For decades, Los Angeles Azules has played cumbia to sold-out crowds in arenas, making hips smoothly shake in time to the beat. The group’s traditional Latin dance tunes have become the soundtrack of people’s lives — a familiar friend blasting out of stereos and turntables at weddings, backyard parties and quinceañeras.
And the cumbia band’s members are no strangers to mixing up their bright, festive beats with other genres either, performing at both major rock shows in Mexico and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in L.A.
But still, lead singer and guitarist Erick De la Peña knows their next big gig is a really special one that could earn them a whole new following of fans — the taste-making Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
“Coachella is a celebration of music of all kinds, it’s very open to all genres and I think cumbia is a rhythm that you feel in your heart, your soul, your body and I think that will help us connect with everyone there,” De la Peña said during a phone interview in Spanish from Mexico City a few days before they’re set to perform both weekends of the music festival alongside acts like Beyoncé, The Weeknd, Eminem and Jamiroquai.
Coachella happens at the Empire Polo Club in Indio April 13-15 and April 20-22. Los Angeles Azules performs on the Fridays of Coachella and will also appear at Chella, a smaller concert aimed at locals on Thursday, April 19, at the nearby Riverside County Fairgrounds.
“It’s a great honor and privilege representing Mexico in a festival as important as Coachella and we’re sure that people will like us,” De la Peña said. “We’re just going to do what we do best and we’re sure people will do the rest,” he added.
Los Angeles Azules’ catchy dance music is called cumbia sonidera, a variation on the more traditional Colombian cumbia.
The band adds accordion and electronic synthesizers to the music’s African rhythms as well as smooth melodies. The resulting sound echoes the cumbia from the 1950-1970s, but with the addition of elements of 1990s-style electronic music.
All they’re hoping the Coachella audience does is bust out into a cumbia dance party, whether they’ve ever heard the music or not.
“We think we’ll be well received and we’ll see them dancing,” De la Peña said.
For the past few years the lineup at Coachella as leaned heavily on electronic dance music, rap and hip-hop acts. But since its inception in 1999, the festival has also had Latin artists, including Venezuelan band Los Amigos Invisibles, which performed the very first year.
In 2017, the festival expanded those efforts with the addition of the Sonora Tent, which featured more than a dozen acts ranging from rock, punk and garage bands whose music was largely driven by and blended with various Latin sounds.
More than a dozen Latino acts are set to take the stage this year along with the first straight-up cumbia band to make the bill, and it’s likely that many in the audience will recognize their music even if they don’t closely follow the genre.
“They’re legendary throughout the world…It’s one of those bands with music that a lot of younger people that go to Coachella grew up listening to at parties, at quinceañeras, weddings, at your parents’ house. It’s music that has been present in a lot of people’s lives” said Rene Contreras, one of the festival’s music bookers who was responsible for the Sonora Tent last year and booked the Chella concert on April 19.
Los Angeles Azules formed in 1976 in Iztapalapa, a town outside of Mexico City, by siblings Elias, Alfredo, Jose, Cristina and Guadalupe Mejia Avante. De la Peña joined the band in 2002.
The group has earned its following by touring constantly, performing hundreds of shows a year while selling out large venues like Mexico City’s 50,000-person-capacity Auditorio Nacional.
And with a repertoire of music that the band says can connect with anyone, they’ve long been open to taking it to new audiences.
These efforts have included performances at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic last year where they were joined by a few other cumbia bands, and performing with a lineup of rock acts when they played Mexico’s Latin rock festival Vive Latino in 2013.
Despite their success, getting the call to play Coachella was still a big surprise for the band, De la Peña said.
“We know how big this festival is, how important it is at a cultural level and the artists it draws, so for us it’s was incredible news (to be booked) and we know we have to do our best,” he said.
De la Peña is confident that they’ll win the audience over, after all, good music has no real boundaries, he noted.
“The music is so natural, so happy that it’s almost impossible to not feel it, to not dance to it,” he said.
NEWS SOURCE: https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/04/12/coachella-2018-how-los-angeles-azules-might-turn-the-festival-into-the-worlds-largest-cumbia-party/