American Latin Music night at the Hotel Café
It was American Latin Music Night at Hotel Café this Saturday as the party for Mitre’s new video rolled out. A packed house rocked to Mitre and the mythological but very real onstage La Catrina – all there to celebrate the fusion of rock and Latin music and launch the Mexican star’s new video. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the Austin-based Musician of the Year, Gina Chavez, joined the party with her award-winning songs for a crowd that flowed out of the venue and into the lobby.
Mitre, in his signature black shirt, black jeans with silver gala reminiscent of a Charro suit, and his masked band (minus the redoubtable Gloria Estrada on bass and Irene Diaz who is featured on Mitre’s single, Casi Un Recuerdo but was on tour) gave us a powerful tour of his catalogue, treating us to his soaring voice, patient melodies and burning emotion on keyboard and guitar. As always, Mitre was generous with his time and his stage, inviting others to join him, most notably the Grammy-nominated Dominican singer and songwriter, Alih Jey. Many of the songs, such as Depredador were dramatized on stage by the figure of La Catrina, played by the actor and film director, Hugo Melendez. The Latinos in the audience loved it; the gringos – about half of the crowd -- were delighted at their musical introduction to Mexican mythology. That introduction became a friendship at the screening of Mitre’s new music video based on La Catrina in her many guises.
Mitre’s fresh and exciting blend of tango, pop, traditional Mexican music, rock, blues and recorded street sounds from around the world played well in the Hotel Café, in my mind, the best showcase venue in the city. Even though his band was slightly smaller than usual Saturday, La Catrina glided around the stage to whisper encouragement into the ears of the musicians, making them seem larger than life. The excellent sound system and reasonably good sightlines the venue is known for let everyone get the full experience, especially during the video screening.
After Mitre left us swaying and cheering, it was Gina Chavez’s turn pull in everyone, even the drinkers in the wayback, which she did with her incandescent smile, amped up band and lively conversation. Fresh from her NPR Tiny Desk Concert and on a US and Canadian tour, she stepped onstage in a simple black dress holding an exquisite guitar and belted songs from her new album, Uprooted. The three musicians behind her, slimmed down from her usual 6-piece ensemble, expertly wielded drums, trumpet and bass while she stitched together Latin and rock tempos with her golden voice. At one point, she held a single note for almost 30 seconds while the audience held its breath and then cheered. Later, she switched from guitar to the charango – the 10-string lute from the Andes -- and shifted up the tempo to a fast Argentine rhythm that brought clapping and singing from the floor.
Not everything Chavez sang Saturday night was Latin danceable. A highlight of the set was Maiz, her heart-wrenching song about the hundreds of thousands of small Mexican farmers driven out of business by NAFTA’s opening the door to US subsidized corn, forcing them to make the dangerous border crossing into the country that impoverished them. The emotional songs like Maiz connected especially well with the audience and she fed on the connection. As the audience – some of whom did not know her – clapped and sang along to the up tempo tunes, you could almost see the two-way flow of energy from the stage to the floor and back.
Props to the Hotel Café for combining these two American Latin Music talents, leading off an all-star lineup culminating in the LA Independent Pop Artist of the Year, Cindy Alexander, thus insuring a great crossover audience for all the artists on stage Saturday night. With powerhouse talents like Mitre and Gina Chavez, that is going to be a very big audience indeed, and a very happy one.