Miami After Dark: H-Town Goes to South Beach

Photos by Marco Torres
This past week, I packed my bags and headed east to Miami, that gorgeously naughty city in South Florida that rivals New York City and Los Angeles in its beauty and nightlife. The purpose was a professional one, a marketing and interactive conference for Latinos. But aside from the seminars and gift bags and networking, the most adventurous and rewarding time at any conference or festival is always the afterparty.

Below are just some of the extracurricular activities that had me dancing, and the soundtrack that accompanied them:

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UPDATED: Go Tejano Day at Reliant Stadium, 3/16/2014

Photos by Marco Torres
Grupo Pesado made their third RodeoHouston appearance Sunday evening.
UPDATED (Monday, 4:30 p.m.): Actually this year's Go Tejano attendance fell short of last year's record by less than 100 people. Still a lot of folks.

Go Tejano Day, feat. Pesado and Banda MS
Reliant Stadium
March 16, 2014

"Tejano is least at RodeoHouston".

-- me, every year

The above statement is true, but RodeoHouston still managed to sell a record 75,224 tickets to Sunday's annual Go Tejano Day at Reliant Stadium. And boy, it sure did feel like every one of those ticketholders showed up to see Grupo Pesado and La Banda MS deliver their impassioned sonidos for their adoring fans.

Go Tejano Day traditionally attracts among the largest crowds in the rodeo's season, if not the largest, and at least five previous editions can still be found in the Top 20 all-time attendance days.

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Snow Tha Product at Warehouse Live, 2/27/2014

photos by Marco Torres
Snow Tha Product
Warehouse Live

Thursday night at Warehouse Live, I met Claudia Feliciano, a short, soft-spoken, wide-eyed Latina with a timid laugh. "Houston is one of the cities where I get the most nervous at, the others being Atlanta and New York City," she said while searching for an iPhone charger and a shot of Hennessy. The crowd near the stage was chanting her name, adding to the anticipation.

Claudia has a certain duality about her. Her other side is named Snow Tha Product, who despite her short stature, walks tall, whose voice is the opposite of a whisper, and attitude is nothing near shy. In fact, her rhymes are brash, bold, aggressive, confident and blunt. She is a powerhouse of energy, and that intensity is infectious.

Snow's favorite BPM hovers around 135: fast, loud and hard. What was once dormant in Claudia gets woken up in Snow. But this is no act, no false character. She is both individuals, and that honesty is what wins over her legions of fans.

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Old-School Conjunto Scene Thriving in Jacinto City

photos by Marco Torres
An oasis of conjunto music in Jacinto City, Texas.
On a pleasantly sunny Sunday afternoon, just a few feet removed from a set of railroad tracks, the sounds of a hyperactive accordion can be heard dancing within a small, simple building. The room is packed with family and friends rejoicing in their mutual love for conjunto music, that traditional and charismatic mix of the German accordion and Latin-American guitar with deep roots in Texas.

It has been a little over one year since Rodrigo Gonzalez opened the Centro Cultural Viva Mexico here on Palentine Street in Jacinto City. The 38-year-old realtor has been playing the bajo sexto (12-string guitar) and the accordion since he was 15 years old. Conjunto music is in his blood, a tradition that can be traced back to his grandfather, Don Baldemar Elizondo.

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30 Seconds With Los Rakas


Los Rakas are a bilingual hip-hop duo from Oakland, California. The group consists of Panamanian cousins Raka Rich and Raka Dun, and their music is a mix of Panamanian and Caribbean music such as salsa, reggae, dancehall, and merengue, with hip-hop, R&B, and soul sprinkled on top. We spoke briefly with them in anticipation tonight's show at Fitzgerald's.

30 seconds with.... Los Rakas!

Rocks Off: What is the best song in the world?

Los Rakas: "Everything's Going Be Alright" by Bob Marley. No matter what's going on, we hear that song and it makes us feel better. It brings a sense of hope.

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Rest in Peace: Don Luis, The Old Violin Man of Southeast Houston

Don Luis, "The Old Violin Man", was featured in the music video for "Brown And Proud" by Houston rapper Chingo Bling.

Qui cantat laudem, non solum cantat, sed et amat eum quem cantat. (He who sings praise, not only sings, but also loves Him whom he is singing for.)

--Saint Augustine

In every town, no matter how large or small, there are certain characters which we encounter that become icons of their community, many times without the explicit want or desire to be so. Earlier this week, the town of Houston lost one such individual. His name was Luis Cruz, or more respectfully, Don Luis. But for the many who would see him playing his trusty, aged violin on the corner of Woodridge Drive and the Gulf Freeway, he was simply and affectionately known as "The Old Violin Man".

Cruz passed away on Tuesday while he was hospitalized at Bayshore Medical Center in Pasadena. He lived to the age of 90. He is survived by his wife Emilia, six daughters, four sons, and several grandchildren.

Don Luis entertained and inspired countless motorists on his street corner, where he endured many steamy summer days and frigid winter chills, all for the love of music. Always sporting his signature cowboy hat and wide smile, he sang and played for whatever tips he was handed in the short time between stoplights.

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Houston's Top 10 Latin Bars and Clubs

As our sister blog Eating...Our Words does, from time to time Rocks Off will be giving your our picks for the top taverns in various Houston-area neighborhoods. Of course, the lines can be porous, but here anything with a TABC license that cannot reasonably be considered either a restaurant, coffeehouse or live-music venue is fair game.

Belvedere is not technically a Latin bar, but that doesn't mean it can't have a great Latin night, now does it? This upscale lounge has been home to Latin Thursdays for the past seven years, and the awesome DJs keep the place ridiculously packed. So if you're planning to strap on your bachata shoes and head over, best do so early.

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Los Lonely Boys' Revelation Is What Really Matters

Photos courtesy of Conqueroo
Many fans thought Los Lonely Boys were a lucky band right out of the gate, and they were right. Henry, JoJo and Ringo, the Garza brothers from San Angelo, grew up playing music with their father and had a massive hit their first time out of the gate with "Heaven," a soulful ballad crystallizing their "Texican rock and roll" sound that cracked the Billboard Top 20 in 2004. It charted even higher in more specialized formats.

Although the Garzas never quite reached such lofty chart heights on their subsequent releases, their power-trio structure recalled past greats like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and of course Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, so they quickly won a loyal following among guitar geeks with a taste for Texas blues, a sizable fan base they retain to this day (especially in the Southwest). At the same time, playing up their Latin roots placed them as natural heirs to the Santana/Los Lobos tradition, a style that truly blossomed on 2011 album Rockpango!

But Los Lonely Boys didn't have a clue just how lucky they were until one night last February in Downey, Calif.

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Mexican Music Is Violent. So What?

Courtesy of Houston Cinema Arts Festival
An image from the new film Narco Cultura, now playing in Houston
America's liberal class and MSMers are abuzz right now over Narco Cultura, a documentary about Mexico's horrific drug war and the musical movement that has risen around it. These libs (and more than a few conservatives) are telling each other and the two Mexicans they know about how Mexican music nowadays glorifies the drug trade, how artists will write songs for narcos on commission, how musicians go on stage with AK-47s, bulletproof vests and bazookas, how those songs revel in being as gory as possible -- and how terrible all of this is.

Never mind that the music groups highlighted really hit their height in Mexican culture in 2010. Never mind that almost no media outlet had reported on this new wave of narcocorridos -- alternately called el movimento alterado ("the altered movement"; "altered" as in "high as shit") or corridos enfermos ("sick corridos") until now, and now everyone is tripping over themselves to report this "new" news.

NPR and The New York Times did stories on Narco Cultura recently, so it's now news! And you know something is the liberal flavor of the month when they're going to Ry Cooder -- the only person progressive gabachos trust for their ethnic music -- so he can cluck about the sadness of it all.

SNORE. Yes, America: Mexican music is violent. Get over it.

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Julieta Venegas at House of Blues, 10/24/2013

Categories: Sonidos y Mas

Photos by Marco Torres
"Eres Para Mi...."

Julieta Venegas
House of Blues
October 24, 2013

Its the way Julieta Venegas looked straight into my eyes in the "Eres Para Mi" video I first saw on MTV TR3S back in 2006. Or the effortless mode of expressing her feelings through her soft voice, so delicate, yet strong and confident at the same time. This Grammy-winning singer-songwriter from Tijuana, Mexico is one of darlings of Latin American music, with fans on both sides of the border who enjoy the dreamlike feel of her electro-folk sound.

Her music career took her from Baja California to San Diego, and eventually to Mexico City, where she would soon find the material for her debut album, 1997's Aqui. She later ventured to both Madrid and Buenos Aires, which expanded her format to include hints of flamenco and tango.

When she took the stage at House of Blues on Thursday night, we were all treated with a set that showcased her full range of talents and hits. Playing the guitar, the keys, and the accordion (not all at once, although that wouldn't surprise me either), Venegas made performing look simple. She doesn't yell when she sings, quite the opposite actually, like a lovely overheard whisper inside of a Baroque cathedral.

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