Meet the Woman Who Paved the Way For “Latin Alternative” Sounds in NYC

Yes, using “Latin alternative” to describe a band, artist, event, or a social movement in 2015 is not only archaic, but borderline embarrassing. To a teenager, listening to that dreaded term probably feels like hearing a Kirkland jeans-wearing dad rant about how trap music is terrible, but how some middle-aged asshole rocker is great. “Gross, Dad! Go listen to your minidiscs – or whatever – back in your tool shed, and leave me and my friends alone,” is how this same hypothetical teenager would retort.

But Rome wasn’t build in a day, kids, and the aforementioned music tag may have been a necessary evil – at least in certain places. One of those places was New York, a city often pegged as a “melting pot” of cultures, but one that never really had a strong Latin alternative presence.

Before the ‘00s, salsa, merengue and bachata were the sole rulers of the Latino landscape in NYC. They’re great genres, of course, but they’re also stereotypical in the sense that many people still assume they’re the only kind of music Latinos dabble in, which has never been the case. (Ever been the victim of “So you’re Latino? Then you’re probably really good at dancing salsa!”?).

Seminal rock en español band Soda Estereo
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The lack of variety and interest meant that, at least throughout most of the ‘90s, the elusive rock en español bands, which always found an audience in the West Coast, simply skipped the Big Apple in favor of Chicago or, somewhat desperately, Miami (desperate because Miami has never been kind to anything other than mainstream Spanish-sung music).

Tired of being shown up, a small group of people took it upon themselves to change the monotony of NYC’s Latino music scene. The most obvious mover and shaker has to be Tomas Cookman, owner of Nacional Records and the long-time producer of LAMC, but he wasn’t the only puppeteer in the theater. Like a Madame observing an audience from behind the stage curtains, Queens-born Yuzzy Acosta was the go-to promoter and publicist for everyone from Gustavo Cerati to Aterciopelados.

Yuzzy Acosta, photo via Facebook
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It’s important to note that in the early aughts Latin Alternative bands didn’t regularly play at internationally-known festivals, such as Coachella, nor could they fill out the Best Buy Theater in Times Square. Back then, selling their esoteric coolness to anyone other than a handful of music dorks in a hole-in-the-wall bar seemed impossible. So if you ever attended any Latin alternative concert in NYC in the early part of last decade, Acosta was probably involved in one way or another.

But besides putting herself on the line for a very neglected group of artists, Yuzzy often sent the fruits of her labor back to her parents’ homeland of Colombia. As such, she became a curator for Rock Al Parque, Colombia’s biggest rock festival. She would pepper the stage with the likes of Interpol and VHS or Beta — both kinda horrible now but incredibly trendy in their heyday — and other non-metal or ska offerings (old-school Latin American promoters are very hesitant to push non-proven acts).

“Rock al Parque” festival in Bogota, 2007. (AP Photo/William Fernando Martinez)
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Sadly, a few months ago Acosta discovered she had a cancerous tumor, and she recently underwent surgery in order to have it removed. The good news is that the surgery was a success; the bad news is that surgical procedures are incredibly expensive – especially for an independent, self-employed woman. To help out with the costs, a benefit concert featuring Chocquibtown, Andrea Echeverri, and Kinky frontman Gil Cerezo, among other friends of Yuzzy, took place last week in Colombia. But as an added measure, one to help alleviate what could be crippling debt, Alicia Zertuche, a close friend of Acosta, also set up a Gofundme campaign.

Acosta, pictured center.
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This summer Astro, Bomba Estereo, and Ximena Sariñana – fresh blood, relatively speaking – played to sold-out crowds in great, big venues all over NYC. Yuzzy had nothing to do with those concerts, but thanks to early adopters such as herself, those same bands – now thriving thanks to the offspring of the ugly jeans-wearing dad – don’t have to play shitty bars for a 10% cut of the $5 cover. I repeat: great cities are not built in a day.

Yuzzy has devoted much of her life to making an important part of Latino culture more accessible and less misunderstood. If you can appreciate that, and if you never learned how to dance salsa, don’t hesitate to show your support.