There's so much to say about a CumbiaSazo event - yes, event. Calling it merely a party or a show just doesn't do it justice. We as participants come away with something far more powerful than when we leave a party or a show. We are enriched; enriched in a way that carries over into everything we do. We might be a little less judgmental. Maybe we're a tad more compassionate. Or maybe, a little bit more accommodating. Whatever it is that's changed, what's the same is this kind of tuning in - this, expanded awareness. The quality of which begins to increase the number of positive interactions we have with those around us.

"Woa - kick back, sappy!"

I know, I know...but that's how I feel. And it's important, I think. It's one of the reasons why I write about Latin Alternative Music; I believe there are some conceptual elements in play that have the potential to expand awareness of both ourselves and of each other that in turn, can heal the worst of Humanitie's ails. 

"Woaa - slow your roll, there, homie; too heavy."

Maybe not.

CumbiaSazo is a multi-faceted, multi-media event that seeks to uplift, not just through music and dance, but through visuals, live painting, unique vendors, and even guest chefs. Every sense is accounted for and bombarded with that positivity I alluded to earlier. And it's no surprise, considering the three that make it all happen. DJ Itzi Nallah dishes the grooves; VJ Calixta projects the visuals, and MC Tifflove masters the ceremony while showing us how a top-notch dancer gets down. It's all-encompassing; and it's all-inspiring. Every now and again, guest percussionists jump into the mix and, BOOM: CumbiaSazo Soundsystem! They remind me a bit of Systema Solar. VJ Calixta very much does what Pata de Perro does when taking over the visual system and performing live with her crew. These are the layered nuances that a CumbiaSazo event engulfs us in when we walk through the door. So much joy and so many smiling faces with hardly any pretense...its telling. And again, it's no surprise, because when you talk to Itzi, Calixta or Tifflove, you can see it in their eyes, and you can hear it in their voices: it's a genuine desire to create positive, socially-conscious spaces for us to come as we are, without judgement, and let it all out on the dance floor, do a little healing, then head back out into the world ready to make a new day.

The August edition of CumbiaSazo saw an incredible group of performers. Summer Romero's provocative Gaianauta fashion performance set the tone early on and it was stunning. She's a fashion and textile designer with a beautiful vision that I could put into words but would rather link you to her site so you can go in unbiased. My writing is long and winded, and her projects, I think, are best experienced with as few words as possible. It really is special, what she's doing, because she's engaging in the long lost art of storytelling through her clothing designs.
From her website:

                                  "Each chapter of the GAIANAUTA story belongs to a unique pieces collection,
                                           programmed and syncronized to the chapter that it represents."



"Talk about the music, already!"

Oh, but wait. That's my point.
I'm this far into the piece and still haven't said much about the music because there are so many facets of the event that make CumbiaSazo more than just a show. Ok, now the music.

When I first arrived in Chicago 4 years ago, I was having a drink at the Owl when I struck up a conversation about Ozomatli.

"You ever hear of Vicios de Papá?", he asked.
I hadn't. So, the next day I plugged into Youtube and came across Esperanza.

Oh man...

Los Vicios de Papá are another powerhouse Chicago musical familia that's got it going on. An octet with depth, both in musical style and socially-conscious lyricism, LVDP seamlessly accents a strong core of ska & reggae with cumbia, dancehall, punk, some huapachon, and a touch of hip-hop. They produce a full, rich, energetic sound that's brassy, tropical, and at times psychedelic. Rene Lemus' vocals are defiant and compassionate at the same time; defiant because there's a recognition of political corruption that runs roughshod over communities; compassionate because there's a message that, regardless of the detritus, it is possible to create positive spaces on our own and not wallow in the negative spaces that dwindle our resources and ultimately, our humanity. Fiesta Y Lucha gives us this; Day by Day gives us this; Esperanza certainly gives us this...

You know who else gives us this?


And now, they're off to spread that Sazo love during the CumbiaSazo Connection Tour 2015. With 6 states in 4 weeks, they'll have the wonderful opportunity, not just to perform for other communities, but to learn from them, too. That's what impresses me so much. Fame and fortune are meaningless. They do it because they love the music and they see the value in real, grassroots community building. They get it; and they give back. That's why I think they are important. So, if your city is on the list, don't sleep. And if your city isn't on the list, and you just happen to be in Chicago, CumbiaSazo unfolds every 4th Saturday at The Double Door

For more information and tour dates, visit the CumbiaSazo Indiegogo page; and if you're feeling it like a lot of others have, donate!

For more information about this past event and a list of all the performers, vendors, and artists, visit