By: Jesse La Tour
For several months, my roommate Josue had been trying to get me to come to a “Rock en Espanol” concert with him. Last night, I finally went to see Panteon Rococo, from Mexico City, at The Observatory. We took the bus because neither of us has a car. To get from Fullerton to Santa Ana on the bus, it takes about an hour. It felt right to take the bus considering Panteon Rococo's most popular working class Latino anthem, “La Carencia,” is about public transit.
We arrived at The Observatory and I quickly realized I was one of maybe three non-Latinos at this show. If you have never felt like a minority, to go to places or events where you are one, so you know sort of what it feels like. The difference is, no one called me racist names at the show. As opposed to in Fullerton, where a random dude called Josue a “wetback” on our way to the bus depot.
As we waited for the show to begin, Spanish language music plays overhead and I have no idea who the artist is, nor the song, nor even the “style” of music. This frustrates me because I fancy myself a music nerd. I'm a DJ, for goodness sakes. Listening to this music makes me painfully aware of the fact that there are huge gaps in my musical knowledge. The music of Latin America is one of those huge gaps. Last night, Josue was my guide into a world of American music that is completely new to me.
The opening act was a hip-hop artist named Hector Guerra, from Bolivia. His music is a fascinating blend of Latin music and bass heavy beats. A woman wearing Aztec-type dance anklets plays the maracas while Guerra sings and raps. The songs feel passionately political and I really wished I spoke Spanish. At one point, Guerra performs an a cappella spoken word poem, and Josue explains what it's about: Hector's father actually died trying to immigrate to America from Bolivia.
I glanced at the crowd in The Observatory to find whole families with young children, a young woman holding a Mexican flag, some dudes in “Lucha Libre” masks, hundreds of young people wearing the signature “Panteones” t-shirt, which is a play on the Ramones iconic design.
Next up is a ska band called "La Resistencia.” Though I pretty assumed ska had died out about 10-15 years ago, it turns out Mexican ska–at least during this show–was alive and well as I watched the crowd skanking around the dancefloor like it was 1995.
The next band was a "surf rock” band called Lost Acapulco. They wore matching bowling shirts, pink Chuck Taylors, and lucha libre masks. They shredded my face off with Dick-Dale-esque guitar licks and synchronized dance moves. They were a purely instrumental band. I closed my eyes for a moment, and thought this music could be from anywhere. "Music is the universal language,” said Josue.
Before the headliners went on stage, we headed back stage to interview Dr. Shenka, lead singer of Panteon Rococo. He's this really passionate, grounded guy who comes from a working class background. He explained how his life, and the experience of living in Mexico City, influences his music in a profound way. The music of Panteon Rococo is globally popular. They regularly tour Europe and the United States. Their success, according to Dr. Shenka, has something to do with the universality of their lyrics and the constantly-evolving nature of their music.
The whole crowd seemed to know every word to the song "La Cadencia,” which is like an anthem of working class struggle. Listening to the chorus of voices, it triggered thoughts in my head about how America uses Mexican immigrants as cheap labor, how we force them, through Draconian immigration laws, to literally risk their lives to come here, and sometimes even to die, like Hector Guerra's father. And once they are here, to live in the shadows, working the jobs no one else will. I listen to this anthem of struggle and hope, and I want to cry, and I want to dance.