On Sunday, Feb. 21st, the Penn groups QPenn and Festival Latinx jointly hosted Sancocho to celebrate the queer Latino community at the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. The guests, primarily undergrads at Penn, were welcomed with a generous display of colorful ingredients necessary to make tacos (rice, beef, chicken, deep fried beans, tomato, lettuce, corn and flour tortillas) and nachos (guacamole, lime, diced onions, cilantro, salsa roja, pico de gallo, queso blanco, sour cream, chips); for the sweet-toothed, flan was up for grabs.
Good stuff. Good free stuff. As a budget-conscious college student, I thanked the gods of free-campus-food, got a seat, and dug into a massive plate of tacos and nachos buried in a thick layer of fresh guac. As I feasted, Interminable — a local fusion band that blends the traditions of son jarocho (a regional music from Veracruz, Mexico), jazz, and mariachi — stepped on the stage and performed. Ximena Violente sang, played the jarana (a ukulele-like instrument native to Veracruz, Mexico) and guitar; Rodrigo Pichardo, bass; Brian O’Connell, piccolo bass; John Cole, drums.
Immediately, Ximena caught my eyes. She had sleek rose-red hair, perfectly pulled back to a ponytail and sensible buzzcut on the sides, lip-piercing, and sported a casual yet chic androgynous outfit composed of an elegant blazer (“Got it for $5 at a yard sale!”), a loose white shirt with stitched flower details, purple jeans, and black sneaks. She sang in Spanish; I didn’t understand her words literally but I felt like I understood her tone: strong, genuine, and dare I say, nostalgic. She couldn’t have been older than twenty-four (her haircut was too current and hipster for her to be anything older) yet her voice was tinged with longing for a different time and place. Her facial expressions were passionate and strained, like that of a traditional classical pianist performing consumed by her art. Her voice joined the multiple layers of deep, heavy bass — a booming presence that shakes the floor and vibrates bodies— , crisp crashing shake of cymbal, and smooth yowl of guitar. Combined together, they formed a cohesive sound that felt alive, Interminable — or endless.
“Things have meaning beyond the things we see and hear,” Ximena explained before performing a song she wrote called, “Consecuencia” or “Consequences” in English, “One thing leads to another. Maybe you will understand why it happened or maybe you won’t. As in music, one key leads to another. At the end, we are wiser or so we hope.” After finishing this song, she further elaborated on the idea of sequence and change by explaining her reason for playing a song called Todo Cambia, “Everything Changes,” written by Mercedes Sosa. “I wanted to bring this to the stage, to the light, that we’re celebrating Latino and queer identity,” she elaborated, “This goes out to celebrate that change — it’s scary, that change — but let’s not put it in the corner but celebrate it in ourselves and our communities.”
After the performance ended, I spoke to Ximena:
CF: Where are you from?
XV: Mexico City
CF: Can you tell me about your background, especially in relation to music?
XV: I moved to the suburbs of Philly at eight. From there, I went to high school and Swarthmore. I studied music — played violin. I’m a classically trained violinist but also grew up with rock and picked up the electric guitar. Towards the end of college, I started branching out — jazz, mariachi, and finally son jarocho, the regional music from Veracruz. I was drawn to its improvisational and communal qualities — it was breath of fresh air compared to the competition of classical music!— people coming together to create community. It’s about coming together and learning together so I learned a lot from them. Once I graduated, I started a weekly free workshop to promote son jarocho in South Philly. It’s a different project from Interminable. Exploring the stage and writing music is important to me and I started the band a year ago with John, who I met randomly on the train.
CF: I liked how everybody had different aesthetics and musical styles but the sound was cohesive. It seems to all work together somehow.
XV: I feel like a lot of fusion groups throw things together and end up losing the individuals’ unique flavors.
CF: Like cooking? That happens a lot if you mix too many things sometimes.
XV: Very much like cooking. I would rather bring things together that add to each other to create rich flavor.
CF: What makes you different from other bands in the scene? I mean, I know it’s unique in that it’s queer and Latino, but your music is actually really good! You guys can perform.
XV: Haha, thanks. In terms of Philly, there are very few bands mixing Mexican music with jazz and rock. I like to call it “diasporic space jazz.” In NYC, there are other bands doing similar things — fusion music — and yeah, we draw on it but what we play is what each musician brings. We all come from very different backgrounds — Rodrigo is from Mexico while John and Brian are from the US — but we can bring that together. We’re none and all of those above.
CF: What do you hope to accomplish with your music?
XV: Draw on the Queer Latino identity. I identify as Queer, Latino, migrant. At spaces like Penn, there are few things that speak to that experience. In general, there are a few queer artist but very few of color. I am humbled and proud to have a group that represent that through the lived experience.
CF: You mentioned on stage that you don’t believe in strict silos and categorizations. Can you talk more about that?
XV: When it comes to race or gender, I don’t feel strongly one way or another. It think it’s necessary to go through the creative process of creating an identity. For me, that’s writing these songs and bringing them to stage.
CF: Since the digital revolution, even the big music industry has been struggling. It’s crazy how musicians are forced to give music away for free or very cheap prices. How does this new media landscape affect how the band operates?
XV: For me, it’s all about networks of mutual support. I learned a lot from the community. For example, I booked a gig in NYC. John asked me. “How do you do this so easily?” It’s not because I have a big promotor or label. When this band came to perform in Philly, I helped it organize the event; it brought us on board (to the NYC show). There’s an alternative path — buy Facebook ads and whatnot — but for me, it’s much more about how we can support other artists and build that network. We all have access to some resources that we can use to help each other out.
CF: Crowdsource 101.
CF: How can people find you? Do you play regular gigs?
XV: We don’t do regular gigs but you can find us on Facebook, SoundCloud, and Youtube. In fact, there is an upcoming gig this Friday at the Fleisher Art Memorial as a part of the album release of Daniel De Jesus. There will be a lot of Philly Queer Latinos. There will be many more of those little jaranas!