco is now available! It’s an interview with Will Coleman, co-founder of Alto, a new rideshare company that is operating differently than its competition (y’know, like Uber and Lyft).
A critical aspect of Alto’s brand is that it hires drivers as employees as opposed to its competitors, who work with drivers as independent contractors. In addition, the company provides them with a uniform, including PPE, hours of training in defensive driving, and training in the “culture of the service model,” as Coleman describes it.
Employment also provides peace of mind to drivers who continue to contend with the efforts of many rideshare and gig economy companies to limit their pay and benefits. The fallout from the passage of Prop. 22 last year in California hasn’t been pretty, as noted inThe Guardian (“‘A slap in the face’: California Uber and Lyft drivers criticize pay cuts under Prop 22”),Protocol (“California gig workers say Prop. 22 isn’t delivering promised benefits”),VICE (“Uber Shuts Down App That Told Drivers If Uber Underpaid Them”), andBusiness Insider (“Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig companies said California’s Prop 22 would create opportunity for workers of color. A new study says it ‘legalized racial subordination.’”).
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.
My childhood just died of joy, went to heaven, and was promptly resurrected just to enjoy this news all over again. Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, is now a real-life, 19″ robot toy!
Optimus comes to life thanks to the talented minds and hands at Robosen Robotics via license by Hasbro. This Optimus is based on the Generation 1 version, a.k.a. the BEST version, and features 80 different sound effects, 25 voice-activated commands, and TRANSFORMS like in the cartoon (maybe better?!). It also includes an app that is fully customizable to command the toy with.
“We are thrilled to collaborate with Hasbro and look forward to ushering in a new standard of robotics with the most advanced TRANSFORMERS robots for consumers ever created,” said Sean Tang, Director of Robosen USA. “The team is working hard to deliver an amazing user experience for fans of this esteemed franchise and produce TRANSFORMERS that will be a premium addition to their collection with its superior functionality.”
My latest piece for KCET Artbound is my interview with artist/activist Julio Salgado. His work took off nearly a decade ago when he created his series of portraits of queer, undocumented activists titled “Undocuqueer.”
The purpose behind the series is to remind people that the bulk of the work in pushing the national conversation on immigrants’ rights, in planning and executing protests and all the other unglamorous, behind-the-scenes work was done by UndocuQueers. It’s also to expand the conversation behind the perceptions of who these immigrants affected by these laws and policies are.
On multiple occasions, Salgado has had to educate numerous people about the diversity of people who identify/are labeled as undocumented. In one such instance, he and others traveled by bus from California to Washington D.C. for a massive march on the capitol.
“A lot of them were faith-based groups,” recalls Salgado. “There were some immigrants who were very homophobic that would say homophobic things and, like, how do you navigate those spaces? You have to educate people, which I don’t have a problem with that. Working in kitchens with a lot of immigrant men and their machismo, you learn how to use humor.”
“That’s why I started making those pieces,” he continues. “It was for our communities to understand that if we’re talking about accepting people or creating policy that doesn’t criminalize us, we can think about other folks who are also part of our communities.”
We’re past the one-year mark of this horrid and frustrating pandemic. Those initial months filled with angst & fear from the (somewhat slightly still) unpredictable nature of the novel coronavirus forced me to make numerous changes in my life, including to my thesis, that set me back at least half a year but, hey: boats against the current and all that!
The good news is that it all appears to be coming to an end. I received the first dose of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine already. Many of my family members & dozens of friends (some of whom survived COVID though a few their loved ones, friends, & co-workers did not) have received their doses as well.
Music played a role in getting me through it all (as it did last year). There weren’t any live shows to enjoy but plenty of new releases to listen to! Here’s a shortlist of artists/music I’ve listened to recently. May it captivate you as it captivated me in this continually strange time!
Antifragile – Abraxas
Antifragile is the first “artist” and first release at Spirit Bomb, a record label whose founders want to build a roster of “digital” artists. In this case, Antifragile is a weird, goat-headed creature that bears a slight resemblance to the Icon Of Sin from the DOOM franchise whose music is composed by Eye Contakt (Autry Fulbright and Mark Pagly).
Costa Rican producer Barzo has been incredibly busy for more than a year now. He released an album with numerous singles & videos last year, many of which were collaborations with other Latin American artists: Nakury, La Dame Blanche, El Individuo, and Un Rojo Reggae Band, to name a few. His latest is also a collaboration: Bahía feat. Pahua a.k.a. Pau Sotomayor of Sotomayor. Their track is an electronic banger that is a hypnotic and psychedelic tropical banger for the hopefully mostly pandemic-free summer that awaits us.
Bomba Estéreo – Agua
“Agua” is the first single off Bomba Estéreo’s upcoming new album, Deja. The duo of Simón Mejía & Li Saumet. Check out the single on Spotify which comes with two additional tracks: “Deja” and “Soledad.”
Also of note is their work on the documentary film Sonic Forest (which you can watch below), which “showcases the inspiring journey of Simón Mejía, founder of Latin music sensation Bomba Estéreo, as he travels deep into the jungles and mountains of the Colombian Pacific to discover the richness of Earth’s most megadiverse places through its local music and its people: indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities who work every day to preserve their territories.”
When I say that this album is heavy, I mean it both sonically and emotionally. It’s political, instrumental drone/doom metal courtesy of Takiaya Reed (Black & Tsalagi [Cherokee]) & Sylvie Nehill (Māori) that they create “to undermine and destroy the white supremacist colonial framework and to fight for Indigenous Sovereignty, Black and Indigenous Liberation, Water, Earth, and Indigenous land given back.”
There’s also a bit of spoken-word poetry on “Did You Have Something To Do With It” by Minori Sanchez-Fung that lays it all out on the table:
This is our time The legacy of greed has grown from its seed To infiltrate every place Every face
Releasing a suffering recorded in Stone And in bone So old that language can’t console it
This was the blow which we struck At first without knowing how deep it would grow. It would grow Into a frightening history that fractures hope
First, by attacking the body And then, by distorting the mind
It would grow And force us to question if we are a part Of this world or its affliction.
Whether our addiction to power will consume the beauty that was once our birthright
This is our time What is certain, is life Growing out of itself greater than the moment before Within us, around us, in spite of us.
Proving we can’t control The thing that brought us up from the cold and will press us back like flowers into the mold. We are tethered to a circuit that excludes nothing a song the dead can hear. Something resilient forming all Something that makes time small. So old, that language can’t dispose of it
Still gold over the violence. Don’t forget, this too, this too, is our time Our spirit is not weaker, it is waiting on us to decide What it is, that we will honour while we are alive.
Listen/watch the single “Denial” shot by Amber Beaton:
LASTMONDAY – YOUNOWUTÁMEAN
Another artist who hasn’t slowed down throughout the pandemic is the Bronx Dominican LASTMONDAY who stays killing the game with his beats, flow, and bilingual Spanglish rhymes! He released a slew of singles, videos, and a mixtape, Yo, Tigerito!, throughout the pandemic last year. This latest song/vid was shot in Atlanta a year after dude & his crew were stuck in Miami during the first lockdown.
La Vida Boheme – Fr€€$$r
Last year saw the quartet from Caracas (long since based in CDMX) release nearly a half-dozen tracks that were ultimately compiled into the EP titled Fr€€$$r. The album shows off the group’s range and the sonic territory they’ve covered since their debut. The album is also the first in a planned release of trilogy of EPs
The band also unveiled a 40-minute concert film titled Tiempo Compartido composed of live & alternate versions of seven songs from their repertoire:
Mexican Institute Of Sound – Distrito Federal
This latest work by Camilo Lara, head honcho creative of M.I.S., is an ode and soundtrack to Ciudad Mexico (Mexico City) formerly known as the Distrito Federal; hence the album title. Speaking of which, y’all ever eaten a pambazo? I recommend ’em!
Below is the lyric video to “Se Compran,” the opening track on the album:
I also recommend listening to the interview between Lara and Felix Contreras at Alt. Latino.
Miki Gonzalez – ZAP XXXX
a.k.a. Juan Manuel González Mascías. This guy has a long history recording and performing music that began in the rock scene in the 1980s. He started blending electronic music with Andean & Afro-Peruvian music in the mid-aughts & hasn’t stopped since (this track a case in point!).
Mogwai – As The Love Continues
The Scottish (mostly) instrumental rock band is back with As The Love Continues. The album arrives on the band’s 25th anniversary.
The best/easiest way to get acquiainted with the group (besides diving headfirst into their discography) is to read Andrew Parks’ retrospective piece on the band: A Guide to 25 Years of Mogwai.
“They aren’t always meant to be funny,” explains Braithwaite. “More random than anything else. I think being Scottish, we have a real aversion to pretentiousness, and it’s so easy to slip into that realm making instrumental music. We’ve always been wary of doing that. I think after a while people stop thinking about the words in song titles and just think of the song itself. I do anyway.”
Watch the video for single “Ritchie Sacramento” below:
Vudufa – South American Loa
Vudufa is the other musical project of Peruvian Hip-Hop duo Pounda & Nomodico who are continuing in the new tradition of Cumbia Darks aka Afro-Peruvian Dark Electronic Cumbia (a mouthful if there were ever one!) in the vein of Dengue Dengue Dengue, Animal Chuki, Deltratron, Tribilin Sound, & others.
Math-rock is back…or it never left? I honestly don’t know but I’m always happy to listen to some new math-rock. Such is the case with “Desierto,” the latest song by Peruvian group Wanderlust. It’s an uplifting anthem written specifically for these times. Listen & feel your anxiety float away!