In the summer of 2012, two Chicanos both named José started a party called Noche Romántica in the Mission District of San Francisco at a former 49ers dive bar. The Mission was (and still is) in the thick of gentrification, and places that offered música Latina were few and far between. So José Arreguin aka Chicano Playboy and José Trujillo, who spun records as José y José at the time, decided to help fill that gap and began their all-vinyl event, playing a mix of Chicano oldies, boleros, cumbias, rancheras, and norteños at a place called Rock Bar.
Two years later, they moved the party to Los Angeles, launched with partners Joshua Lasso aka DJ Tenosh and Rochelle Martin, and now have a residency at Melody Lounge in Chinatown, where guest DJs like Bardo Martinez of Chicano Batman and Daniela Zepeda aka Xicasoul have played records. Most recently they had their first event with live performers, a Noche Romántica En Vivo, at a special venue in Boyle Heights— a neighborhood in East L.A. being hit with the same type of gentrification that the Mission has been feeling for decades. La Diabla, a psychedelic cumbia band from Tijuana and the goth cumbia performance artist San Cha and her band las Sirenas played live at the First Street Pool & Billiard Parlor this past June 24th. Special guest DJ BlackLotusRosie of Chulita Vinyl Club also played records along with resident DJs Chicano Playboy and Dave El Salvaje.
Looking back at the origin of Noche Romántica, Arreguin said “We wanted to create a space where Latinos who were left in the Mission could come together and listen to the music that we grew up with.” The crowd was a mix of people who worked nearby at the taquerías, day laborers, and young Latinos from the neighborhood. Noche Romántica in the Mission had a vibe similar to the dance halls of the 50s or 60s, with people posting up on the walls waiting for that special moment to swoop in and ask for a dance. The bar was mellow, the lighting dim. It was somewhere you could go for a nice cocktail or beer and enjoy the soothing jams you heard your parents play as a kid.
The music is what inspired the entire concept of Noche Romántica. The founders shared a nostalgia for now obscure romantic oldies, like tracks from Los Moonlights, Chalino Sanchez, or Marco Antonio Solis, as well as Spanish renditions of rock n’ roll hits originally written in English – and they wanted to revive interest in these old school Latino musicians. “When I was a kid, my Dad would play románticas working on cars. He’d work on lowriders, old cars, and play oldies, boleros, and cumbias. And on Sundays when he’d start playing the norteñas and rancheras, I knew I had to get up and clean,” Arreguin added with a laugh. These are the kind of memories that people who go to Noche Romántica share with Arreguin after his sets. The music inspires a nostalgia that references a specifically Chicano cultural experience – that of being American but having Mexican, Latino, or Native roots, a foot in two worlds.
Arreguin says he’s seen the LA crowd specifically have a big appreciation for the music, noting that it resonates with them on a deep level. Other culture-creators have noticed as well –DubLab, the LA radio station with an international audience, recorded a set with Noche Romántica recently, and the Date Farmers, native artists of the Coachella valley, invited Noche Romántica to bring their ambiance to an afterparty for the Coachella Arts and Music Festival.
In addition to the music and dancing that comes with the party, Rochelle Martin of Mapache Jewelry brings a spiritual and artistic element by creating an altar, setting up her crystals, and selling her jewelry of glittery Virgencitas, neon Jesus figurines, vintage crying clowns, and other cositas found in thrift stores, flea markets, and swap meets around LA. She sets intentions with her ofrendas and makes sure the atmosphere embodies an eclectic identity. Martin says, “Noche Romántica is a really authentic cultural reflection that so many people can relate to in their own ways, and it doesn’t leave anyone out. We are collectively accepting each other, and collectively giving props to our parents no matter what generation we are from.”
And in light of the Orlando tragedy and the hateful, racist political climate in the US, it is important to acknowledge spaces where culture is being championed, where people are coming together to celebrate a shared cultural history. Arreguin says, “With all of the crazy things going on, with the negative connotations towards Latinos and the LGBTQ community, we want to create space where everyone can have a good time. We’re not taking ourselves too seriously. We know it’s just a party, but at the same time we’re making a statement that this is a place for love. We’re all equal on the dance floor.”
The vibe is best experienced live, but to give you a taste of a Noche Romántica, Chicano Playboy has put together a playlist of rare románticas perfect for the sadgirl or sadboy Remezcla listener, so listen, cry, remember, and enjoy.