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KUT's Crockett talks Latin music and more

Nancy Flores
nflores@statesman.com
People who grow up in Texas typically get their first taste of Latin sounds through conjunto or Tejano music, then later experience other Latin music styles, Michael Crockett says.

The musical journey begins in Brazil; then it explores the sounds of Argentina, winds through the Andes and wraps up in the rhythmic Caribbean region, with occasional stopovers in places like Mexico or Spain.

Our musical travel guide knows the journey well. As host of KUT's weekly "Horizontes" radio program for 22 years, Michael Crockett has exposed the best of Latin American music to Austin, and he's also seen Austin's own Latin music scene evolve and explode in popularity.

Crockett, who estimates about 40 to 50 Latin music bands call Austin home, has earned his nickname DJ Canoso (gray-haired DJ) after 30 years in the music industry. The 56-year-old Texas native juggles DJ gigs and radio shows with artist management and consulting for world music record companies.

In the early 1970s, Crockett left Houston and arrived in the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital ready to experience Austin's counterculture. Along the way he became "a crazy nut for anything sung, written or filmed in Spanish or Portuguese."

With "Horizontes," Crockett orchestrates a musical balancing act between his more traditional Latin music fans, some who have been loyal listeners since the show's on-air debut 35 years ago, and those hungry for modern beats fused with Latin flavor.

"It's like going to dances in Latin America," Crockett says. "The grandparents are there, the parents are there, and so are the grandkids."

And at the end of the night, everyone has danced.

Austin American-Statesman: How did you discover Latin music?

Michael Crockett: My parents used to travel to Mexico a fair amount; they used to go to resort lodges in northern Mexico in the '50s. They would always bring home records, mostly cha-cha, like Orquesta Aragon from Cuba.

And then, like most people of my generation, I completely forgot about that stuff and went right into rock 'n' roll and into the Grateful Dead and God knows what else. When I was a (Latin American studies) student at the University of Texas, I heard Brazilian music again. I heard Milton Nascimento in particular and was fascinated.

As a student, I wrote a term paper on salsa music in Austin. There were a lot of Venezuelan students studying in the petroleum engineering department, and they had their own little salsa night at a club called Valentine. So I went to hang out with them and learned about salsa. It was my first time experiencing that — it was around 1975.

How do you think the Austin Latin music scene has changed in the past 20 years?

It's really improved. There was nothing here even when I started "Horizontes." There were few bands, very few. (Since then) we've had bands like Grupo Fantasma actually reach international recognition and tour internationally.

I try to be as supportive as I can of the local Latin scene. But "Horizontes" is more about bringing Latin music from outside of Austin to people in Austin. I see that as more of the real mission of my show. Before "Horizontes" came on the air, especially in the early days — I mean, the Internet made it a lot simpler — but before "Horizontes," you would never hear the music I played anywhere.

I'd like to think that (the music played on "Horizontes") is influencing the ears of musicians here that are developing their own sound.

Austin now has a Latin Music Month and a Pachanga Latino Music Festival (both in May). What do you think is fueling the music's popularity here?

I think it's homegrown to an extent. It's hard to say because I'm an Anglo, but I think that among Latinos that live in Texas, it's a resurgence of pride and the diversity in Latin music.

If you grew up in Texas, then you probably grew up with conjunto or Tejano (music); then you start to realize that Latin music is not one thing or another. It's huge and different. And obviously the whole Latin rock alternative thing conferred a certain hipness on Latin music in general, and more young people are into that now.

I also have to think that Austin is a more globalized city than it used to be. A lot of people from all over Latin America live here now, more so than 20 years ago. So we have a lot of nice influences from all over. I'm suspecting that's part of what's fueling the popularity.

How does Latin music fit into local festivals like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest? Do you think there is a concerted effort to recruit more Latin acts?

You caught me on a bad year for ACL. I'm not very happy with their lineup this year. I'm pretty upset with it.

They've certainly done their part over the years to represent Latin culture successfully, but the problem I had this year was that the bands they brought are well loved but we've seen them already.

What about SXSW?

I think SXSW has really figured this out — that there's an audience here. And perhaps what's happened is that they've done a good job being ambassadors to Latin America. These bands have to be willing to get themselves here and play for free, so they have to feel like there's something in it for them. SXSW has obviously figured out how to make them think it's worth it.

For some bands, it's definitely been worth it. Bomba Estereo (from Colombia) seemed to get a real push in their career out of coming here.

What do you see for the future of Austin's Latin music scene?

I haven't seen a whole lot of bands other than Grupo Fantasma who have made that jump from local band to national band. I think that's the biggest hurdle for most bands here. It's pretty hard to make a living just from the local club scene, but there are a whole lot of people trying. That's what's nice about it.

I think what might happen is what has happened in New York and places like that where you get more of a bilingual scene, where you get sort of a Spanglish thing going. That would be very cool. I like the sound of it. Bands mix it up a lot, mix up Spanish and English and play with it and expand their base that way. That might be a way it goes.

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Top 10 recent releases

Horizontes host Michael Crockett shares this list of his favorite recent releases (in no particular order) and his thoughts:

Pedro Moraes, ‘Claroescuro' (Brazil). I saw this singer-songwriter at SXSW and remembered why I fell in love with Brazilian popular music back in the 1970s. It was the combination of excellent poetry and sophisticated musicianship rooted in all those wonderful Brazilian rhythms.

Gabriel Santiago, ‘Gabriel Santiago' (Brazil).This marvelous jazz guitarist and composer who brings to mind another Brazilian guitarist/composer, Toninho Horta, or perhaps Pat Metheny, temporarily resides in Austin pursuing musical studies at UT and performs regularly with his quintet at the Elephant Room.

Daniela Mercury, ‘Canibalia' (Brazil). Great stylistic diversity on this popular singer's CD that features guest artists like Margareth Meneses, Seu Jorge, Wyclef Jean and even Carmen Miranda sampled into a wonderful remake of her hit ‘O Que E Que A Baiana Tem.'

Vanessa da Mata, ‘Sim' (Brazil). On her first CD released in the U.S., da Mata gets help from the ultimate reggae rhythm section, Sly and Robbie, and Ben Harper also joins her on some bilingual and English bonus tracks but the real pleasure is in the rest of the CD.

Various Artists, ‘Oi! A Nova Musica Brasileira' (Brazil). OK, the ‘Oi!' in the title of this U.K. collection of new Brazilian artists hints at perhaps a bit of a ‘punk' bias to the selections, which may or may not please everyone. But with 40 songs to choose from on two CDs, there's a lot of great stuff here from all over Brazil (a map is included), not just Rio, Sao Paulo, Salvador and Recife, where most Brazilian music is made.

Gotan Project, ‘Tango 3.0' (France/Argentina). For lovers of ‘electro-tango,' it's hard to resist any release from this band, based in Paris, or from Bajofondo, based in Montevideo/Buenos Aires. Fortunately, they seem to pick alternating years to release CDs. ‘La Gloria' on ‘Tango 3.0' was the perfect soundtrack to the 2010 World Cup.

Choc Quib Town, ‘Oro' (Colombia). These hip-hoppers from a remote city and state in Colombia from which they take their name rap over Afro-Colombian rhythms as well as salsa and reggae. They've been a hit at SXSW two years running, and this CD is a collection of their ‘gold.'

Grupo Fantasma, ‘El Existential' (Texas). Their latest CD proves they are as good or better than any salsa band out of New York or any cumbia band out of Monterrey or Bogota, and they play both, which most bands don't/can't. Did I mention they also rock? And the liner notes by Latin music compiler DJ Bongo are some added entertainment.

Palo!, ‘This is Afro-Cuban Funk' (USA/Cuba). The title perfectly describes what this Miami-based quintet plays, and they do it very well. Seasoned Latin musicians like saxophonist Ed Calle who love funk fronted by a young Cuban singer and lyricist, Leslie Cartaya.

Chichi Peralta, ‘De Aquel Lao Del Rio' (Dominican Republic). Since leaving Juan Luis Guerra's band more than a decade ago, Peralta has been making CDs that mix merengue and bachata with other world musics. This CD has a Japanese vocalist on one track and Brazilian percussion on others. But to keep it rooted in the D.R., he also enlists singer Johnny Ventura and accordionist El Prodijio.

Runners-up

  • Gilberto Gil, ‘Fe Na Festa' (Brazil)
  • Luisa Maita, ‘Lero-Lero' (Brazil)
  • Jorge Drexler, ‘Amar La Trama' (Uruguay)
  • Joe Vasconcellos, ‘Magico' (Chile)
  • Maldita Vecindad, ‘Circular Colectivo' (Mexico)
  • Adonis Puentes, ‘Vida' (Cuba)
  • Francisco Cespedes, ‘Te Acuerdas' (Cuba)
  • Juan Luis Guerra, ‘A Son De Guerra' (Dominican Republic)
  • Gilberto Santa Rosa, ‘Irrepitible' (Puerto Rico)

Catch Michael Crockett

‘Horizontes — Music of Latin America' airs from 1 to 3 p.m. Fridays on KUT 90.5 FM.

‘Global Grooves' airs from 10 p.m. to midnight Sundays on KUT.

Horizontes Happy Hour with Michael Crockett is from 5 to 9 p.m. Fridays at Malverde, 400 W. Second St.