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  • Beyond Latin NightLatinx Musicians and the Politics of Music in Charlotte
  • Samuel K. Byrd (bio)

In the past decade, Charlotte’s Latinx rock musicians have moved from a politics of acknowledgement to a politics of engagement with the larger music scene and the city itself. A recent article about Latinx musicians on Charlotte’s Spanish-language news website Hola Noticias noted, “It’s been almost a decade since Carlotan Rock stopped beating in the Queen City.” The author went on to celebrate the rebirth of Latin rock by highlighting the efforts of both the still-active first generation of Charlotte’s Latinx musicians and a younger generation of musicians who have come together to create new events and networks, resulting in a flourishing output of music in the last three years. What has remained consistent in the last decade, however, is an ambivalence about politics, even as musicians seek to expand their community. This is a result of both the structure of corporate political governance in Charlotte and Latinx musicians’ still-developing sense of identity as immigrants and interlopers on a mostly white rock scene.1

For much of the decade of the 2000s, the first generation of Charlotte Latinx rock musicians struggled to find spaces where their music could be heard. They began to see themselves as part of a rock en español trend that had already established itself in Latin America and Latinx cultural centers like Los Angeles, and they wanted to put Charlotte on the map as a city where Latin music was happening. By the early 2000s a growing number of musicians and listeners migrating from Latin America led Latinx musicians to create a Spanish-language rock scene in Charlotte. At local music venues, these musicians found some open doors as managers allowed them to hold “Latin nights” on weeknights when venues were in less demand. Musicians also started to create their own infrastructure, such as the annual Carlotan Rock Festival, which promoted local talent and ran from 2004 to 2009. The 2008 economic recession, increased fear of immigration raids, and personnel changes led to a declining scene in the early 2010s. Bands broke up, some musicians moved away, and others started families.

In the past few years, the Latin rock scene in Charlotte has picked up again, and changed in important ways. Members of a second generation of younger musicians, some born or raised in Charlotte, are performing. Whereas the first generation [End Page 125] of Latinx musicians was trying to carve out a space—any space—to perform, current musicians are redefining those spaces and creating others where new iterations of music by Latinx residents can flourish. They are redefining Latin nights—historically a form of tokenism—as performances that curate music for integrated audiences and engage with listeners, venues, and neighborhoods over an extended period of time, often through multi-night residencies. They have built on earlier musicians’ efforts to break into the scene, while also disassembling the genre constrictions of rock en español (including language use and stylistic limitations) to join a new musical stream of Latinx sounds that has been dubbed Alt.Latino or Latin Alternative. Latinx musicians’ political music-making complicates what it means to be Latinx in the South and contributes to a nascent political consciousness that celebrates cultural pluralism and demands social justice for city residents. Through performers’ political engagement and aesthetic sensibilities, the music has potential for a transformative creativity.

However, these musicians are only a small part of the broader Latin music scene in Charlotte. They mostly play in venues near the center city in gentrifying neighborhoods and among a socially liberal, middle-class clientele. Meanwhile, in East Charlotte and other working-class areas of the city, audiences of mostly recent immigrants from Mexico and Central America remain segregated from these developments by class, nationality, and genre. A geographical and social divide separates these audiences, as many working-class Latinx concert-goers are apprehensive about traveling to areas of the city where they feel they don’t belong. For undocumented immigrants, this apprehension stems from a fear of being detained at dui checkpoints set up along major roads connecting East Charlotte to...