A Latinx Music Paradise: Tropicalia Fest 2018
Tropicalia Fest is everything you want in a music festival with some of today's most progressive music artists performing alongside iconic acts (and even a Selena cover band). It's a festival where the crowd outstyled most of the artists, and while it was a reasonably large scale, it still managed to have an underground vibe—catering to a culture that most don't know about but is beginning to emerge.
Now the festival was not without its faults. When you book two notorious show cancelers (Cardi B and Morrissey), you are taking a considerable risk. A risk that had concertgoers panicking on social media when a schedule was not posted until hours before the event. In this case, the worries were justified, and Cardi B would not be performing her headlining Sunday slot with SZA coming in as a replacement.
Another issue worth mentioning is the relationship with sponsor, Constellation Brands. Leading up to the event many had called for a boycott of the festival due to the organizer's partnership with the makers of products like Corona and Pacifico who have taken steps to privatize water in Mexico and block access to its residents. A particular problematic issue when local resources are being used to make and export products. Something we were not aware of leading up to our coverage but plan to research and address in a future piece.
Despite these issues, on a musical level, the festival’s lineup gave us the opportunity to see so many Latinx artists in one place and to truly celebrate an underrated part of the music landscape today. On Saturday we kicked things off with Devendra Banhart who brought out special guest Helado Negro during his set to perform "Young, Latin, and Proud", setting the tone for the entire weekend. The best part of the festival is that you can switch gears between sets and go from someone like Banhart to seeing an up and coming artist shine like Omar Apollo, who is one of the most exciting acts to come out this year and from the size of his crowd, one that will see an even bigger 2019.
Then it was off to the main stage for the always magical Natalia Lafourcade who is forever someone special to see live and gave a passionate and enthusiastic set. From there we managed to catch sets from The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr who is currently touring in support of his most recent solo album and watched the sun go down while watching the dreamy Mazzy Star hide behind the light while performing their 1993 hit song, "Fade Into You."
Switching style and tone for the night was the always entertaining Kali Uchis who had one of the most enthusiastic crowds of the night. She continues to evolve and become a more powerful performer, and the main stage was the perfect place to showcase this power while plowing through some of her best tracks. It also perfectly summed up the festival as she was essentially the opener for one Steven Patrick Morrissey.
Now we will be the first to admit that Morrissey is not without his flaws. He always cancels shows and has had expressed some problematic political views over the last few years. But despite all that Moz still holds an exceptional, almost unexplainable place in the Latinx community. And from the moment he took the stage, it was something special with an audience of hipsters, cholos and older diehards all watching The Smiths frontman belting out the classics and ending songs with a sincere, Gracia amigos. It was indeed a sight to see especially when several fans rushed the stage for the chance to touch the music icon.
Sunday started with one of our favorite discoveries of this year, The Marias who has been a favorite since seeing them for the first time at SXSW back in March. Even in broad daylight, they create an intimate and captivating experience during their sets and lead singer; Maria is one of today's most exciting frontwomen. From one influential woman to another, the next set featured the amazing Mon Laferte. This performance counts as our third Laferte set of the year, and she continues to be one of the best live performers touring right now. Period. Everything from the power of her voice to the engagement with the crowd to her set design is flawless, and she did not disappoint. Following Mon Laferte, we caught Boy Pablo, another artist that we will be featuring more in the new year and is one of the more exciting new acts to come out this year.
It served as somewhat of a homecoming show for Chicano Batman who is from the Southern California area and has played high profile slots on previous Tropicalia lineups. The band was indeed at home and gave the crowd everything they wanted from new classics like "La Jura" to some of their earliest work. You could tell they were home because the audience knew every word. Combo Chimbita was one of the absolute highlights of the weekend and continue to amaze us with every live show. They are astonishingly powerful in a live setting and command a crowd from start to finish.
Rounding out the weekend were some funny moments with Mac Demarco who played a rare solo show without the rest of his band and did so while wearing a huge inflatable turkey outfit. And headliner SZA who talked about her anxiety and how it affected her coming to the stage because she wasn't Cardi B while praising the crowd for showing her just how excited they were to see her and how we can sometimes be our worst enemy in times like that.
Some of the most memorable acts of the weekend came right at the end, however. With the incomparable Flor De Toloache playing one of the most beautiful sets of the weekend to a tired, but very captivated crowd, a lot of whom didn't know what to expect or what they were about to see, which is always special. And in the most fitting way possible, the last performer of the weekend was Como La Flor, a tribute band to Selena which had the crowd moving in the front row and the couples all the way in the back dancing. It was the perfect way to close things out.