European festivals setting up shop in Latin America has become old news: Sónar (Spain) have done it, as have Mysteryland (Netherlands) and Creamfields (UK), and so many others. Yet, on Saturday 28th May, Chile’s Frontera Festivaldecided to buck the trend, by bringing Latin America to London!
On a sunny Saturday in South-East London, Studio 338 opened its doors to some of Latin America’s biggest names with a bill that included influential Brazilian psychedelic rock group Os Mutantes, Puerto Rican reggae outfit Cultura Profética, Argentine electro-pop band Miranda! and Chile’s rising star Gepe. With a dizzying mixture of sounds and styles, from various countries and eras, Frontera Festival marked their first step onto the international circuit with a bang!
Frontera UK, a debut venture into bridging the gap between British and Latin American sounds by working hand-in-hand with local and international artists. With warm-up acts including Pana Waves (UK) and British-Argentine fusion Mono de Azucar, the statement was made clear; a festival for Brits and Latinos alike. And what better way to capture this sentiment than with multicultural folk band Jenny and the Mexicats?
I caught up with Jenny Ball, leading vocalist/trumpet player to talk about the band’s unique blend of cultures and sounds, which wraps together hints of flamenco, cumbia, ska and jazz into a distinctly British flavour.
“We’re a fusion of Mexican, Spanish and the English lady… that’s me. We’re based in Mexico and lately we’re trying to cross fronteras and bring our sounds back home… it’s great to be back!”
Londoner Jenny (who only learnt Spanish four years ago) spoke of finding a new home in Madrid and then Mexico City, where the group have found their success. A real excitement surrounds this young group, so full of originality and promise.
Next up was Spanish rockers La Fuga whose energetic set did well to warm up the crowd for Chile’s own, Santiago-based pop sensation Gepe, who entered the stage to the screams of his dedicated flag-waving fans. Gepe (real name Daniel Riveros) is fast cementing his reputation as the golden boy of Chilean pop in the last decade, with 5 successful solo albums that combine pop, reggaeton and hip hop with Andean music and the folk sensibilities of Victor Jara’s nueva canción.
“It’s incredible to see him outside Chile!” – a fan excitedly told us – “we’re Erasmus students living in Berlin, Paris and Barcelona… when we heard Gepe was coming to the UK we booked our flights immediately – we’re so happy to see him in London!”
A real showman and a Frontera regular back home, Gepe spoke of his excitement about playing alongside veteran headliners Os Mutantes and Cultura Profética (pictured above). Yet the honour is certainly not something that Gepe (pictured below) finds daunting…
“I’d consider myself one of the new kids on the block. I have a big young following in Chile”. He does not hide his confidence.
On seeing the Chilean flags, he added “it’s great to see the national flag flying proud in London… as a travelling musician, that kind of thing gives my performance meaning!” The conga which formed for his closing hit “Bomba Chaya” is sure to have delighted Gepe as much as the crowd.
The generation gap was really felt when legendary 60s psychedelic rock band Os Mutantes took to the stage. With a career spanning over 47 years, they are widely considered to be one of the most influential bands to have come out of Brazil, with the likes of Kurt Cobain and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne counting themselves amongst fans… and ‘The Mutants’ certainly lived up to their reputation, with the immensely popular “A Minha Menina” getting the crowd going into the night.
Puerto Rican reggae group Cultura Profética crowned the evening by welcoming in the summer with their laid-back reggae-dub vibes. Spectators flooded into Studio 338’s outdoor space to bop to anthem “La Complicidad” and “Ilegal”. Despite calls for an encore, the act promptly took off to pass the baton over to Miranda!, who closed the evening.
Whilst the event was perhaps a little under attended, the enthusiasm and energy of the crowd really lifted the atmosphere to get the UK ready for festival season. Frontera UK’s brave venture really marks a new milestone in raising the profile of Latin American music in Europe and beyond… with its exciting and diverse array of genres, let’s hope Frontera come back for more!