Marco Antonio Solis at Toyota Center, 8/10/2014

photos by Marco Torres
Marco Antonio Solis
Toyota Center
August 10, 2014

Hailing from the beautiful Mexican state of Michoácan, Marco Antonio Solis is the epitome of a Latino superstar. He is suave, romantic, talented and charming, equally comfortable singing a ranchera as he is a love ballad, dancing to a cumbia or swaying along with bachata. He creates his compositions, writes his own songs, and plays his guitar and timbales masterfully. Solis is a natural performer, and exhibits attributes that he was seemingly born with, not learned or faked. In short, he is what Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias wish they could be.

On a sweltering summer night in the City of Houston, Solis began his show about ten minutes past 8 p.m. Sunday, allowing his large band and orchestra to introduce him with a medley of his past and current hits. A white backdrop showcased video of past performances and music videos, leading into the first song, "No Puedo Olvidarla (I Can't Forget Her)." The crowd cheered loudly and illuminated the arena with a sea of cell-phone cameras.

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The Rocks Off 200: DJ Navo, Bombón's Boundless Body-Mover

Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See previous entries in the Rocks Off 100 at this link.

Photos by Marco Torres
Who? Alex Nava is the fair-eyed, jovial member of the Bombón Houston crew, born and raised here in Houston. His father moved here from Maracaibo, Venezuela in the '70s and his mother came to Houston from Halmstad, Sweden in the '80s.

"Musically, my mom had an ear for everything from salsa and hip-hop to R&B and soul," says Nava. "My dad would usually listen to popular salsa and Spanish singer-songwriter music. My older brother by six years [Justin Nava of thelastplaceyoulook] was involved in the Houston music scene at a young age and still is today. I grew up going to his bands' practice sessions to just hang out and listen."

It wasn't until Alex heard Squincy Jones' "Nintendub" album that he learned about Houston's DJ scene, which led to him attending the infamous Speakerboxx parties at the Mink/Backroom back in 2009. That's when he decided he wanted to DJ and produce music for the dance floor. He became DJ Navo.

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The Rocks Off 200: Chingo Bling, H-Town's Own Versace Mariachi

Welcome to The Rocks Off 200, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See previous entries in the Rocks Off 100 at this link.

photos by Marco Torres
Who? His birth name is Pedro Herrera, but to the world at large he is known as Chingo Bling --and also the Versace Mariachi, the Ghetto Vaquero and a long list of other self-assigned nicknames. The Houston-based artist/entrepreneur has been performing since the early 2000s. Herrera also acts and does some comedy, which he says goes hand in hand with his character.

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Los Skarnales' 20-Year Bash a Show for the Ages

Photos by Marco Torres
Los Skarnales
June 20, 2014

It was hot, crowded, loud, and borderline dangerous. And it was damn near perfect. Friday night at Fitzgerald's, Los Skarnales showcased every ounce of heart and love their bodies and souls could disseminate, giving Houston a performance that will go down as one of the best the city has ever experienced.

The night began with the most player move of all, a mariachi band. It was only fitting as Mexican tradition dictates that most celebrations should include a mariachi band. And this...this was a celebration of 20 years, from a punk/ska trio called Desorden to the powerhouse band that fascinates crowds at music festivals. There was indeed much to be thankful for.

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Check Out Our Los Skarnales Family Tree

Photo by Marco Torres
Jose Rodriguez, one of the original founders of Los Skarnales/Desorden.
"It was all pretty much an experiment" says John Garcia, the third original member of Desorden, the band that later evolved into Los Skarnales. "We had to borrow instruments and learned to play them as we went along. But hey, were really good at making loud noises!"

And so began the desmadre that would become Los Skarnales, with family and friends and friends of friends who just decided to have fun and play some tunes. The band celebrates 20 years tonight at Fitzgerald's, which is where I saw them play back when I was a senior in high school around 1997 and 1998.

You could tell right away that they were something special, something fierce and emotional, fueled by beer and the love for ska and punk music.

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Raucous Crowd, Latino Stars Enliven El Tri Watch Party

Photos by Marco Torres
Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo of El Show de Piolín on SiriusXM Channel 147 hosted the event.
"A que venimos? A TRIUNFAR!!!"
-- Piolín

Piolín's Jugada Musical feat. Gabriel Iglesias and Intocable
House of Blues
June 17, 2014

When you interview someone who talks for a living, keeping him or her on topic is about as easy as winning the World Cup. In other words, it can take what seems like four years to get a word in. That was my experience last week when I spoke with Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo by phone in anticipation of Piolín's Jugada Musical which took place at House of Blues on Tuesday afternoon.

The Mexican radio-show host and actor spoke with a rapid-fire cadence full of jokes, idioms, slang and colloquialisms. Although I had about five or six questions on my notepad, it was much easier to just go with the flow and converse informally with him. We spoke about his childhood in Mexico and how fitness, music and soccer played a big part of his upbringing.

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The Pride of the Northside: La Mafia Celebrates Amor y Sexo

Photos by Marco Torres
"Their music takes me back to The Unicorn Ballroom, dancing and drinking all night, really feeling the honesty of their sound" recalled my amigo Reverend Butter as we caught up over a few cervezas in the parking lot of The Gatsby (formerly the Drake) last night. "They are the band that made me fall in love with musica en Español!"

Every lover of Tejano music has a story about La Mafia. My own includes making mixtapes on cassettes in the pre-MP3 days, as well as dancing to their songs at the countless quinceañeras I stood in as a teenager in North Houston. From cumbias to corridos, huapangos, and their own special blend of keyboard-heavy modern norteño, La Mafia provided the soundtrack to backyard barbecues, long drives to visit family in the Rio Grande Valley, and the slow and low cruises down Irvington and Airline Drives on Sunday nights.

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Calle 13 at House of Blues, 5/26/2014

Photos by Marco Torres
(L-R) Brothers Visitante and Residente of Calle 13
"So how are these guys?" asked my security-guard friend at the House of Blues as I entered the photo pit Monday night. "I hear they are a reggaeton group, but that's all I know."

"I guess that's technically true" I answered. "They are from Puerto Rico and have roots in the reggaeton movement, but these guys are fundamentally different."

If the reggaeton made famous by Daddy Yankee and Tego Calderon can be compared to mainstream rap, then Calle 13's version is more like Public Enemy: underground, political, and socially conscious.

"It makes you dance, but it's not booty music," I said. "You'll like it!"

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DJ Tony Touch Puts The Flat in the Groove

Photos by Marco Torres
"It goes uh, ah! Off the snare drum. Tony Toca, long time no hear from..."

It was around the year 2000 when I was first introduced to the confident, nasal delivery of Nuyorican rapper/producer/DJ Tony Touch. Every month, I would go to the Houston Pubic Library downtown to check out about ten CDs at a time, transferring the tracks I liked onto cassette tapes. On one such trip, I picked up a pair of albums by this duo called The Beatnuts, which included collaborations with a certain Tony Toca.

His sound was vastly different from the Latin hip-hop I was used to hearing from Cypress Hill and South Park Mexican. Tony is a master of mixing the tropical vibes with a pure New York flow, a skill that would serve him wonderfully during the reggaeton explosion during the mid-2000s. His 2005 release The Reggaetony Album saw him collab with heavy hitters such as Voltio, Tego Calderon, Pitbull, Ivy Queen y muchos mas.

His gift of combining the perfect beat with the just right lyrical crew is golden; on top of that, his lyricism was on point. Expressing his mind with a confident Spanglish vocabulary makes him one of the kings of the Latin wave of his era. Combined with his ultimate DJ skills, and as an accomplished mixtape master, Tony Touch continues to tour and rock parties such as he did at The Flat on Sunday night.

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Music Is Freedom at the Wildly Eclectic Pachanga Fest

Photos by Marco Torres

Pachanga Fest Latino Music Festival
Feat. Julieta Venegas, La Santa Cecilia, El Gran Silencio y más
Fiesta Gardens, Austin
May 10, 2013

"Music is our freedom" said the lead singer of Making Movies as the band opened the 2014 Pachanga Fest Latino Music Festival. That concept was felt all throughout the event, where people young and old, local and international, all converged upon Austin's Fiesta Gardens to enjoy the seemingly never-ending variety of musical genres from across the globe.

From the tally that I attempted to keep, every country of the Western Hemisphere -- from Mexico to Argentina, Panama to Colombia, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and more -- were all represented, both onstage and off. A band like Making Movies played salsa music inspired by Hector Lavoe one minute, while the next a band member was dancing to a jarabe tapatio from Jalisco, Mexico.

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