The Sounds of La Villita's Muertos Fest

Nina Diaz, Performing Sunday - Courtesy
Nina Diaz, Performing Sunday

To soundtrack the celebration of family, death and pan de muerto, La Villita's Muertos Fest has prepared an excellent lineup for the two-day fiesta. Like the weekend's altar contest, in which contestants create traditional ofrendas with new and imaginative materials, the musicians onstage take traditional forms from the Americas and give them a creative spin.


Azul Barrientos is a premier artist in SA's singer-songwriter circuit, performing her twist on traditional Mexican forms. But as Toromata, with her fellow Chilangos Shine Herrera and Luis Alejo, Barrientos delivers her best, electronically infused work. Letting a software sequencer sub for a drummer, Toromata combines the rhythms of the cumbia and reggaeton with hazy, delay-washed guitar for an enchanting experience.

Here's a blast from the new wave past: Austin's Tubular Face. In 1984, Mike Escamilla (not the BMX biker) moved from SA to the state capitol, became friends with an unknown Daniel Johnston and formed the punk outfit Tubular Face with Gilbert Garcia. That year, they released an An Acoustic Disturbance on Closet Records, an un-digitized LP only available for analog on the Discogs database. Still, two tunes from a public access gig found their way onto YouTube—"Change My World" and "Movie Star." On them, Escamilla sings in a cool and haphazard tone, sounding halfway between the cowboy rock of Joe Ely and the post-punk of Television Personalities.

Active since 2009, the self-described mojado-punks Piñata Protest released their best effort yet with 2013's El Valiente EP. Like a lot of great punk works, El Valiente is a 20-minute speed tour of teeth-gritting guitar intensity. But unlike most punk, Piñata Protest integrates the two-step accordion rhythms of Norteño into their tunes, helping to land the four-piece on NPR's Austin 100—their playlist of recommendations from SXSW in 2014.


On their 2010 self-titled EP, Master Blaster Sound System presents a five-track party, with a club-cumbia beat driving the bilingual samples. Despite its brevity, the EP contains a great deal of variety over the two-four cumbia rhythms, from the traditional and crunchy vocals of "El Borracho" to the cumbia krunk of "Borrale."

The only holdover from last year's Muertos Fest, Making Movies places the Afro-Cuban son style in the setting of indie rock. Their 2013 A La Deriva concept album relays the story of an immigrant family torn apart in the U.S., switching between Spanish and English as the generations age.

Taking a break from Girl in a Coma, Nina Diaz compiled a tight crew that takes a strong step away from her current output. With drummer Jorge Gonzalez of Pop Pistol, guitarist Travis Vela of the Bombasta Barrio Big Band, former Bombasta keyboardist Jaime Ramirez and The Whale's Justin Carney on bass, the deft quintet has a wide range, proven by their cover selections of Selena's "Techno Cumbia" and INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart."

Muertos Fest feat. Los Clavos del Wesso, Como Las Movies, Femina-X, Ernest Gonzalez (Friday), Las Tesoros, Gina Chavez, La Trinidad (Saturday)
Free, 10am-11pm Sat, Nov 1, 1pm-10pm Sun, Nov 2, Arneson River Theater, 418 Villita,
(210) 207-8614,


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