Everything that’s Latinidad

Arts
Photo Credit: Rich Ryan
Photo Credit: Rich Ryan

MACLA unites with artists and a legendary DJ to bring about a music and art venture trying to answer the riddle of what it means to be Latino in the modern age

Arturo Hilario

El Observador

The entire weekend of February 17th will be a unique performance at MACLA in downtown San Jose. It will be loud and there will be dancing.

DJ Latinidad’s Latino Dance Party is a 3-day collaboration between MACLA, the National Performance Network (NPN) and organized by artists Mark Valdez and the seminal Louis Flores, aka DJ BreakBeat Lou.

Mark Valdez is among other things an educator, organizer and artist from Los Angeles who is teaming up with the NPN and MACLA to do his second collaboration in the Bay Area. A blend of music, art and performance, “DJ Latinidad’s Latino Dance Party” is a look into the Latino culture from the eyes of a generation met with changing styles, identities and eclectic backgrounds, united in the theme of Latinidad.

After first meeting staff from MACLA at a convention and sharing ideas, Valdez says what flourished was an attempt to merge the new generations of Latino artists and playwrights with music.

“When we first started working on it was probably 2015 and we talked about ideas and how to make it work. One of the big questions that was going through my mind was the roles of Latino’s in the United States and it was all very different, like we were somewhere else in activism, a new energy and new kind of activism. It felt like there was a new generation of Latino leaders and it made me think, what is Latinidad now?”

His role in creating this collection of art and a dance party came from looking at what Latino’s are generally represented as and going beyond those narratives.

“I think sometimes in the news you hear about the success story, the person who overcomes all the odds, goes to college and then you also hear about the people that are the knuckleheads getting into trouble but they’re at the extremes, it’s like those are the stories that dominate pop culture so I wanted to engage a conversation on where are we? What does it mean now? What are the questions that we should be asking, what are the assumptions that we should challenge?”

It was in this thought process that he and his collaborators decided that the project would be a collection of commissions from a varied range of Latino’s, all trying to create pieces around the theme of the Latino diaspora, and what it meant in this day and age.

“What is Latinidad?”

The idea of the word ‘Latinidad’ stems from a collection of attributes, identities and common shared processes in the Latin American world. As diverse as the cultures are of the many regions, the idea that our collective experience can be noted is one of the main draws. In trying to assemble a group of artists to represent and explore the idea of what a present day Latino is, Valdez put out a call for auditions to anyone that could purposefully respond and interpret the query of “what is Latinidad?”

Valdez adds, “We really wanted to get multiple voices, tackling that question of Latinidad, we wanted different nationalities,  genders, sexual orientations, really try to be as diverse, to reflect la comunidad as much as we could. And from the responses we started to piece together ultimately what has become this show. It’s really just trying to get multiple perspectives on that question of what does it mean to be Latino in the United States in 2016/17.”

These are the Breaks

In searching for a DJ to run the music portion of the show, Valdez sought out possible candidates through his networks nationally. The music and dance party element of this production was what made it unique, what bended the rules of this play’s structure. “We didn’t want this to be a traditional type of play where you come in and sit down so we started to think about, ‘it would be fun if we had a DJ’, [be] more dance than performance, stretch the limits of how we think about theater .”

Louis Flores, known as DJ BreakBeat Lou, answered the call and began corresponding with Valdez. Known in the music world as a producer, DJ, scratcher and Hip Hop pioneer, his inclusion was a great surprise to Valdez once he realized the effect Flores had on the music world in the span of his career. “We started to have a conversation and just hit it off. I’m embarrassed to say this but I didn’t know his stature, his place in music history and for me I was just talking to this cool guy. As the conversation kept going I went, ‘my goodness, you’re a big deal!’”

Once the partnership solidified and Flores and Valdez agreed on working together, it was a ebb and flow creatively, intersecting ideas and crossover from their two worlds, music and clubs and theater and performance art. “Partnering was trying to translate. It was very collaborative to create this world,” says Valdez.

After working to put this together for around two years, Valdez makes observations of the work and the people that have put their efforts into discovering, looking back, and projecting their visions of Latinidad into words, music and artwork.

“There’s one thing that they have in common, that the past is very present. It informs, shapes and hovers around the action. And it makes me think about this generation of Latinos. Another interesting thing is that none of the artists created works in Spanish. So there are these interesting tensions between culture and past and tradition and the weight of that, how it feels in our presence. So it’s really kind of interesting as you think about being Latino now. “

Connect. Think. Dance. Repeat.

Valdez ends the talk mentioning his excitement for the 3-day performance and how it will be a universal attraction as much as it will affect Latinos with its themes. “The show is open to everybody, you don’t have to be Latino to come to enjoy it or get something out of it. Ultimately what’s being presented is stories, stories that a lot of people are going to respond to and connect with; it’s just joyful and fun and celebratory. It’s for all ages, and I think it’s just a wonderful experience . You get these moments of people and feeling and human connection and human stories and it’s all wrapped up in this big celebration. Don’t come in expecting a play like you’d think of plays, it’s very participatory, it’s a lot of fun. You’re invited to dance,  you don’t have to dance if you don’t want to, but it’s about the story and celebration.”

Please visit MACLA.org for more information and to purchase tickets to DJ Latinidad’s Latino Dance Party visit djlatinidadatmacla.eventbrite.com. The event runs Friday February 17-19.

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