TIJUANA, Mexico — 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.”
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.
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.