Twenty years ago, musician Emilio Morales started La Banda Elástica as a fanzine: photocopied and stapled together, it featured huge Latin alternative acts such as Caifanes and Aterciopelados prominently at a time when no other American publication did.
Photographer Maria Madrigal, La Banda Elastica's co-owner and Morales' partner, says that at the time, even publications based in Mexico and other parts of Latin America only covered English-speaking bands. "La Banda Elastica was the first; it started because there was nothing that covered this genre of music in the United States." As the Latin Alternative and rock en espanol scene grew stateside, so did the Long Beach-based magazine -- and La Banda Elastica was there to document everything.
Last Saturday, the photo exhibit "Siempre es Hoy" opened in Santa Ana, at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Arts, amid Santa Ana's Dia de Los Noches celebration. It features photographs from La Banda Elastica contributors; and like the publication (which has lived online for five years now) it will be the first of its kind in Southern California.
Fittingly, La Banda Elastica teamed up with Santa Ana's SolArt Radio to present the exhibition. SolArt Radio, manned by Sali Heraldez, was born out of the ashes of SolArt Gallery and Design, a Latino community space housed by an exit off the 5 Freeway in Santa Ana. "I was born and raised in Santa Ana," Heraldez said, "and I noticed that everyone here has their own little pockets and spaces [of art]. It wasn't inclusive, and I wanted to bring artists together, so I opened up my own space. It was a place for everyone to come, and it was our vision to move forward in art, music and community together," Heraldez said. She closed the space two years ago, but Heraldez had built a reputation for promoting Latino art and music, and providing a space for both art and community organizing that wasn't readily available elsewhere. So she set up SolArt Radio, which showcases bands from Mexico and other places in South America.
Essentially, SolArt Radio and La Banda Elastica have similar goals. Madrigal says La Banda Elastica documents the "b-side" of the Latino cultural experience in the United States and abroad -- a facet that is rarely shown on mainstream Latino media.
"I've known Maria and Emilio since I was 15," says Heraldez, who says she's collaborated with Madrigal on other projects. "They started the magazine in Long Beach, but being into the music scene and Latin rock at the time, I came in contact with them. I became one of the kids that ran around with the magazine in Orange County. I've always kept in touch with that part of the scene, that was part of my life and my vision."
Identifying with the scene made Latinos in the United States feel at home, too. "There are more and more US-born kids, who, like I once was myself, feel at home in this particular scene," Madrigal says. "They identify themselves with the artists they see onstage, they look like them, plus they're cool, trendy, and they're Latino. But most importantly, they want to know more about these artists, they want to hear their music, find out if they're touring...That's where we come into the picture."
Both La Banda Elastica and SolArt Radio have brought Latin Alternative artists from countries abroad to perform shows in the United States. SolArt has interviewed bands and created videos for them. Being in the scene -- and helping foster it -- has allowed them the diversity and wealth of photographs that can be seen in "Siempre es Hoy."
There's a portrait of independent singer-songwriter Gepe posing at Union Station ("This was when I had to pick him up for a SolArt show," photographer Carla Zarate says.) In an iconic photo by Madrigal, rock en Espanol pioneer Roco, the singer for La Maldita Vecindad, sings shirtless, with his arms open. A shot by Fullerton photographer Thomas Cordova shows Mexican singer-songwriter Ely Guerra performing at the La Banda Elastica's 12th annual awards show in Long Beach.
In both musicians profiles and photographers included in the exhibit, the artists range from up-and-coming to established.
"Photography has been an integral part of documenting Latin Alternative culture, and may be as important as the editorial itself," Madrigal says. Even before the internet, she says, "we were constantly captivated by the images we received from our collaborators in Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Chile, Colombia ... they were usually as riveting as a well written concert review and almost without fail, you were instantly immersed in that particular moment, almost as if you had been there."
The evolution of the scene is a big part of the exhibit as well: "When we started covering the scene 20 years ago in Los Angeles, concerts by Latin Alternative artists in the United States were rare and almost nonexistent. The local music scene grew out of the sheer necessity to be different and scream it out loud," Madrigal says. "Now, acts big and small, foreign and domestic, tour the United States regularly and are part of the lineup of some of the biggest festivals around such as Coachella and Austin City Limits."
Thomas Cordova, the photographer from Fullerton, says the fans are a huge part of what makes the exhibition different as well. "[Capturing] that peak moment where you're trying to get their game face is challenging but it's not just about the artist, it's about the people as well. It's the audience the artist attracts."
Heraldez, who is part of the Orange County Center for Contemporary Arts' advisory board, says the images -- which span her adolescence and adulthood -- all bring forth some kind of emotion. "-- I remember these shows, I remember these bands," she says. The show represents a community that rarely gets featured in the mainstream. "I remember going to that exhibit, 'Who Shot Rock & Roll' in Los Angeles -- it was great but it didn't give me goosebumps," Heraldez says. "Here, we're just talking about the photos aesthetically and historically and I'm getting goosebumps the whole time."
The prints will be for sale, at a lower cost than what the artists would charge. "They're about $200, just to cover framing and our expenses. And the purpose of this is that the show is community based. We want people to take these home -- even those who don't have a lot of money but have a connection to these bands and these moments," Heraldez says.
Siempre es Hoy: A Photographic Exhibition of Musical Proportions" is open until Nov. 24, at Orange County Center for Contemporary Arts. 117 North Sycamore St., Santa Ana. (714) 667-1517.
For gallery hours and directions, go to www.occca.org/GALLERY-INFO.html