CALA Alliance International Festival celebrates Latino culture, spotlights Cumbia music

(Sarah Kolesar/DD)
CALA Alliance hosted its international festival in Civic Space Park on Friday and Saturday, spotlighting Cumbia music with various performances and also featuring a panel discussion on arts and culture. (Sarah Kolesar/DD)

The CALA Alliance took over Civic Space Park on Friday and Saturday with another installment of its biannual CALA Alliance International Festival.

CALA Alliance is an Arizona-based community organization that seeks to educate the public about the richness of Latino culture and use the arts to create a cultural understanding between the various people of the Americas.

“One of their primary goals is to … enrich lives of Arizonans through Latin culture,” said ASU Art Museum curator Julio Cesar Morales, who curated this year’s festival.

This year’s International Festival was divided into three segments, CALA Lab, CALA Arte and CALA ¡Cumbia!.

CALA Lab was a panel discussion featuring three well-known Latinos working in arts and culture, moderated by New York Times contributor and music and cultural critic Josh Kun.

Those participating were lauded Tijuana-based chef Javier Plascencia, recently appointed Phoenix Symphony music director Tito Muñoz and Aldo Sanchez, a curator at Mexico City art museum Museo del Estanquillo.

The lecture began with a PowerPoint presentation by Kun, where he set out the theme of the night of cross-cultural interaction, comparing it to a crossfader that a DJ uses to mix two separate musical pieces together.

“Instead of erasing one or another to let the other one be heard, the crossfader allows you to find that sweet spot in between that creates a conversation between two different voices,” Kun said. “All of our guests are crossfaders in their own way. They all listen carefully to culture, and they all think about that in-between spot, the middle ground.”

Discussion and slideshows for each panelist followed, highlighting their artistic lives and current activities.

Initially speaking about his move from New York City to Phoenix, Munoz diverged into his musical career: from his time playing violin at Julliard, to working at an Opera house in France, to eventually being a music director in New York City and then Phoenix.

He then spoke about his work with his new orchestra, as well as some of the misconceptions that exist about symphonic music, especially that it’s something exclusively for the elite.

Sanchez presented a slideshow about Mexican writer Carlos Monsiváis, an exhibit on whom he oversees at Museo del Estanquillo. Sanchez talked about a lack of knowledge about the writer in the United States (which Sanchez puts up to the difficulty of translating Monsiváis’ writing into English), Monsiváis’ political views, and the various subjects that he wrote about.

Plascencia spoke of his beginnings in Baja, California, living in a family in the restaurant business, his foray into the family business with an Italian restaurant, and his life as an acclaimed professional cook. Despite his various accolades, Plascencia remainws humble.

“I’m just a cook who has done pretty well,” he said.

CALA Arte consisted of a series of art exhibitions that examined the influence of traditional art on contemporary photography, as well as concurrent activities that were geared at children, such as face painting and mask-making. The children’s events were largely made to bring artistic ventures to children at a young age, with CALA working with the Diego Rivera Project to accomplish this goal.

Then came the third segment, which could be considered the main event: CALA ¡Cumbia!.

Cumbia music is a popular Latin American musical genre that originated in Colombia, largely from the music and customs of native Colombians and slaves who had been brought from Africa by the Spanish. Cumbia music spread throughout Latin America beginning in the 1960s, becoming especially popular in Mexico.

CALA ¡Cumbia! sought to explore the different versions of Cumbia that have existed throughout the years, from the traditional form that came from Colombia to hybrid genres that mix Cumbia music with more modern genres such as electronica, hip-hop and indie rock.

There was a large focus on the hybrid genres, with artists such as DJ Lengua attempting to fuse Latin American music with modern electronic beats.

When asked if he believes the event is important for Phoenix Latinos, DJ Lengua said, “I think anything that gets people to get together and dance, and brings together a lot of different generations is.”

The event itself had a very jovial atmosphere, with adults and children alike walking around as Cumbia music blasted from the speakers. There was also a food truck selling quesadillas and other Mexican food, a kiosk selling handmade Latin American art pieces and trinkets, and a large video screen showing various performance art pieces, one of which featured an artist painting the border wall between Mexico and the United States

Many at the festival said they enjoyed being able to experience Latin music and culture in Phoenix.

“A festival like this has the potential to put Phoenix on the map for its beautiful Latino culture,” CALA associate Taylor Pineda said.

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