The third Pachanga Latino Music Festival this year fills Fiesta Gardens with an impressively diverse slate of artists that proves 'Latino music' is about as useful a descriptor as straight-up 'music.' From family-friendly Tejano acts like Roberto Pulido to up-and-coming objects of hipster affection like Bomba Estéreo, this year's fiesta has a little something for everyone. We talked to three of the festival's best young bands, from a San Antonio rock quartet that gives a shout-out to sublimely sugary soda Big Red in their album title to a duo whose guitarist and keyboard player began his musical career by banging on cans in the Dominican Republic.
8:30 to 9:30 p.m., Patio Stage
Family affair Hacienda - a San Antonio quartet featuring Dante Schwebel and cousins Jaime, Rene and Abraham Villanueva - spent a healthy portion of 2009 opening for themselves. As the backing band for Ohio blues-rocker Dan Auerbach - one half of beloved duo the Black Keys - Hacienda toured the country performing in front of crowds that sometimes numbered into the thousands, as at last year's Austin City Limits Music Festival. Night after night they brought their enthusiastic, Beach Boys-meets-Sir Douglas Quintet '60s rock 'n' roll to critical crowds, turned around and went backstage, and then returned minutes later to rapturous applause.
'It's a little strange in that you'd come out as Hacienda, and everybody's got their arms crossed and they're giving you that look, like 'Prove it to me. Prove that you're good enough.' And then we'd get all sweaty, go back and change and try and look cool again, and you'd walk out with Dan Auerbach behind you and everybody loves you,' said guitarist and singer Schwebel, 29. 'And you're like "I'm the same guy, man! You were really giving it to me earlier!" '
Auerbach's recommendation's gone a long way toward establishing Hacienda's bona fides as one of the best up-and-coming rock bands out of San Antonio. The bearded one also produced debut album 'Loud Is the Night' and this year's follow-up 'Big Red and Barbacoa,' but the foursome have earned their steady ascent wholly apart from props from any indie darlings. Hacienda mix sun-dappled harmonies with memorable guitar lines for a striking retro-rock sound that make them one of the most compelling acts coming out of Central Texas today.
And it's a sound that began for one primary reason: jealousy, spurned on by Schwebel and Abraham Villanueva spending hours in the company of Jaime and Rene's high school band the Asteroids.
'They played, like, house parties. But Abe and I would go and hang out, take pictures and things, help them carry the amps,' said Schwebel. 'So we'd go to these little high school parties and we were jealous, man. So we were like "All right, we can beat this. Let's start a band, you and me."'
The band they formed ultimately included Jaime and Rene Villanueva, whose high school band fell apart, as high school bands are wont to do. An early round of demos recorded by the quartet began making the rounds among independent record labels. Fat Possum Records emerged as an early pursuer of the band, and booked them for a 2007 South by Southwest showcase at Stubb's (they ultimately wound up on Alive Records). Hacienda's members already had stars in their eyes, and, Schwebel says, were shocked at just how easy it was to make it in the music business.
'And within about six months we were well aware with how shrewd the music business was,' said Schwebel with a laugh. 'It was a little scary at one point because I'd given up everything to try this music thing out, when there was so much interest in the band. But then there was some loss of interest. And we were like "You guys came to us! I was working at a ranch! I was doing fine!" After that we kind of took the approach of not trusting anybody.'
Instead, they poured hours into practice, attempting to ape the live precision of one of the group's favorite bands, Booker T. and the MG's. They played regular Austin gigs, especially at Beerland. And a demo passed along to Auerbach by Jaime during a Black Keys sound check paid off, as Auerbach contacted the band and offered to record their first album at his Akron, Ohio, studio.
Auerbach's diligent production guided the band, as did their first tourmates, Philadelphia's similarly old-school rockers Dr. Dog, who provided guest vocals on 'Loud Is The Night.' Auerbach also introduced the band to the Sir Douglas Quintet - a longtime comparison point for Hacienda's sound that the band themselves had no familiarity with.
'We weren't aware of them until Dan told us about them. We went to record the first record and Dan said "We gotta cut a Sir Douglas Quintet song," and we were like "Yeah, who's that?"' recalled Schwebel. 'And Dan was like "Are y'all serious? You're like a carbon copy of that band!" I'm convinced the only reason we're backing him up is because he wants to be Doug Sahm. He needs some Texas guys behind him to look the part.'
9:30 to 10:30 p.m., Hierba Stage.
When Simón Mejia first started chucking together traditional Latin folk rhythms and electronic beats under the name Bomba Estéreo - 'Stereo Bomb' - he considered his ambitions modest. A longtime music fan and visual artist based in Bogotá, Colombia, he approached Bomba Estéreo as a solo project and an opportunity to blend the grooves of Colombian cumbia music with the electronica he'd grown so fond of as an active player in the city's underground DJ scene. Adding a regular singer wasn't even on his radar.
'It started with me putting together some DJ beats with cumbia sounds and a little Tropicalia pop music,' said Mejia, 32, referring to the short-lived but influential Brazilian musical movement of the late '60s and early '70s. 'I was working with another Colombian DJ, and when we played things live, yeah, we invited some people to flow to the music. But it was more of a kind of instrumental, electronic project.'
That all changed with the addition of spitfire Liliana Saumet. Mejia met Saumet while auditioning guest vocalists for Bomba Estéreo's debut full-length album and found immediate chemistry with the fierce singer, who paired the fiery delivery of M.I.A. with the traditional talent of famous Colombian singer Totó La Momposina.
'It was really, really strange. We met that day and the same day I knew we should keep on working together. It was, like, immediate,' Mejia said. 'The special thing about her is that she has a style that organically combines the traditional way of folk woman singers in Colombia with hip-hop flows. She has a way of doing hip-hop flows that's very Colombian. Because she's not a freestyler. She's not a rapper.'
Saumet took her place as Bomba Estéreo's lead singer, and with last year's debut album 'Blow Up,' the band … well, blew up, with a global sleeper hit in the fetching 'Fuego' and a series of buzz-building shows at this year's South by Southwest Music Festival. The now-quintet is one of an increasing army of Latin American bands that combine traditional regional folk and dance styles with electronic beats and 21st century flourishes.
'In the '90s, there was a big rush in Latin rock bands which were really strong, but focused in on Western rock. It took some time to stop looking at the foreign things and to start looking at our own identity. Not just focusing on foreign tendencies, but taking those sounds and mixing them with something that was more us,' Mejia said. 'And all this traditional music, especially in Colombia, comes from Africa and is very related with electronica. You can compare their rhythm patterns. They're both dance music. From different contexts, yes, but they link very well together.'
Bomba Estéreo also will perform an in-store at 5 p.m. Sunday at End of an Ear, 2209 S. First St.
7:30 to 8:30 p.m., Hierba Stage.
Ramon Nova and Maya Martinez - better known as the bilingual funk fusion duo Pacha Massive - both were born outside the United States, in the Dominican Republic and Colombia, respectively. But each considers their musical birthplace the global multicultural melting pot of New York City, where Nova's family immigrated when he was 16 and Martinez when she was 2.
'When I came to New York it was really cool, because I loved the way people here didn't care if you looked punk or hip-hop. As a kid coming from the Dominican Republic, being into people like Run-DMC or Guns N' Roses - everybody was used to that here, but over there it was kind of rebellious,' said Nova.
Both picked up instruments at an early age - Martinez started with the violin at 9 and fell in love with the bass in her teens, eventually spending a few years in Cuba to study the classical bass. And Martinez started even younger, pounding on cans as a child long before his family could afford instruments, eventually moving on to guitar, keys and nearly anything else he could get his hands on.
The two met through a mutual friend in 2005 and pioneered Pacha Massive as an outfit that blended Colombian cumbia, Dominican palo and modern electronica and rock, with bilingual lyrics. Martinez fielded bass duties, while Nova played keys and guitar and produced. They started with an intimidating first gig in Madison Square Garden ('That's one of the things you say when you're a teenager playing in your bedroom or garage,' said Nova. 'You're just like "One day I'm going to play Madison Square Garden, just you watch!"'). 2007's debut 'All Good Things' drew critical praise and landed the band in the company of other swinging, citizens-of-the-world outfits like Ozomatli and Café Tacuba.
Nova attributes their diversity of sound to the ever-present collision of styles found in the duo's base of operations.
'New York's kind of the place where you actually get exposed to a little of every culture and every kind of music,' said Nova. 'It either makes you hate everything or makes you love it all, and we loved it all and embraced it all.'
Their follow-up album to 'All Good Things,' last year's 'If You Want It,' continues their debut's theme of optimism and its impressive sonic diversity. The album includes a plethora of guest female vocalists and an intoxicating cocktail of musical styles. Perhaps that's to be expected from Nova, who's more likely to cite Bruce Lee or Benjamin Franklin as influences than any actual musicians. He's a thinker who conceives of art across styles, platforms and mediums.
'Ever throughout my life I've been drawing or sculpting or making some kind of noise or something. For our albums I've been directing and editing the videos and the special effects, too,' said Nova. 'For me art is more of a holistic thing than just music. I don't even consider myself a musician, I don't know what the heck is going on up there. I just love to create. That's all I know.'
Pacha Massive will also perform in store at Waterloo Records, 600 N. Lamar Blvd., at 5 p.m. Friday.
12:30 to 1:10 p.m.: 24-7. A young blues funk outfit fronted by brothers Nikko and Mateo Vallejo - nephews to Austin's older, more famous set of Vallejo brothers.
1:40 to 2:30 p.m.: Vitera. Big guitars, big vocals and big rock violin define this Austin Latin rock quintet fronted by Haydn Vitera.
3 to 4 p.m.: Tortilla Factory. Tony 'Ham' Guerrero's famous Chicano outfit that ruled Texas in the '70s and returned in 2007 to critical acclaim and a Grammy nomination for 2008's 'All That Jazz.'
4:30 to 5:30 p.m.: Y La Orkestra. Organizer Rich Garza has repeatedly described this band as 'Tucson's Grupo Fantasma,' and if that doesn't intrigue you, you're at the wrong festival.
6 to 7 p.m.: Mariachi Las Alteñas. Possibly the highlight of last year's Pachanga, this all-woman mariachi group knows how to work a crowd better than any other band at the festival.
7:30 to 8:45 p.m.: Grupo Fantasma featuring Larry Harlow. Austin's go-to Latin funk masters team up with frequent collaborator Harlow, who produced more than 200 albums for legendary salsa label Fania Records.
9:15 to 10:30 p.m.: Roberto Pulido y Los Clasicos. A Tejano legend for more than three decades running.
Chicano Soul Café
5:30 to 6 p.m.: Willie Alvarado. An up-and-coming San Angelo singer with an enchanting voice who brings a modern spin to Mexican standards.
7 to 7:40 p.m.: Bombasta. An expansive collective of musicians from San Antonio who blend cumbia, reggae, Latin funk and hip-hop with a dash of political awareness.
8:45 to 9:15 p.m.: DJ Dus. A Corpus Christi DJ who knows a thing or two about spearheading dance parties.
Niños Rock Pachanga
1 to 1:30 p.m.: Drumming workshop with Alex Vallejo.
2 to 2:30 p.m.: Songwriting workshop with Davíd Garza.
3 to 3:30 p.m.: Violin workshop with Haydn Vitera.
2 to 2:40 p.m.: Brian Lopez. A mercurial guitarist, singer and songwriter who fronts space rock outfit Mostly Bears and also plays with Y La Orkestra.
3:20 to 4:10 p.m.: Brownout. The even-funkier, largely instrumental side project of Grupo Fantasma.
5 to 5:50 p.m.: Pilar Diaz. An ethereal and elusive singer-songwriter whom you've propbably heard without even knowing it - she's a longtime collaborator with Danny Elfman and sings on his 'Spider-Man' scores.
6:40 to 7:30 p.m.: Davíd Garza. Austin's man of a thousand hats, all of them hopelessly groovy.
8:30 to 9:30 p.m.: Hacienda. Four catchy, Beach Boys-channeling retro-rock revivalists from San Antonio.
1:15 to 2 p.m.: Piñata Protest. It takes some serious guts to pull off accordion punk, but this San Antonio quartet makes the gimmick work.
2:40 to 3:20 p.m.: Amplified Heat. Sometimes psychedelic, sometimes bluesy, but always one of Austin's hardest-rocking trios.
4:10 to 5 p.m.: Vallejo. The supremely reliable Latin rock outfit began in Alabama but have been pleasing Austin since the early '90s.
5:50 to 6:40 p.m.: Girl In a Coma. A rock trio from San Antonio that has picked up props from Morrissey, Frank Black, Tegan and Sara and others for their infectious hooks.
7:30 to 8:30 p.m.: Pacha Massive. A bilingual Dominican Republic-and-Colombia-by-way-of-New York duo that pile on every sound they can think of, to great effect.
9:30 to 10:30 p.m.: Bomba Estéreo. One of South by Southwest's biggest and best buzz acts, a Colombian outfit that blends traditional cumbia with electronica and has a captivating front woman in Liliana Saumet.
Pachanga Latino Music Festival
When: Gates at noon Saturday
Where: Fiesta Gardens, 2101 Jesse Segovia St.