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Pachanga festival extends the party an extra day

Peter Mongillo
Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux will be one of several artists to deliver Spanish lyrics. Handout photo: Nacional Records

"The ultimate Tex-Mex rock show meets a hipster pan-Latin world-music show" is how Pachanga Latino Music Festival organizer Rich Garza describes this year's lineup. "There are two festivals happening simultaneously."

It's kind of true. On one side of Fiesta Gardens, where Pachanga happens Friday and Saturday, is a slate of mostly Spanish-language (and one Portuguese) performers, including Chico Trujillo, Chilean musician Ana Tijoux, Maneja Beto and La Santa Cecilia.

On the other side are what Garza describes as the Tex-Mex rock show: Los Lonely Boys, Alejandro Escovedo, Girl in a Coma, Austin funk outfit Brownout. It's a big lineup for the relatively small festival (last year about 4,000 people came out for the one-day event), now in its fifth year, made even bigger by headliners Calle 13, who perform on Friday night.

"It's a huge deal," Garza says of the Puerto Rican superstars. "We've had our eye on them for a number of years."

This is the first year that Pachanga has added a Friday night performance, a move similar to what Fun Fun Fun Fest did a few years ago when Weird Al Yankovic played Friday night before the fest in 2010.

Having an internationally known group such as Calle 13 in that spot is also bound to generate even more interest for the growing festival. Already, Garza says that unlike previous years, half of the advance ticket sales are from outside Austin, from as far away as Colombia and Canada in addition to both coasts of the United States. "This thing has a wide net, which is pretty cool," he says.

Calle 13

They are the Renaissance men of Latino music.

The Puerto Rican duo that makes up Calle 13 are poets, advocates, romantics, social networkers, banned in a few countries ... oh yeah, they also can make your dance your bote, or butt, off.

Considered one of the biggest sensations of Latin American music in recent times, Calle 13 (pronounced Ka-ye tres-say) is René Pérez Joglar, known as Residente, and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez, aka Visitante, The hip-hop group has conquered the pop music market without selling themselves out as brand-toting, attention-seeking artists, and instead have remained true to their mission of being a voice for the disenfranchised underdogs of tyrannous governments south of the border and beyond. With a fan base of millions predominately from Latin America, this self-proclaimed "voice of the little people" has no problem attracting and keeping an audience.

That's exactly why Pachanga Fest organizers made Calle 13 the singular headliner of its opening night Friday.

"They speak to many of the subcultures that exists within the diverse Latin community," says Rich Garza, founder of the festival. Calle 13's blunt lyrics and criticisms of government leaders have changed the preconceived notion of what Latino music should be. "They are a bicultural kid within their own genre of music," Garza says.

Speaking to the people has also made Latin American presidents wobbly at the knees.

In 2009, the Colombian government chastised the band for criticizing President Alvaro Uribe's military rigidity after Residente wore a shirt that read "Uribe paramilitary" during the televised MTV Music Awards.

In 2011, the Dominican Republic briefly banned Calle 13 music for its "offensive" lyrics. They have for years attacked Puerto Rico's president and government.

Not all political leaders see them as the enemy. Bolivian President Evo Morales applauds their efforts.

"Their songs, their performances represent the people of Bolivia and Latin America. With their songs they defend Latin America, defend it from foreign domination," Morales said during the band's visit to that country last year.

But controversy off the stage isn't the reason for the band's popularity. The music is their strongest asset.

When the band first emerged in 2005, they were defined by a genre that wasn't quite fitting for their creativity: reggaeton. Sure, early songs contained hints of the fashionable blend of reggae and tropical sounds of the times, but reggaeton did not sum up Calle 13.

Then, the band was musically innovative and lighthearted, with Residente's lyrics poking fun at just about every aspect of contemporary Latin culture while Visitante's beats combined the hip-hop, reggaeton and funk into a flavorful dance rhythm.

Each record since has pulled them out of the reggaeton bucket, becoming more musically expressive and diverse, as well as more thoughtful and politically aware, without losing the ability to mesh it all into tantalizing grooves with the use of salsa, bossa nova, cumbia, tango and even electronica.

In September, the band made history for most Latin Grammy awards nominations — 10 — spanning genres in one year, including Urban Music Album of the Year, Alternative rock Song of the Year and Tropical Song of the Year.

They have lent their rhythmic rapping and beats to projects with Mexican alternative rockers Café Tacuba, Colombian pop artist Shakira, Peruvian folk songstress Susana Baca, and even regional Mexican music legends Tigres del Norte, to name a few.

"I think they are probably making some of the most interesting and exciting hip-hop in the world. They've won 19 Latin Grammys for a freaking reason," Garza says. "I think that if you truly like live music, these guys are as good as any great live show. The energy and vibe they have with audiences is pretty special."

While their beats keep their fans hopping and swaying, their message keeps their audience growing.

Calle 13 consistently uses their music videos, concerts, and performances to side with social causes such as human rights and student movements across the Americas.

Earlier this year, they partnered with UNICEF to raise awareness of human trafficking.

"If Calle 13 cannot help us spread the message to young people, I do not know who can," said Mario Cáder-Frech, vice president of Public Affairs & Corporate Social Responsibility for MTV Latin America and Tr3s about Calle 13's partnership with UNICEF.

Most recently, in true Che Guevara fashion, the band spontaneously began a campaign for Latin American countries to invite Puerto Rico to the next regional summit of heads of states.

"My ultimate goal is to have Puerto Rico be invited to the next summit in Latin America, or at least a group of Puerto Ricans," Residente told reporters during a press conference before meeting with José Mujica, president of Uruguay.

And just how does the band get so much support? Twitter is one way.

Even the Revolucionario Awards, part of South by Southwest Interactive earlier this year, bestowed the group the "Lideres of the Revolución" honor for using its Twitter feed — with more than 4 million followers — to promote social change.

"We will always keep up the struggle for those with less — that is what Calle 13 is all about. Long live the indigenous struggle always in all sectors of South America," Residente said last year in Bolivia.

Calle 13 performs at 9 p.m. Friday at Pachanga Fest.

— Gissela SantaCruz

Chingo Bling

"I have a different approach these days," Houston-based rapper Pedro Herrera, better known as Chingo Bling, said on a recent trip to Austin. That may come as a bit of a surprise to people who recognize Bling, who performs Friday at Pachanga Fest, from the media storm he weathered a few years back when he released his 2007 album "They Can't Deport Us All."

"The title, ‘They Can't Deport Us All,' it was very polarizing, very abrasive," Bling said. "It was kind of like when Kanye (West) said ‘George Bush doesn't care about black people' after Hurricane Katrina." He felt a backlash after the release, receiving threatening emails and letters. The spray-painted message on his truck that he should "go home" was followed by bullet holes.

Bling doesn't seem to regret all of that, but he also says now that it wasn't the best way to get his point across.

"What I would tell my younger self is, ‘that's a stepping stone, that's a phase, you were being a little militant, there's a little anger there, but soon you'll learn that the way things really get done is if you can make people see the way you think, see what makes you tick, and that would be a better way of letting people see where you come from,' " he said.

Part of what makes him tick is working — a lot. Bling makes his film debut in the upcoming release "Filly Brown," a story of Los Angeles street poets that also stars Edward James Olmos and Lou Diamond Phillips and screened at Sundance last year. He produces a weekly comedy Web show, "Wetback Wednesdays," which contains sketches as well as footage of Bling in the studio. He also recently auditioned for a reboot of the early-'90s sketch comedy show "In Living Color." There are also speaking engagements, including a lecture at the University of Texas in February as part of the Lozano Long Conference.

Each project is part of a larger mission. "I feel that for somebody like myself, a good approach to achieve the goal of having Latinos get a little bit more respect — and that's the goal — I feel like the way to do that is by penetrating pop culture with good ideas, with creativity and passion and energy," he said.

Music remains his primary focus, however. After years of dealing with major labels, including a hefty distribution deal with Warner's Asylum label, Bling is once again on his own, running a streamlined operation he hopes will allow him to get to the next level.

"Right now my record label is American Express. It's a credit card," he said with a deadpan tone. "I'm funding my operation, I'm reinvesting what I make, I definitely want to thank American Express for keeping me on the road, they're a really cool record label, they make sure I have a hotel room and gas, and I try to make the money back so I can give them their money back."

In addition to depending on his credit card while he's on tour, another challenge Bling face is the lack of a solid network of Latin hip-hop promoters around the country.

"One thing I'm constantly trying to do is just connect the dots," he says. "For an independent world to do well, there has to be a real circuit, and in the world of the underground Latin hip-hop scene, there are very limited budgets which doesn't allow an artist like myself to put on the type of show that I'm capable of. There's not enough budget for a sound guy, a lighting guy, even a DJ sometimes."

Ultimately, Bling says, the key to his success lies in moving beyond artificial barriers of race. He credits performers such as Cuban American rapper Pitbull for helping to break down barriers.

"The artists that are really going to make it are the ones that blur the lines, hit it off with people of different cultures," he says. "(Houston-based rapper) Paul Wall is white, but his fan base isn't limited to white kids."

That's not something that has been easy, at least when it comes to support from within the music business.

"When all the labels used to have their Latin divisions, I turned down a lot of those," he says. "We crack a joke — you've got your Wu-Latino, Bad-Boy Latino — I want a coffee, should we go to Starbucks Latino?'"

Chingo Bling plays at 7:20 p.m. Friday at Pachanga Fest.

— Peter Mongillo

Contact Peter Mongillo at 445-3696

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Austin at Pachanga

Pachanga brings acts from South America and beyond to play this weekend, but plenty of Austin-area acts will perform as well.

Alejandro Escovedo. Austin's rock 'n'roll godfather has a new album, "Big Station," out in June.

Peligrosa. Austin DJ collective combines a variety of styles, including Cumbia, Salsa, Merengue and more. (Read our interview with the band, published Tuesday in Life & Arts, at austin360.com.)

Ruben Ramos and the Mexican Revolution. Traditional Mexican sounds,'40s big band and other influences come together as part of the Ruben Ramos experience.

Anthropos Musicians Collective. Austin nonprofit organization that works to bring free music lessons, workshops and more to underserved communities.

Los Bandidos Cosmicos. Austin-based DJs Claude 9 and DJ Manny incorporate nontraditional tools — melodicas, analog noisemakers, samplers and turntables — in service of a show that mixes dance, dub and more.

Other Austin acts to catch this weekend: Patricia Vonne, Brownout, David Garza, Politics and Maneja Beto.

Pachanga Latino Music Festival