Going to the United States for the first time was like finding the holy grail for Colombian Afro-house trio Ghetto Kumbé. Like most international artists who are invited to play a set at SXSW, the trio’s expectations were enormous.
“We’ve never been to the United States and we immediately knew that South by Southwest would be that perfect opportunity for us to showcase our music for the first time ever in the American mainstream market,” says Edgardo Garcés, Ghetto Kumbé member and director.
Fusing Afro-Colombian rhythms and West Africa and Caribbean house beats, Ghetto Kumbé — composed of Garcés, Juan Carlos Puello and Andrés Mercado — was scheduled to perform at the music opening party at this year’s SXSW on March 17 and at six other shows.
With the annual festival canceled March 6 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Garcés, Puello and Mercado never made it to Austin.
SXSW was one of the first major music festivals to be canceled amid the global health crisis, with others soon to follow, including Coachella, Stagecoach, Glastonbury Festival, Ultra Music Festival and Bonnaroo. Furthermore, almost every live show or tour has been canceled or postponed, ultimately bringing the music industry to a halt and derailing some up-and-coming Latinx acts’ momentum.
For international artists such as Ghetto Kumbé, the impact goes beyond just not being able to perform; they’re also now recovering from financial burdens brought on by investing in visas, hotels and airfare for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reach a new audience. Now, that money can no longer be recouped, as their U.S. and Colombia shows, as well as tour of Europe, have been canceled due to the pandemic.
“We didn’t think twice about spending it because we had hope that we would get that money back eventually,” says Garcés, who is quarantined in Bogotá, Colombia, where residents have been under strict quarantine since March 24. “And now, we’re basically left with nothing because we invested everything we had in the new album without ever thinking we’d be in this situation.”
Despite the ongoing crisis, Ghetto Kumbé plans to release their upcoming album in May with hopes of bringing in some revenue through streaming. “Putting out the album is the only way we can survive in case the quarantine gets extended,” Garcés adds. “Hopefully, our music will get streamed and people will support us that way in the meantime.”
The coronavirus pandemic has left many professional musicians, specifically emerging acts, around the world struggling. Canceled performances have led to the loss of their main source of income, as most countries now have preventative measures for self-isolation in place to help reduce spreading the virus.
For rising Bay Area singer-songwriter Cecilia Cassandra Peña-Govea, who records under the name La Doña, the cancellation of SXSW was only the tip of the iceberg.
“When I saw on the news that SXSW was canceled and I was like ‘oh s–t,” La Doña tells Billboard. “When that happened, I knew it was real and that this will have long-lasting implications. It was a shock and a wake-up call. SXSW would have just been a great opportunity to show off what I’ve been working on so hard for the last few months.”
She had paused touring to focus on recording her recently released album, Algo Nuevo (Something New), planning the EP release and other content around SXSW, where she’d perform for the first time.
Making a name for herself with her feminist reggaetón — or femmetón, as she calls it — La Doña had saved up for the trip to Austin and paid for her and her team’s expenses out of pocket.
“I’m really good with money, so if something is going to cost me a lot, that’s because it’s something important. I don’t have a label, which means I didn’t have any support,” La Doña says. “It was a big cost I was ready to cover because I believed that it was going to be a turning point for my career. I like to stay hopeful and active and believe that these events will come back, but honestly, I think it’ll be a year before we see any concerts happening again.”
But, instead of focusing on the negative impact the pandemic is having on her career, she’s figuring out how to help her community while also developing a new artistic strategy.
“My work is based on collaboration and public performance, so it’s made me have to rethink the whole way that I am as an artist,” La Doña explains. “It’s not worth it to think what the trajectory was or to think what has been lost, but more so to think about how we need to adjust and reorganize and refocus.”
Also focused on the future is Colombian-Canadian singer-songwriter Lido Pimienta, who had an ambitious mini tour scheduled around SXSW. Her team was able to arrange nine shows in just four days to help promote her upcoming album, Miss Colombia, due April 17. Needless to say, all of her shows have been postponed.
“We’re still coping, figuring out how to get back to and get organized,” says Pimienta, who is taking this time to paint limited-edition blank vinyl sleeves for her new record while she quarantines in Toronto.
Pimienta’s household has been financially impacted by all the canceled shows; her partner is also a musician.
“You count on the shows not just for your day-to-day living, but also for the things you’re thinking about investing in, like equipment or to pay back debt. I have two children, so I am very concerned right now. It’s the not knowing what will happen that makes us more scared,” Pimienta says. “I can be fine for a few more months, but after that, I really have to think about what to do. I’m just making my beautiful art and I know people are also willing to support quality Lido Pimienta merch.”
During self-isolation, Pimienta is rehearsing her “best show yet” that she’ll present onstage once she can tour again. “When the shows are back on the road, you know I’m going to bring you the goods. It will be wonderful, energetic and fantastic,” she says. “The jokes will be on point and the show will be memorable. Those are the moments that make me wake up every day and put a smile on my face.”
Up-and-comer Angelica García is also navigating this novel coronavirus pandemic with no point of reference.
Scheduled to embark on her biggest national tour yet with Vagabon on March 31, García left her waitressing job at a Cuban-American diner in Virginia at the end of February and headed to Los Angeles to prepare for her upcoming trek post-SXSW, and to find a band to tour with her. The national tour was a follow-up to her recently released album, Cha Cha Palace. She was also supposed to tour Europe in May for the first time, where she had 10 shows.
“What would have been different for this tour was that I was going to be able to sell merchandise because this is the first time in four years since I’ve had a record or T-shirts or anything,” the Mexican-Salvadorean pop singer-songwriter says. “I’ll never know the true numbers of what I missed out on, but it’s a bummer because I do think people are most excited about albums when they just come out.”
García is spending quarantine in her mom’s guest room in L.A. while still having to pay rent in Virginia.“The scariest part is not knowing what is coming next. Even the restaurant I worked in is now closed,” García says. “My roommate and I even had to email our landlord saying, ‘We’ll see what happens.’ These are scary times.”
She’s using this time to take music lessons via Skype with other friends and to write new music. “I’m committed to writing my new album in April. It’s definitely a great time to just keep writing music,” García insists. “If I can’t do the extrovert side of my job, then I can do the introvert side of my job and make sure I’m ready when the doors open again.”