Viva Chicago Latin Music Festival | WBEZ
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Viva Chicago Latin Music Festival

Catalina Maria Johnson says this year's festival provides a pretty good sense of the diversity that can be found in Latin Music. For WBEZ Johnson reviews Chicago Viva Chicago Latin Music Festival which will be held this weekend at Grant Park.

Related:
 Radio M's Tony Sarabia Interviews Andrea Echeverri

Lila Downs “Black Magic Woman” in both English and Spanish

That´s the music of Lila Downs, a singer of Mixteco Mexican Indian and North American background. Lila´s background exemplifies the diversity of Latin cultures whose music is featured in the festival.

To really showcase that diversity is the mission of coordinator Barry Dolins, who has presented the city's Blues Fest for many years. This is Dolin's first year as coordinator of the VIVA Chicago Latin Music Fest, and as a musical historian and folklorist his goal is to share the breadth and depth of the Latino musical story. He says it was important for Latin culture to get a main stage.

DOLIN: The Puerto Rican community has had a festival for forty years, and certainly Fiesta del Sol and that predate the Festival as well as other festivals within the community, there's always been something in the community, but to bring something downtown and showcase the culture, that was something very important.

Several new stages are set up to recreate the reality of where you might usually hear the music…

MUSIC: Norteño Music by Galan Norteño 

The Salon de Baile or “Dance Hall”features music meant especially for social dancing. You´re hearing a local norteño group. Galan Norteño, playing accordion-centered music that emerged in northern Mexico, that´s why it´s called “norteño”, or northern. 


The Festival serves as a history lesson of sorts, as the genres of music reflect its creole nature, in other words, the blend of indigenous music of the continents…

MUSIC: Andean flutes 

…to which was added a very large dose of varied African influences

MUSIC: African percussion and Kora

...as well as the melodies and rhythms of the European colonizers and settlers.

MUSIC: German polka

The waltz and the polka were huge hits in the Americas. 

One of the most famous kinds of music these rhythms influenced is “Banda” music, which combined Mexican roots music, polkas and waltzes and even added some jazzy influences in the thirties. This free and wild horn-based music exploded onto the Latino musical scene in the last century, and you can hear “banda” played at the Fest by several bands, including a 17-piece “banda” group from Chicago, Banda Valle Verde.

MUSIC: BANDA Valle Verde 

The accordion itself also became extremely popular in many Latin countries. In the Dominican Republic, the squeeze is the main instrument for merengue, super-fast dance music that during the Festival will be played by La India Canela. She's one of the genre's major players, and one of the few females of renown that play the accordion.

MUSIC: Merengue 

And the accordion also made it to Colombia. It's the instrument at the heart of "Vallenato", which you can hear played by a Chicago musician, Juvenato Vallenato. Vallenato, by the way, means “born in the valley” because it emerged from the valleys of Colombia. 

Another creole genre, “Jarocho” music highlights the story of Veracruz, a port city in the Gulf of Mexico, where the African, Spanish and Indigenous cultures collided to create a music that incorporates the harp, the violin and the drum…

MUSIC: Jarocho Music

Jarocho music is often featured at a “Fandango” an all night-event that will be mimicked in a shorter version at the “Salon de Baile.”

The Festival will also highlight the story of its own beginnings. Twenty-one years ago, the Puerto Rican/New York sounds of Manny Oquendo and Libre headlined the first Viva Chicago Latin Music Fest. This past spring, Oquendo passed away, but his music lives on and will be shared by his group Libre in a special tribute concert at the Petrillo Music Shell.

MUSIC: Manny Oquendo and Libre 

The shell will also host some very modern musicians who have never lost sight of their roots, but have incorporated them into avant-garde sounds, such as Andrea Echeverri of Aterciopelados from Colombia. Echeverri is considered one of Latin Alternative´s premier female rockers, or “roquera”

MUSIC: Aterciopelados

So there you have it. There's tons more music and opportunities to learn about the musical history of Latino Chicago, as Dolins describes

MUSIC by Aterciopelados

DOLIN: Certainly in a city of Chicago there are many different clubs and restaurants presenting Latino Music, day in and day out, that's what these festivals showcase, how vibrant the culture is in Chicago, but we hope to bring it into the spotlight in a way that brings all people together.

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