Tropicalia & Coachella Are Addressing Music Festivals’ Representation Problem. Who's Next?

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This past weekend saw music and taco lovers alike flock to Long Beach, California, to attend Tropicália, for the second installment of what is likely to become an annual tradition for many. Showcasing acts like Morrissey, SZA, Kali Uchis, Chicano Batman, Mon Laferte, The Marías, Phum Viphurit, and many more, the two-day event felt like something beyond a spectacular celebration of music; it felt like a celebration of mainstream audiences’ increasing interest and investment in culturally diverse music and artists.

Tropicália’s lineup, which ran the gamut from bedroom pop, cumbia sonidera and slacker rock, drew in a crowd that largely resembled the actual performers playing the two-day event – young and old Latinx who were both politically and socially conscious. Even amongst the festival’s more traditional acts, an air of allyship was felt, as Montreal-based indie-pop project HOMESHAKE and Oakland-quartet SWMRS both urged people to get out and vote in hopes for a better tomorrow. Although to many, Tropicália’s diverse lineup and audience will be taken as an uncommon result bred by the occurrence of a niche festival, Tropicália is, in fact, part of a larger trend. In the last year, musical festivals have seen a marked shift in the talent they are actively booking.

Coachella 2018 will likely go down on the records as Beychella, but it will also go down on the books as its most diverse year to date. The infamous festival’s 2018 run marked their largest lineup of Latinx artists ever, largely thanks to the recent addition of the Sonora stage, an air conditioned tent curated by VIVA! Pomona’s Rene Contreas. Beyond the addition of a Latinx-focused tent, the increase in representation was also felt in the festival’s genre focus, continuing its noted shift of favoring hip-hop and R&B leaning acts over traditional rock and pop acts. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has turned on the radio in the last odd year or so, as hip-hop dominates the charts alongside the occasional Spanish-sung crossover hit. 

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Photo: Joseph Baura

Music as a whole seems to be becoming more globalized as Thailand-born Phum Viphurit, who played Tropicália this weekend can attest to,

“I never felt that music was divided by your nationality or where you’re from. When I started music four years ago, people were like ‘You’re Thai. Why are you doing music in English?’ Even back then, people didn’t quite understand, but now there’s no rules, no barriers. I think we’re headed towards a very globalized world of music, which I think is a good sign for all of us.”

And while Tropicália, Coachella, and society’s growing interest in increased representation in music is certainly something to applaud, it’s important to note that we still have quite a way to go. Festivals as a whole and the internal composition of the music industry remain largely white and male-dominated. While streaming services like Spotify and SoundCloud allow listeners to search out for music regardless of language or geographic barriers, the underlying perception of music, particularly rock and indie rock, existing as a historically white affair are echoed in the words of Pablo Sotelo, who played the two-day festival as a part of Latinx psych-rock group Inner Wave,

“Even when I was younger, I’d always been into the stuff I’ve been into. I remember being young and thinking I don’t know if this will work, because I’m not white. All the dudes that were doing the stuff I wanted to do were white. It’s a subconscious thing. Even if you don’t think you’re thinking a certain way, sometimes society’s like ‘This is just how it is. You can’t do this, because you’re that.’”

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To not end on a dour note, with festivals like Tropicália becoming increasingly common, we are bound to only see a growth in festival lineups that more closely resemble the actual audiences that are listening to music. And that’s something worth striving for and celebrating. 

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