Being a diplomatic traveller, I feel it incumbent upon me to network with the alternative musics of all the various cultures which intermingle in New York. Thus, with a briefcase and a set of broadly drawn proverbs with which to perform cultural exchange, I showed up at the Latin Alternative Music Conference’s outdoor showcase at Summerstage in Central Park.
Still on Irish gig time and not looking likely to develop better instincts in the near future, I missed the French-Chilean hip-hop duo who opened the gig. But I managed to show up before the thing I was really there to see (all that diplomacy stuff was just a front, don’t tell anyone) – El Guincho.
As he was setting up, an MC of the cookie-cutter type that end up shouting at the crowd at all of these free outdoor gigs came out with a microphone. If the gig was in Brooklyn, I wouldn’t even take bets on the likelihood of him saying the word Brooklyn within ten words. But it wasn’t, it was Central Park in Manhattan, so there was some suspense.
“something something futból!”
“Something elaborate in Spanish.”
From his position at the centre of stage plugging in his samplers, El Guincho leans in to his microphone.
Ambivalent response. El Guincho, more political than Carles Puyol.
But so the point is that everyone was either new world Latino or actually Spanish. Right now before El Guincho this doesn’t make much of a difference, but it will later.
El Guincho plays. He has a guitarist and a bassist with him, both of whom make his songs different but not necessarily better, and his singing voice is pretty rough. The crowd, delighted about a recent Spanish victory and generally just up for a dance, try to lock into the grooves, but don’t manage it fully. It’s bright, Guincho’s not sounding great, and the energy of it alone isn’t enough to carry it. Even the genuine Alegranza hits like Palmitos Park fall a little flat. A disappointing gig.
But while El Guincho is the guy I was there to see, and the guy I dragged my friends there to see, he wasn’t the main event or even the main curiosity.
After some more MCing, someone rolls a four-part computer console along the lines of the Hal 3000 onto the stage. It’s flashing in various places. But wait, what is that being carried out? A tuba, maybe? No, it’s a sousaphone, apparently. But the type of horn you have to wear to play, anyway.
“Spanish Spanish Spanish Spanish Spanish”
What followed was one of the most bizarre hours of my life. With two men playing tenorions in front of the computer console (which was just a prop, it turned out), and two men playing accordion and sousaphone/trumpet respectively, Nortec Collective played a reality-challenging Mexican folk vs. electronica mashup type set. Everything built up and then ended up in a break beat with the sousaphone going bomp-bomp underneath it Mexican-style.
It was ridiculous. But the crowd loved it. Dancing in ways that I didn’t know were ways of dancing. All of a sudden I’m feeling very anglo and wondering what to do with myself. I stand through the reverie, looking at the Tijuana-based visuals and trying to square the esoteric techno bits with the Cinco de Mayo parade bits. Hard to tell if you’re enjoying something like that or just rapt withal.
But no, it was terrible. Not necessarily a regret, showing up, but if I never heard Nortec again in my entire life, I wouldn’t be unhappy. A rare minus.