Tropicália Festival Makes Classic Legacy Acts Feel Fresh Again

Art by Alan Lopez for Remezcla.

The second edition of Tropicália Fest took over Long Beach, California this weekend, bringing together an impressive mélange of talent ranging from buzzy indie acts like Empress Of and The Marías to mainstream headliners Morrissey and SZA – the latter filling in for Cardi B after a disappointing last-minute cancellation. Reaction to the growing SoCal festival has been overwhelmingly positive, with squad selfies and videos of massive dance pits flooding social media, showcasing the diversity of sound Tropicália continues to offer attendees as well as the complexity of today’s Latinx music consumer.

One of the weekend’s most anticipated curve balls was the festival’s inspired inclusion of surprising yet instantly recognizable legacy acts. “Leo Dan!” read several statuses on my Facebook feed shortly after the official Tropicália lineup announcement, back in August. Pleasantly shocked, fans have come to expect festival bills to include classic, often genre-defining names – one of the most deliciously intriguing aspects of the curation process.

Certainly, Tropicália is not alone in this field. Supersónico and Ruido Fest broke ground over the last five years by organizing some of the first mainstream-leaning Latinx-oriented music festivals in the US, booking enduring favorites like Aterciopelados, Molotov and Caifanes while acknowledging the rising wave of Latin indie. But in the landscape of Latin music festivals, the legacy artist category is usually filled by gods from the rock en español pantheon, a logical direction due to their mass appeal and stadium-friendly anthems, though an increasingly obvious tactic as more organizations adopt this model.

Yet that is what makes Tropicália’s curation so fresh and unexpected. With the exception of Café Tacvba on last year’s lineup, and possibly Inspector this year – who arguably fall under the ska umbrella –  Tropicália organizers have largely stayed away from rock en español, favoring instead an array of beloved cumbia, norteño and pop acts. Last year, Los Tigres del Norte and Ivy Queen stole the show, while this past weekend it was legends like La Sonora Dinamita and Bronco who left the crowd buzzing in euphoric afterglow. They weren’t alone. Los Angeles Azules, Leo Dan, Lil Rob and even Natalia Lafourcade, whose career spans nearly 20 years, also offered a lived-in and well-rehearsed foil to the unpredictable urgency of the rowdy newcomers with whom they shared the bill.

It’s attractive to chalk up these bookings to cynical nostalgia, a ploy we’ve learned to rapidly identify in our current era of recycled pop-culture and social media-driven marketing strategies. (C’mon, where else did you think chunky dad sneakers and a Charmed reboot came from?) But creating spaces where young audiences experience the genius of these iconic artists can also bridge a generational gap between music fans of today and the sounds that unwittingly shaped our childhoods.

“Sonora Dinamita, they were just an explosion for everyone there,” shares Patricia Arreguin of De Colores Collective, a community engagement and podcasting crew from Dallas, Texas. “We grew up with them as our mom made us mop the floors with Fabuloso every weekend. Hearing “Cucu” sung in real life, we were just dying. At one point we started a little cumbia circle with a spot in the middle for people to come in and start dancing.”

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Arreguin, who traveled from Dallas with fellow De Colores Collective co-founders Rafael Tamayo and her sister Eva, is acutely aware of how festivals like Tropicália provide a cultural oasis in a national landscape where Latinxs are severely underrepresented. “I went because it was a great opportunity to meet fellow Latinx music fans since a lot of times we don’t have a festival where we’re all there for the same people,” she says. “In Dallas we don’t get a lot of these artists.”

Tropicália’s far reaching ambitions may be confusing to some, puzzled by the riskiness of housing so many ethnic, sonic and generational backgrounds under one banner, even if it presents a financial opportunity to tap a wider audience. But Arreguin cites her friends as a telling example as to why these taste gaps may not be as wide as previously thought. “Neither [Eva nor Rafael] knew anything about Combo Chimbita going in,” she says, “but we had just seen La Sonora Dinamita and they were dancing just as hard. You don’t feel like there’s a big difference in sound because they give you that same familiar feeling.”

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Admittedly, there is always room for improvement and even more diversity. Arreguin points out how other than Nina Sky, there weren’t more perreo-friendly artists on the lineup, which feels like a surprising missed opportunity considering reggaeton and dembow’s undisputable chart success.

Regardless, in just two years, Tropicália has set itself apart from the growing crop of homegrown Latin music festivals by becoming a sonic patchwork of the different ways Latinxs experience music. It’s not always easy striking a balance between heritage and current trends, but the nostalgic uptick of music lovers rediscovering classic acts helps put our past into focus while also contextualizing our evolving identities. And at the very least, it’s a healthy reminder of just how fire our parents can be on a dance floor.