This September, Los Angeles’ historic venue The Ford turned on its lights for the first time in 2020. The theaters’ first digital festival was in partnership with Solidarity For Sanctuary. The spotlight was on trailblazing Mexican-American R&B soulful crooner Omar Apollo as he took center stage as the headlining act of the night.
To commemorate the event, Apollo took the opportunity to explore a new frontier in his music and debut his latest single and first corrido, “Dos Uno Nueve (219).” The single features renowned regional Mexican collective Yellow Room Music was orchestrated by Grammy-nominated talent Nathalie Joachim, conducted by Anthony Parntherand and accompanied by members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic exclusively for the live stream—a demonstration of the prismatic beauty birthed when a multitude of worlds are allowed to coexist within the same space or stage.
Showcasing the vivacity of local talent that live, work, and create in the City of Angels, Apollo will be joined by a roster of Latine artists including Sancha, Las Cafeteras and Lido Pimienta. The Solidarity For Sanctuary broadcast was curated by a team of Latinas including Cynthia Fuentes (The Ford Director), Doris Muñoz (SFS Co-Founder) and Diana Diaz (SFS Co-Founder). It offered thought-provoking panel discussions, Selena-inspired musical performances and introductions to organizations working towards making LA a more vibrant city for its residents.
Following Omar Apollo’s unique performance, we joined him backstage to get further insight on his inspiration to move in a new musical direction, how the historic collaboration came to be and his role as an artist during a socially charged moment in history.
“Dos Uno Nueve” moves your music into a new direction that trades your traditional funk-infused R&B for a Corrido. Who, or what, was your biggest creative inspiration behind this new sound?
I’d have to say my biggest inspirations were my tios and the music I grew up with. You have romanticas, cumbias and all those genres, but corridos were big in my family. Every time I hear one, it reminds me of being with them. You know, when they start pisteando and the guitars come out, you know the corridos are about to come out too. So I grew up on them, I always knew all the songs, and I was always trying to learn how to play them. I’ve always just had this thought like ‘Damn, I really want to make one.’ But it wasn’t until I got older that I started really getting into the artists. My cousin introduced me to music like Natanael Cano, Junior H, and T3R Elemento and hearing them I would just think, ‘this is dope!’ So I’ve always been trying to work on some stuff by myself but something was still not hitting right, the vibe was still off. I think it was because I was trying to make corridos on my own, but I mean I grew up playing jazz and stuff.
Is that how your collaboration with Yellow Room Music happened? How did you decide that this particular song would be the first to finally get completed and mark your corrido debut?
I knew I needed some real players so I had hit up my friend Edgar and told him about wanting to make a corrido. He introduced me to the rest of his band, Yellow Room Music (who also played with me today), and I was able to talk through all aspects of a song I wanted to create. I told them about what I wanted to say, my vision for it and a few chords. With their musical knowledge, we were able to finally put it all together and just do it. We also made a lot more too…
Do you think the current quarantine situation also provided any motivation for you to finally give producing corridos a chance?
Definitely. Quarantine gave me the space and time for so much. It really has made me want to get better at everything. Playing music, writing in English, writing in Spanish, all of it. Especially with writing, that’s been a big thing. I’ve been realizing during this time that I can really write a song and finish it by myself, so that’s been cool. I’ve just been in a perpetual state of learning, really.
Not only did you work with Yellow Room Music on this single, but you also got the opportunity to work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. What was your process like working on this alongside a renowned orchestra?
It was an insane experience. I remember asking the symphony how I could get in and they told me you have to be born basically so I was like ‘damn, I can’t get in!’ Jokes aside, it was nuts. I had no clue that they were going to take my song and learn every single lick and chop of the song. It blew my mind, they really learned every part of it. It was surreal to hear the music that we all made come to life in that way on that stage.
When I came out to LA I felt like there was this huge community that accepted me with open arms and I felt like I finally was a part of something bigger than myself.
This also marks the first time members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic have ever played a corrido in its near 100-year history. How does it feel to be the first to bring a part of your culture into an institution like that?
We made it to the LA Philharmonic baby!
This was a very special moment that was made possible by The Ford’s collaboration with Solidarity For Sanctuary, who’s mission stands at the center of arts and activism. What do you hope people take away from your participation in an event like this as an artist?
Doris has been a part of my life for a long time since I was still living in an attic, so to be asked to be a part of something like this as a headliner is an honor. When I was younger in Indiana and going to school I felt that, because I was Mexican, I didn’t think that I was going to be successful because I didn’t really see anybody being successful. I always felt like there wasn’t really a community for Latinx people, especially with music. So when I came out to LA I felt like there was this huge community that accepted me with open arms and I felt like I finally was a part of something bigger than myself. It’s remembering feelings like that, and artists like Selena, who just hit different and give this reminder that big things are always possible for people like me. That thought process, for me, changed my whole life. If I could somehow inspire others in that way, then I think that’s amazing.
This is your third time playing the event, but your first as a headliner and first in this new COVID reality. What silver lining can you take from being a part of an innovative creative process like this virtual event?
I know some people really enjoy the new live stream format because it can be a little more relaxed than a live show, but it has been an adjustment for me and performing live when I don’t have people to play for. I feel kind of awkward and like I overthink things when I’m not able to vibe off of a crowd, but I’m learning. I’m happy to be a part of it and still perform when we can’t play shows in some capacity, provide jobs and share an experience with fans in some way. I’ve also been getting the chance to work with my friends a lot during quarantine which has been really cool.
You’ve gotta go vote. It’s important.
Speaking of quarantine, [in addition to] a pandemic, the world is also experiencing large social movements right now. The event highlights this by heavily emphasizing the message of Black & Brown solidarity. How do you view your role in this?
I take it super serious. I take the fact that I have a platform and that I am able to have a voice on the issues that affect our communities seriously. I make sure to speak up about it and I have. I also make sure to talk to people in my circle and in my family. Cousins, tias, anyone who has certain generational mentalities. Especially on anti-Blackness in the Latinx communities. I’ve been spending a lot of this time reading and learning more about history so that I can better educate myself and the people around me. I make sure to get on the phone with them and have those conversations. I want to make sure that the people around me know what’s going on in the world.
Another big part of the mission for this Solidarity For Sanctuary is getting folks out to vote. Being an election year and a young Latinx face in the industry, what is your message to your fan base on the importance of making your voice heard?
GO VOTE. You’ve gotta go vote. It’s important. Your future is important. Our future is important. So it’s so important to make your voice heard. Don’t just stay at home. Or maybe you should because of quarantine? So in that case, vote by mail or something. Just make sure you know your deadlines and your options for voting wherever you may be! And stay safe!