Three Latina Songwriters Defy Categorization:
Queens Theatre in the Park’s JPMorgan Chase Latino Cultural Festival
Presents a Night of New Sounds
The JPMorgan Chase Latino Cultural Festival, produced annually by Queens Theatre in the Park, has made a tradition of taking the broadest possible view of the Latin music scene, which in recent years has been exploding with new genres like reggaeton and new, Latin rock, hip hop and electronica. Yet there are artists in deft pursuit of their own voice whose music feels intimately Latin and yet defies easy categorization. The three young singer/songwriters to perform on August 3 as part of Latina New Sounds fall into this vague but wildly creative group of Latin musicians. Despite their very different work, Luca Mundaca (Brazil), MiMa (Puerto Rico) and Valentina Gonzalez (Mexico) share a deep and very personal devotion to their respective roots and at the same time have felt the powerful influence of music from around the world, from flamenco to gospel to intelligent dance music.
The JP Morgan Chase Latino Festival, now in its tenth year, takes place July 26-August 6, 2006 in the indoor Queens Theatre in the Park and brings together generations of talented Latino, and Latin American artists to celebrate the heritage and creative spirit of the Queens communities, the theater’s neighbors and audience. Performers this year include Afro-Cuban jazz legend Candido, Noche Flamenca, Eddie Palmieri, Bobby Sanabria, Fruko, Albita, Peru Negro and Eva Ayllón, as well as up-and-coming theater and dance ensembles. After decades of artistic dedication, these elder artists set the stage for newcomers like Luca, MiMa and Valentina, who have put Latin sounds on a new cosmopolitan trajectory.
Luca Mundaca may be the best known of this trio in world music circles, thanks to her recent inclusion on a recent Putumayo compilation. Like many a teen worldwide, Luca knew she had to learn to play guitar after a friend played her Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” In what she calls “a magic moment,” Luca began writing her first songs the moment her fingers found their first chords on the fret board. However, her true inspiration to make music came from prior generations of Brazilian Popular Music. Luca fell in love with the music’s rich rhythms and passionate spiritual side. As Luca puts it, “the love and the swing they put in the music is a gift of God.” This gift became part of Luca’s own songs.
At age 28, she decided to move to New York City from her hometown near Sao Paolo. New York proved inspirational: She wrote more songs in her first year in the Big Apple than during her previous 13 years of songwriting. Luca went back to Brazil to record her first album, looking for the spirit and swing she felt she could only find in Brazil. On CD and on stage, Luca’s voice is sultry, playful and gritty by turns, backed by warm, full arrangements.
An architect by training, MiMa felt the first stirrings of a love for music after she returned to her native Puerto Rico from a year as an exchange student in Brazil. During this year, she traveled extensively and heard firsthand the bounty of Brazil’s regional styles. Back home, she decided to quell her longing for the country by singing Brazilian songs, which quickly turned into writing music of her own. Her new-found love for Brazil made her increasingly fascinated with her own musical roots and by mirroring both, MiMa began discovering her own voice. As she describes the process, “You must imitate some things to understand them, like the way you have to draw plans of the greats to understand how to draft a plan.”
While performing on her own, MiMa also got involved in the hip hop and reggae scenes in Puerto Rico, which led her to arrange the songs she’d been singing solo with help from members of Cultura Profética, Puerto Rico’s popular reggae band. These musicians also had strong ties to Latin jazz, which had a profound impact on the shape MiMa’s songs took on her first album. Now, she has decided to pursue a new musical direction and is collaborating with DJ Nature, a Texas-based DJ and producer who has remixed for XL/Ghetto Arc. MiMa is working with Nature “in the pursuit of an identity” and exploring where electronics meet the voice..
Singer Valentina Gonzalez was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and got involved at the tender age of 16 with the Nopal Beat-powered electronica scene, singing on several popular singles and working closely with dance music producers and DJs. This experience led her to consider electronics-based performance and eventually brought her to the loop pedal that forms the heart of her most recent, improvisational work.Not fully satisfied with the Pop paradigm, however, Valentina headed to San Francisco, Seville and beyond, which, as she put it, “retuned my ear.” On her travels, she studied North Indian, Persian, jazz, gospel and flamenco vocals.
Valentina longed to mix the approaches to improvisation that she learned from these many and varied traditions with the pop song form, while moving from an electronic to more organic sound. The loop pedal gave her the freedom to use her voice as both lead instrument and accompaniment, and to maintain her artistic independence and musical “solitude”Despite her worldly influences, she feels her roots are reflected “in the cadence, tempo and spirit” of her songs, matched by the “courage and sweetness” of her voice, “things we [Mexicans] are famous for.” Her ethereal, heartfelt creations weave dreamlike multicultural melodies with multilingual lyrics.
Three emerging female singers and songwriters unite for one night only to share the vibrant songs that make them musicians to watch out for in the Latin alternative scene. Though they all feel their roots, they are women of the world, freely mixing jazz, funk and electronica with tradition.
Latina New Sounds at the JPMorgan Chase Latino Cultural Festival Queens Theatre in the Park, Main Theatre August 3, Tickets: day of $20, advance $15, three or more festival events $12
Box office: 718-760-0064
For more information on Latina New Sounds or on the Festival, including audio samples, hi-res jpgs and full festival schedule: www.rockpaperscissors.biz/go/latinofest2006