Of all the acts playing Coachella this year, for many of us, one particular name stood out. Mexican cumbia heroes Los Ángeles Azules appeared on the bill next to superstars like Beyoncé, Cardi B, and Eminem. While it’s not uncommon to see Latinx acts on festival lineups nowadays, Los Ángeles Azules are getting a rare nod as a legacy act appearing in the top billing of one of the most popular festivals in the world.
It’s hard to argue against their inclusion. Wherever Mexican people gather to have a good time, Los Ángeles Azules are there, and songs like “Cómo Te Voy A Olvidar,” “17 Años,” and “El Listón de Tu Pelo” have become popular even beyond quinces and weddings. LAA occupies an inimitable space in music, a legacy act that references tradition while remaining relevant year after year. Yet massive U.S. festivals like Coachella don’t make a habit of booking these kinds of artists, especially those coming from the Latinx world.
Though mainstream festivals have focused bookings on pop and hip-hop stars in recent years, older acts – especially rock bands – continue to top bills. Still, the addition of Los Ángeles Azules at a distinct festival like Coachella makes us wonder what it would take for older Latinx acts to appear in the upper echelons of festivals. Is it too far-fetched to think Caifanes or Daddy Yankee could one day appear in a prime spot at Coachella or Lollapalooza?
Of course, Coachella has a history with Latinx acts. Ever since their first edition in 1999, the festival has hosted at least one Latinx performer on their lineups. Last year, they announced their biggest lineup of Latinx acts ever (nine), only to be unseated by this year’s edition, which will feature 13 acts, including artists as eclectic as Cardi B, Helado Negro, and Boogarins. Coachella has been integral to giving Latinx artists a platform in the U.S., as well as in Latin America and Spain, and this year they will be making history.
“For a festival to thrive, it needs bands that have the power to gather a lot of people.”
So, is the musical landscape changing? With the number of Latinx listeners growing exponentially, perhaps it won’t be long until we see some Latinx legends joining mainstream festival lineups. Latinx festivals in the U.S. have already taken the lead, like Ruido Fest, which has previously invited Intocable, Café Tacvba, La Ley, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Los Ángeles Azules; Tropicalia, which booked Tigres Del Norte, Sonora Dinamita, Jeanette, and Os Mutantes; Los Dells, whose 2017 lineup included Maná, Daddy Yankee, Los Tucanes de Tijuana, and Wisin. Colombian accordion master Celso Piña has also been a part of two of these festivals.
“We look for artists that have left a mark in the history of rock in Spanish,” Ruido Fest curator Eduardo Calvillo said via email about their approach to including older artists in their lineup.
“For older acts, continued activity is one of the top qualities we look for. Even after large, early successes, it’s difficult to maintain or increase a fan base that continues to support a band,” says Damon Rey, curator of Los Dells Festival, which takes place in Wisconsin. “But you see bands put in that long-term work that’s necessary in order to have a decades-long career.”
Gil Gastelum, who founded Cósmica, a record label and management firm for Latinx artists like Carla Morrison, Ana Tijoux, and Vanessa Zamora, thinks there’s a logic to the inclusion of legacy acts. “I think it’s become a big foundation for getting folks out to pay good money for a full day or a weekend experience. The folks who generally have more money to spend want ‘soul music for the soul,’ if that makes sense. People want to relive or have an associative experience. Not everyone is down with the latest music, which at this point is quite a few degrees removed from even a Café Tacvba.” For Rey, including these types of artists brings an important balance to lineups. “[Los Dells] began with the idea that we want to showcase the best and most exciting new music currently being created, while also reserving space to celebrate and honor great music of the past and musicians who have dedicated a lifetime to their art,” he explains.
“For a festival to thrive, it needs bands that have the power to gather a lot of people,” Ruido Fest’s Eduardo Calvillo says as they tell us about their selection process. “If we have been more receptive to bands from the past, it has been an organic occurrence, not because we’ve gone down the nostalgia road.”
Above all, older, established acts are good business.
There are also powers within the industry that are allowing older acts to get these kinds of opportunities. According to Calvillo, established acts get the industry’s support while younger artists find it hard to get noticed by gatekeepers. “Contemporary bands don’t receive the same support as the already established ones. Very few agencies risk signing emerging talent,” he said.
Damon Rey says, “Lifelong fans will grow with an artist and welcome opportunities to see them perform again and again. And especially for multi-generational artists, whose music gets shared by parents to their children in the household, it becomes a special and important cultural experience for younger music fans to see that artist in concert – if and while they still can.”
Indeed, nostalgia plays an important role when it comes to these types of older fans. As Gastelum illustrates, it’s about community. “If I go see a Caifanes show, the likelihood that I’m going to see folks who I saw back in the ‘rock en español’ era than I would going to, say, a Carla Morrison or Gaby Moreno show,” he said.
Above all, older, established acts are good business, since most enjoyed support from radio and TV when those were the main mechanisms of music discovery. Plus, nostalgia for a carefree time in one’s life is always powerful. Gastelum agrees that it’s good business. “I think the Latin music industry is in a similar situation, perhaps a bit more concentrated where there are the older established acts and then there are the newer acts with a lot less following and less industry support, or at least support in the traditional sense. The way things are changing now, many of these newer acts are going to overcome not being on the radio or TV and be the stars of the future. Playlisting, blogging, and the Internet in general as it exists today is coming on strong, and really has become the reality for the newer generation. I predict there will be a better balance in the future. I’m counting on it.”
In Rey’s view, nostalgia acts are going to be important to festival bookers for awhile. “There are so few of them compared to newer acts,” he said. More and more emerging artists are trying to make an impact, while established ones have fanbases already on board with them, making them attractive to bookers. Calvillo predicts that one day, beloved indie acts like Miss Garrison, Buscabulla, and Alex Anwandter will fill those slots.
It remains to be seen if Los Ángeles Azules’ Coachella set will translate to more Latinx acts topping festival bills next year; the critical reception from international press will certainly be a major influence. Legacy acts will be a part of festival bills for years to come, including events marketed to the Latinx community. Perhaps Coachella, as well as fests like Tropicalia, Ruido Fest, and Los Dells will help establish a new canon of mainstays “en español” that will appear on festivals far and wide in the coming years.
Editor’s note: Tropicalia representatives declined an interview request, and representatives from Coachella did not respond to our request before press time. Remezcla will update if more information becomes available.