One of the joys of living in Los Angeles is the rich Latino music culture in this city, which is 50% Latino and 100% musical. Powering that culture is a generation of Latinos who were raised at home with Spanish with mariachi, son, and corrido and went to school in English with rock and blues and rap. They have long been melding the two and a new music form is emerging from that mashup which I call “Latin-Gringo pop’ for want of a better term, although some fits into the Alt. Latin genre. Examples include La Santa Cecelia, Ozomatli and Los Lobos who pioneered not only the form, but its ability to crossover into the national mainstream culture.
A new wave of artists are emerging now that seamlessly blend pure rock and blues and even jazz with solid Mexican and other Latin classic and popular music, switching back and forth and melding the two. Gypset a young, bilingual, LA-based online platform that explores the creativity of emerging artists, has launched a series of Gypset Musical Showcases featuring the new generation of crossover musicians. Their third Showcase, held at the 333Live music club lst week, treated a packed house to two of LA’s fastest rising and most deeply talented “Latin-Gringo Pop” artists, torch singer Irene Diaz and singer/songwriter/producer, Mitre.
A relaxed crowd reflecting the diversity of LA settled back into soft sofas with cocktails and wine while the opening act, the Columbian singer/songwriter AREVALO filled the room with his bell-clear melodies and melodic, deeply personal lyrics. Nominated in 2013 for “Best Alternative Pop Artist” in the Shock Awards, he and his accompanist set a high standard as a perfect introduction for the heart of the evening.
“Heart” is exactly the right word, as Irene Diaz settled in onstage with her brilliant smile and musical radiance, opening a seven song set with the heart-piecing “Let Me Go”. Accented by Carolyn Cardoza’s uniquely sophisticated ukulele playing, Irene filled the room with her own special color – love, in all it’s forms. She went on to stop us cold with her voice in “Lover’s Sway” and “Untitled Love Song” – even the bar quieted down as she held us in her spell. The spell continued through ���My Sweetest Sin” and “Tricky Game”, from her I Love You Madly EP, backed up by her superb keyboard playing, derived from 17 years of classical piano training. She shed her jacket under the hot light and switched to guitar to give us an intimate acoustic version of the EP’s title song, “I Love You Madly” and then, with a sly smile, announced a new song, “Sweet Sex”, much to the delight and cheers of the audience.
I have been following Irene Diaz for over a year, had her my radio show, and reviewed her music. In that time she has gotten better and better, adding new songs, putting an edge on her writing, deepening her voice for blues belts and deftly modulating the high ends for soaring and seductive whisper. The Gypset Showcase concert was one of hundreds she has given and she did what she always does – takes complete control of the room and the audience’s emotions. As I have said to her, she is always the smallest and most powerful person in the room.
As Irene left the stage we were reminded that the heart of the evening had just begun; the Mexican-born LA transplant Mitre took the stage, giving his friend Irene a hug, and gave the downbeat to his band traditional Mexican danger/storyteller. We were off on another adventure.
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I first saw Mitre at a small club in southeast LA, singing with Diaz. I was blown away. Although he sang mostly in Spanish, which I am very rusty on, I knew exactly what the songs were about. He has a tenor that works for rock, ballads, love songs – anything that makes you feel good. The next time I saw him was at the Gibson Showroom in Beverly Hills with a full band and Irene Diaz, Iñaki Vazquez and other special guests. Mitre’s music is a fresh and exciting blend of tango, pop, traditional Mexican music, rock, blues and recorded street sounds from around the world. When he plays you listen closely. When he sings you listen with your eyes closed and a very large smile on your face, regardless of language.
“Awesome” is an overused term, but Mitre showed us exactly what that meant with an eight song set that ranged from rock to ballads, to love songs, to blues. Starting off with “Intro” and moving to the powerful and mysterious “Lloro”, his voice soared, filling the room with “Y lloro/Si tú no estás me ahogo/El mundo se hace polvo/Me duele respirar. The audience both English and Spanish speaking could have cried with him as he sang of his lost will to live.
“Aquacero” and “Katerina” followed, taking hold of what was by then a very packed house. As he segued into “Salto Sin Red” and then the rock beats of “Bulletproof”, we were all swayed, marveling at how he handled the lyrics “Every time you hate you put a bullet through your own head” so they became positive.
Mitre was – and is – always generous with the stage, sharing it with guest singers through the night. Most impressive was Diaz when she joined him in the last song, “Case in Recuerdo”, sung in Spanish and English. Mitre’s golden voice carried the Spanish in a soaring, Elvis-like tenor and Diaz belted the English blues-style with her torch voice. The effect brought the house down.
Mitre is supported by BMI, a testament to his talent and his potential as a major crossover artist. He has a sound instinct on how to meld the Mexican love songs and Spanish with English, how to bring in other singers and how to direct them, and how to stage his concerts so they ring true to his Latino audience and bring in a growing legion of Gringo fans. Gypset chose wisely in bring him to their audience.
The next Gypset Music Showcase is on January 29, 2015 at 333 Live with Vanessa Zamora Mexican singer/songwriter/chanteuse who sings alternative-pop. Should be fun
Host, Music FridayLive