Two kinds of artists played the first iHeartRadio Fiesta Latina on Saturday at the Forum, largely representing the dual interests of young Latino pop crowds today.
On one hand, you had Pitbull, Prince Royce, Becky G and J Balvin. These acts are cosmopolitan, combining American hip-hop and R&B, European techno and the hip-swinging rhythms of the Spanish-speaking world into a sound that's universal and emblematic of Latino youth today.
On the other, there were La Original Banda El Limón, Alejandra Guzman and Roberto Tapia, each foundational acts in Latin popular and regional music that brought out the nostalgia in the Forum crowd -- kids who grew up with these acts’ albums playing over backyard parties, and their parents, who loved this music first.
There’s a growing demand for contemporary Latino music festivals in America. See Goldenvoice’s recent Supersonico fest with Cafe Tacvba, Calle 13 and a dozen other indie-inclined artists.
Fiesta Latina was a comprehensive, ambitious attempt to do something similar for Spanish-speaking pop music. Spanning so many genres and generations at one festival was no easy feat, but Fiesta Latina drew connections between Latin pop’s past and future that helped fans better understand the other.
On the contemporary side of the lineup, the performances were generally strong and sleek.
Ricky Martin enjoyed his post-'90s renaissance, freed from leading a top-40 “Latin explosion” (and freed from the closet). He showed he has come into his own as a suave star.
The Mexico City folk-rock combo Jesse y Joy had a scruffy, indie-balladeer appeal, while Joy Huerta’s vocals were full and emotive enough to own a large arena.
Inglewood’s Becky G has, for a few years, been tipped as the new face of authentic L.A. pop -- a young woman documenting her Mexican American upbringing but also relating to teenagers' feelings about growing up. Unfortunately, most of her early singles were generic ravey dance-pop, and her brief set Saturday didn’t offer any new twists on that.
Balvin and Royce are each singers who walk lines between modern R&B, reggaeton, bachata and a bevy of other genres. In the way of so much American urban radio today, Balvin used a cadence between rapping, singing and toasting. A young audience reared on Power 106 understood exactly what he was up to. Royce was a more straightforward teen-pop crooner, and though he wasn't trying to push Latin pop forward, he had a knee-weakening teen-pop falsetto and reaped all the benefits of it.
Some of the most intriguing moments came, however, during the classic portions of the night.
Guzman is something of a Mexican Joan Jett or Nancy Wilson -- a spiky-haired, boot-stomping rock goddess who seems to shred only harder with the passing years. Her '80s arena rock was well suited for this setting, and when she rode a security guard’s shoulders to belt ballads like “Dia de Suerte,” the young pop crowd felt her power.
But just as interesting were the audience reactions to regional staples like Tapia and La Original Banda El Limón. Each has been a fixture of Mexican pop music for years. (Banda El Limón has been active since the '60s.) Although some top-40 fans' tastes may not lean toward the past, at Fiesta Latina, these stars commanded respect and earned warm feelings from the crowd.
Tapia’s set was marred by a strange bass-frequency hum throughout, but the brassy Banda El Limón turned on the waterworks for the teenage crowd. A live Twitter feed projected over the stage read things like “I’ve never felt so Mexican and proud” and “It’s never a party without Banda Limon.”
Puerto Rico’s Daddy Yankee and Miami’s Pitbull have been steeped in American party-rap culture for so long that it’s hard to remember a time when L.A. radio didn’t have saucy Spanglish breakdowns or the kick-drum churn of reggaeton. Girls grinded to Yankee’s “Gasolina” as they always have and always will; Pitbull’s Cuban-EDM infusions are as elemental to pop radio as smog and grilling onions are on L.A. streets.
Despite being way too long (around five hours) and a bit too heavy on corporate promotion, Fiesta Latina was the rare festival that understood that it's pointless to cordon off Latin pop into a separate musical universe in L.A. The concert showed the real future of Latin pop in America.
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