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City As Blender: Tijuana’s New Mix Of Music, Crowds, And Cultures

Evening Edition

Tijuana is emerging from hibernation. On November 16 and 17, 2012, not one but two music events were held in the city: the All My Friends Music Festival and the international music cross-pollination project Norte Sonoro.


Aired 11/26/12

By 2009, Tijuana had become a shadow of its former self. Known for bars, clubs, and general debauchery, the city's nightlife had ground to a crushing halt. Drug violence scared away tourists, and even locals stayed indoors.

Yet today, the city is emerging from hibernation.

Mexicali noise-punk band Maniqui Lazer playing at Tijuana's All My Friends Music Festival.

— By 2009, Tijuana had become a shadow of its former self. Known for bars, clubs, and general debauchery, the city's nightlife had ground to a crushing halt. Drug violence scared away tourists, and even locals stayed indoors.

Today, the city is emerging from hibernation.

Reuben Torres is a producer with the Tijuana trio Los Macuanos, a band he formed with Moises Horta and Moises López.

"When we started doing music, nobody was doing anything in the city," Torres said. "It was around the time when there was violence, so everything stopped. The parties died. For the three years we’ve been doing this, we've persevered… we were like, it doesn't matter that nobody cares. But now people have started caring."

It's true: people are not only caring, but now sometimes traveling in packs just to hear new music. On a recent November weekend, not one but two music events arrived in Tijuana: the All My Friends Music Festival and the musical residency Norte Sonoro.

The concept behind Norte Sonoro is simple. Each year, a hand-picked curator chooses six international musicians, and brings them to a pre-selected Mexican city for a week of immersion in local sounds, food, art, and culture. At the week's end, the artists perform in a showcase, and collaborate on a digital album.

Esteban Sheridan Cárdenas, founder of the Norte Sonoro, says that choosing Tijuana as this year's Norte Sonoro host city was an obvious choice.

"It made perfect sense to have it happen here," he said. "Tijuana is very Mexican. Some people might not think it's very Mexican because it's so pocho, but I think it's really the future of Mexico. The upper middle class in my generation, we grew up listening to a lot of Anglo music. And then, you suddenly realize that México has such amazing sounds."

Jace Clayton, a.k.a DJ Rupture, mixes at Norte Sonoro's 2012 artist showcase in Tijuana.

For 2012, Brooklyn resident Jace Clayton, who performs as D.J. Rupture, curated the residency. Clayton is also a professional music journalist who's written extensively about modern Mexican sound.

This year's artists included Venus X and Sun Araw from the United States, Psilosamples from Brazil, Poirier from Canada, and Cardopusher from Venezuela. Once the musicians arrived, they spent a week exploring and spending time in the studio with Tijuana's own Los Macuanos.

"The idea is that it's not some easy sampling pulled off the internet, you know, or some cheesy remix," Clayton explained. "The idea is really getting the social context that gave rise to these sounds that we're working with, and trying to engage in that in a socially responsible way, as we're meeting each other, as we're getting to know the city."

Clayton thinks that Mexico is undergoing a musical renaissance of sorts. "It's a really interesting and fertile time for Mexican music," he said. To him, Tijuana is "a crazy creative hotbed for different people doing really exciting new music and art."

Moni Saldaña is a promoter with NRMAL, a music and arts promoter from Monterrey, Mexico. Saldaña said that the local sounds sampled by the musicians-in-residence included movimiento alterado, corridos sierreño, banda sinoloense, and indigenous music.

"We just decided to choose traditional sounds," she said. "Local sounds are very important and very big in this area-- not only in Tijuana, but in Ensenada and Mexicali."

At the end of the residency, Norte Sonoro artists collaborate to produce a digital album. It's available for free download online, and organizers say that it should be ready in January.

The Norte Sonoro 2011 music project free digital E.P. cover.

You can download the first Norte Sonoro digital E.P, published in 2011, by clicking here.

After Norte Sonoro on Friday night, the highly publicized All My Friends Music Festival attracted hundreds of young people to Tijuana the following day. The crowd for the all-day concert included Americans from San Diego and Los Angeles. Many stayed late into the night.

The festival showcased of more than 30 bands from Mexico and the U.S. performed on three separate stages at Tijuana's Casa de la Cultura. Two stages were set up outside, with one inside. The musical genres crossed boundaries, and included dubstep, punk rock, jazz, cumbia, no wave, norteño, banda, noise, techno, and more.

Tijuana resident Marco Antonio Apodaca, known locally as DJ Yelram Selectah, mixed tribal guarachero, a robust electro-blend heavily influenced by tropical cumbia, traditional Mexican folk songs, and a touch of dubstep.

The crowd melted into a dancing frenzy.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | November 27, 2012 at 9:26 a.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

The nightlife NEVER entirely abated. Nor has the violence actually decreased to "tolerable" pre-2006 levels.

Looking at the wider picture, never has recovered from post September 11th decline.

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Avatar for user 'Really123'

Really123 | November 27, 2012 at 2:07 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

As a person who crosses the border often and talks about it, I am often tagged as a Mexican apologist. I spent many a drunken night in TJ in the heyday of the 80's. Then as I got older I moved on to friendly gatherings and house parties in the 90's. Over the past 20 years, I travelled througout Mexico, never stopping for one minute while the violence was going on.

This is only my personal perspective, but to me Tijuana was never a really "Mexican" city like DF or Puebla etc... until recently. Possibly the lack of partiers from the USA (of which yes, I was one at one time) washing over the border has led to a real difference in the feel of Tijuana. Over the past 5 years or so it seems to have developed more of it's own "Mexican" personality, quite unapologetically. Granted, this Mexcian identity may have been there the whole time and I just never saw it, but it sure wasn't front and center.

But now to me it seems more evident, I love it. I go there as often as I can to go out to dinner, see plays, attend concerts, and visit friends. The people who love to hate Mexico and TJ will never come back, the crazy stories they believe have poisened them for good. (No, they won't steal your blond-haired blue-eyed babies. They have thier own beautiful children.) It's a big city, and like anyone visiting LA or Chicago, be street smart. For the open minded, this new Tijuana is classy and I urge anyone who is Tijuana-curious to give it a new try.

On a side note- There is a huge crime and violence problem in Chicago. People never talk about it and travel there regardless of the situation. I know, I have family there and travel there often myself. Good public relations can work miracles. The same people that think the boogey man is waiting for them in Mexcio, seem to be more than willing to risk being shot in Chi-town. Go figure.

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Avatar for user 'realtijuana_blogspot'

realtijuana_blogspot | November 28, 2012 at 2:48 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Welcome to the frontera, señorita Erin. Please learn a little about us before opining.

"Today, the city is emerging from hibernation." ¿Qué va, m'hija? The city has been going a todo dar since the 1920s. What we haven't seen lately has been tourism from the gringuitos and the chicanitos ever since they wet their chones from the so-called violence of 2004–7.

And how bad was that so-called violence? Well, the mayor lost some of his buddies from the Arellano-Félix cartel and the president managed to get rid of some inconvenient middle management for his buddy El Chapo Guzmán. But Tijuana's murder rate never got as high as that of comparable cities in the U.S. And it never took out innocent turistas like you, chiquita.

And that was all back before you got your first piercing or tattoo. ¡Chale!

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