Denver has a growing Latin-roots scene, but most of these bands wouldn't classify their sound as purely Latin. Rather, they're genre-benders, taking traditional influences and supplementing that solid foundation with more modern sonics, from gritty rock and indie to hip-hop, rap and funk. While many Spanish-language acts are limited to specific venues or audiences, these groups have found a way to honor traditional music while looking toward the future and creating cultural awareness in an audience eager to hear more.
Here are five Latin-infused Denver bands that deserve to be on your playlist:
2MX2 has taken Latin influences and filtered them through alternative rock, pop, rap and hip-hop for a truly unique sound. Activism through music is key for the crew, which comprises rappers Lolita, Juice E.T. Hugo, Owen "Roleplay" Trujillo, producer DMD and sometimes drummer Kenny O (also of Flobots). Compelling lyrics that flow between Spanish and English render pointed critiques of issues such as education reform, prison reform, immigration and health care, and the showmanship of each performer makes for an engaging experience that you won't soon forget. Be sure to catch the act at this year's Westword Music Showcase
The best-known Latin-roots band in the Mile High City, Los Mocochetes draw from the music of Mexico to create high-energy, funky shows. The band's name — a compound of "mocoso," or a bratty punk, and "machete" — is meant to signify how people go through a "mocoso" phase in life, and how, during that formative time, we make choices about whether to use the tools we have for good or bad. The group formed around the time that Donald Trump became the Republican presidential nominee, and its music carries political themes, with lyrics about injustices in America and "either fighting the good fight or healing from the battles that you've been engaged in, whether that's a social battle or internal battle or interpersonal battle,” multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Joshua Abeyta told us last year
. The band delivers its messaging outside of music, too: Most members are teachers, and Abeyta met bassist Diego Florez while both were teaching at Youth on Record. The music is fast-paced, fun and makes you want to dance, but when you listen to the lyrics, it's hard not to absorb both the messages of hope and the solemn tributes to past injustices.
While Pink Hawks started out in 2007 as an Afrobeat band, it quickly folded in multiple genres from all over the world, especially South American stylings; most members of the eleven-piece outfit are Latinx or Chicanx. Like the other bands on this list, Pink Hawks is forward-thinking, honoring cultural music traditions while supplementing them with modern sounds, most recently bringing in hip-hop artist Molina Speaks to add to its repertoire. Live, the band creates a multicultural celebration that also serves as a platform for championing social rights issues — making the members real "artivists" who give back to their community through song. And that's not all: Founder Yuzo Nieto has plans to create a school
with a focus on music, culture and art by fall 2023.
A beloved Denver band, iZCALLi has graced the city with its innovative expansion of the Spanish rock movement of the ’80s and ’90s with ska, punk and indie influences. Singer/guitarist Miguel Avina moved from Mexico City to Colorado with his family in 1992, when he was ten years old, and grew up playing music with his father, who's in the rock band El Cro
. He created iZCALLi in 2005 and later roped in his sister, bassist Brenda Avina, and drummer Luiggy Ramirez. The band has worked its way up from playing bars and restaurants as an acoustic trio to playing rock venues around the city as well as the Westword Music Showcase. The group's most recent album, Rebirth
, was celebrated with an album-release show at Levitt Pavilion last month, and its live shows involve an even wilder sound, bringing in trumpet, saxophone, keys and violin. This is a band you'll want to catch live.
Romantic psych-surf rock converges with Shins-like indie sounds and Cramps-esque rockabilly sonics in the music of Los Narwhals. But the four-piece crew — with Victor Hernández on keys, Sergio Castorena on guitar, Mateo Lozano on bass and Emanuel Montoya on drums — still relies on traditional Latin guitar with soothing but technical notes and a driving beat in songs such as "Quiero Saber." The group's 2019 debut album, Lágrimas de Agave
, was produced in a warehouse named Ursa Minor, where the band would put on shows before the space kept getting shut down. Each song highlights individual bandmates' talents, with Hernandez's keys stealing the show on "Pass Me By" and Montoya's cascading beat taking over on "Espolon." Perhaps the least traditional band on this list, Los Narwhals are making strides with their homage to both Latin roots and ’50s surf rock. While the band is bilingual, Hernández told us last year that "some [of our] songs naturally feel more Latin. It's a more heartfelt language; all Latin languages are a bit more romantic, in a way. I personally feel that we owe it to the community to give back and have more of a connection with the community."