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More than just salsa or reggaeton: Puerto Rican artists shine at SXSW

Nancy Flores
La Banda Acústica Rodante is among the Sounds from Puerto Rico 2019 showcase at SXSW. [Contributed by La Banda Acústica Rodante]

When a band dropped out of the lineup of a major Puerto Rican festival about five years ago, it changed the lives for five other artists.

Tito Auger, frontman for prominent rock en español band Fiel a la Vega, teamed up with musician Walter Morciglio to help quickly fill the slot. The result? A supergroup bringing together some of Puerto Rico’s top singer-songwriters who span the last four decades.

That indie folk-rock outfit, La Banda Acústica Rodante, is among the featured bands in the second annual Sounds from Puerto Rico showcase at South by Southwest Friday at Speakeasy beginning at 8:15 p.m. Other featured bands include singer-songwriter Cosme, indie rock band Chasing Nomads, world fusion group Lizbeth Román y los Duendes Invisibles, and indie pop band Nutopia.

“A lot of people think that Puerto Rico is just salsa or reggaeton but there’s a lot of variety and good quality music in all styles,” said bass player and vocalist Rucco Gandía, who is best known for the trailblazing rock en español group Radio Pirata.

Over the years, the veteran musicians have experienced the different cycles of Puerto Rico’s music scene and now see its indie movement rising.


“Puerto Rico is a small island, but there’s a lot of music going on there,” said lead guitarist and vocalist Morciglio. “There’s a lot of creativity on the island. We just don’t have the machine to support the things artists are doing on the island right now.” Resources tend to focus on mainstream acts, said percussionist, vocalist and guitarist Mikie Rivera. While La Banda has many supporters and fans, he said, it's difficult to find ways to bring them together or expose their music to them.

A lack of a solid music industry in Puerto Rico coupled with an economic crisis and hurricane recovery makes performances at festivals such as SXSW especially vital for the growth of these bands.

During Hurricane María band members, like other affected families, endured a lack of electricity. Gandía said he didn't leave his neighborhood for a week and was struck with emotion once he left and saw the destruction in the island. It became important for La Banda to perform at different emergency shelters.

“Music is healing and connecting,” said Auger, vocalist and guitarist. "We tried to lift spirits and help people forget."

But it's in times of hardship, Gandía said, when there’s actually a boom in the arts as artists are inspired to share messages of all kinds more than ever.

La Banda released its latest album “Volumen 1” in December 2018. It’s the honesty and sincerity of the music that shines through, the band said. And music lovers don’t have to be Puerto Rican or understand Spanish to connect.

“Our music is universal,” said vocalist and guitarrist Nore Feliciano.

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