The price of entry to the brand spanking new Tropicalia Festival includes all-you-can-eat tacos until 4 p.m. Just sit and contemplate that for a minute — how many tacos, provided by a variety of local establishments, can one person throw back in order to make the ticket price feel like a bargain? The key is to start slowly — allow your tummy to stretch and warm up to the sport. Then damn, go to town.
All joking aside, the abundance of tacos is part of a bigger celebration — that of the Latino music, food and general culture that is such a huge part of life here in SoCal, but that often doesn’t get the acknowledgement that it deserves. Tropicalia is aiming to out that right, and the organizers have assembled a stellar lineup of performers.
Norteño icons Los Tigres del Norte headline, while other big draws include LA’s Chicano Batman and Columbian indie-soul star Kali Uchis. But the organizers have been super-smart, booking bands that appeal to the Latino community, even if the actual musicians aren’t of Latin descent, such as rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson, and alt-rappers Phony PPL.
Carlos Arévalo of Chicano Batman is delighted to perform at the inaugural Tropicalia Festival, acknowledging that, in this current social and political climate, it’s vital that we celebrate Latino culture.
“A lot of times the Latino presence is glossed over in popular culture, in the media, in the music scene – and we’re here,” Arévalo says. “We’ve always been here and we’ve always been playing music. I think it’s great that there’s finally the first large scale festival that I know of in LA that’s reaching out and getting a lot of really disparate styles from all over the spectrum, like punk music, rock, soul, hip-hop – it’s all on this bill and it’s something that’s unique and special, and we’re looking forward to being a part of it. It acknowledges our presence.”
Elijah Rawk, guitarist with Brooklyn’s Phony PPL as well as with Kali Uchis’ band, is half-Puerto Rican and, having been playing with Uchis for two years, is happy that his band has fully embraced Latino culture.
“My grandfather’s house is my favorite place to be,” he says. “We’ve been playing with Kali for two years, and we’ve had to open up our musical repertoire because of that. Doing Tropicalia will make us feel like we’re on the same buzz. We’ve been getting acclimated with our Latin fanbase and trying to expand more into that. When you grow up in New York City, Latin people and black people tend to go through the same walks of life. It’s a deep understanding.”
Similarly, the members of local rockabilly-punks SadGirl are not of Latin descent, but they love the multicultural and ethnically vibrant nature of growing up in Southern California.
“Growing up in LA, we have such unique culture here,” says guitarist Misha Lindes. “I feel so grateful to be raised in such a diverse community. I just got back from a trip to England, and it’s weird. You realize how lucky we are in LA to have such a diverse community.”
SadGirl formed three years ago when Lindes started jamming with his cousins Paul Caruso (drums) and Dakota Peterson (bass). The trio couldn’t find a singer so Lindes decided to give it a go, and it stuck.
“I would say that our music is rooted in classic Americana, roots rockabilly, girl groups of the 1960s, and instrumental guitar music of the 1950s and ‘60s,” Lindes says. “That’s where my heart lays, and just applying more punk ethos to that mentality. It’s just me pulling from my collective influences.”
There’s long been a relationship between Latino and rockabilly culture, and all of the fuel-filled fun that goes with it, hence the presence of Wanda Jackson at this festival. Similarly, Phony PPL’s take on hip-hop will likely go down well.
That band formed in 2008 in Brooklyn, when vocalist Elbee Thrie, then still in high school, was grounded and couldn’t celebrate his birthday in the fashion that he had planned, so he invited a bunch of friends over to jam and magic happened.
“When you grow up in Brooklyn, it’s a cool smorgasbord of every influence you can get because everyone is trying to be as different as possible,” says Rawk. “Without trying too hard. We’ve always been social guys, so we like to have our friends around and have a good time. When we were younger it was just about playing shows for our friends. Our mission is to make the music of tomorrow and have it balance with what is going on today, how the music industry works and how it’s predominantly image-based and popularity based, and balancing that with actual substance. We can be handsome and make good music.”
Chicano Batman formed in 2008 and so is now nine years old. In that time, Arévalo says that the band’s members have become better musicians and performers, honing their sounds and getting it tighter.
“The first album and a lot of the first songs were like sprawling jams,” he says. “As time has gone by, we’ve been able to get our songwriting a little more tight, and get to make succinct statements sooner rather than later. Right now, our sound gets described as soul/funk/psychedelic. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that we embrace our soul influence on the new record.
We’ll get to sample that music at the Queen Mary for Tropicalia, and Arévalo is hoping to see a wide range of people from all walks of life attending.
“It shouldn’t be a festival for Latinos only,” he says. “There could be a heavy Latino element, but it’s for all. It’s just like any kind of music. If you go and see Femi Kuti, Fela Kuti’s son from Nigeria, anyone can go and appreciate that music. It’s beautiful. I think it’s the same thing with this festival.”
Arévalo says that we can expect a tight sound from the Chicano Batman set thanks to backup singers that double as multi-instrumentalists fleshing out the sound.
“We’re looking forward to sharing that with the audience and showing them how we can present the aesthetic,” he says. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Rawk says that the Phony PPL set will be a blistering, unrelenting ball of energy, despite the fact that the guitarist doesn’t drink coffee.
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“You’ll get a collection of music that you’re not going to hear anywhere else,” he says. “Also, a bunch of young black men who have been friends since high school making their dreams come true.”
And Lines says that SadGirl will be doing their own thing, their own way.
“I don’t think we have anything special planned for the set, but we’re really excited to be involved and there are a load of bands that we’re super-stoked to be seeing, let alone be playing with,” he says. “We’re very grateful to have been asked to be involved.”
With that mass of talent on display, it looks like being a fantastic way to spend a Saturday. And again, all-you-can-eat tacos…
Tropicalia Fest featuring Los Tigres del Norte, Kali Uchis, Chicano Batman and more at the Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy, Long Beach, www.tropicaliafest.com, (877) 342-0738. $85-$900, Sat. Nov.11, 12 p.m. All ages.