With powerhouses J Balvin and Ozuna headlining, and exciting supporting acts like Brytiago and up-and-coming female trap artist Cazzu, the opening day (Aug. 16) of Baja Beach Fest 2019 featured an all-Latinx lineup that drew a staggering 30,000 attendees for a sold-out, sun-soaked reverie.
Only on its second consecutive year, the fest, nestled on the glistening beach of Rosarito, Mexico, has managed to become a player on the global festival scene by betting on Latin urban stars and newcomers.
Launched by Chris Den Uijl and Aaron Ampudia in 2018, the two-day festival quickly sold out after its lineup was announced this year, a testament to the strength of what the pair call “musica urbana” or just “urbano” — Spanish for urban music. Last year’s Baja Beach Fest drew 15,000 attendees to the small beach town less than an hours drive across the border from San Diego.
“The [cultural] roles have definitely flipped,” Ampudia told Billboard. “We couldn’t be happier to have this Latino movement be so strong, not only in Latin America but across the globe.”
Day one in Baja Beach Fest clearly reflected the contemporary era of urbano dominance. DJ Dynamiq from San Diego and Miami’s DJ Africa kicked off the festival, spinning reggaeton classics that paid homage to the genre originators. 2000s-era smash hits like Tego Calderon’s “Pa’ Que Rezoten,” Wisin y Yandel’s “Rakata,” and Daddy Yankee’s “Shaky Shaky” made a strong presence to the delight of thousands. And the self-styled “biggest urbano festival” did well in resurfacing cuts from those who first popularized and paved the way for the Caribbean-rooted art form over 20 years ago.
The old school vibe quickly turned into a massive EDM-heavy dance off by the time Natalia & Esther hit the stage that afternoon. The returning two DJs seemed gleefully adamant on lighting up the dance floor, keeping the energy high throughout. At one point, Esther walked away from the turntables, picked up a violin, and began riffing to the indelible melodies of yesteryear smashes, like Coldplay’s “Clocks.” Meanwhile, the hustle was in full force, as beer vendors with ice buckets jaunted through every square yard, offering refreshments to pretty much everyone in attendance.
When Cazzu arrived to the stage, she demonstrated her two sides: la chica mala, and the passionate trap femme fatale. “Este es el momento que están en el pari, y se dan cuenta de su corazón que está roto. Una cerveza y se pasa,” she shouted, right before cuing the intoxicating beats to “Loca.” “Lo que nos unifica es que todos sufrimos por amor.” (What brings us together is we all suffer for love.)
Then, she transformed into a sly, irreverent rhymester who spat some seriously fierce verses. “Yo soy Cazzu y esto es el mothaf—ing trap!” she howled.
J Balvin, who’s been making national headlines as the first Latino to headline prestigious festivals like Lollapalooza, brought in sunny vibes that evening. “De donde vaya, estoy orgulloso de representar el Latino gang,” he asserted, shouting out fellow urbano pals like Brytiago, Ozuna and Bad Bunny. The Colombian superstar kept it buoyantly cool as backup dancers dressed like human clouds surrounded him as he sang through his career hits. Then, things geo trippier as images of psilocybin mushrooms invaded the screens, and appeared in gigantic props on stage. Throughout his set, Balvin added some touches of salsa and boogaloo, offering a pleasant diversity to the heavy urbano event.
As soon as Ozuna stepped on stage, el negrito de ojos claros brought in his wicked charm, captivating with his saccharine a capella pipes. “Cuántas de ustedes mujeres se escapan conmigo,” he flirted with the crowd, and thousands of screaming girls nearly lost their shit. The singer went through his hits and got the crowd lit for the next set of songs he’ll release in his upcoming album Nibiru.
“This is the first time I’ve seen a Latin urban festival like this,” J Balvin later said backstage, echoing other creatives in attendance. “It’s a blessing to see all my colleagues and friends here.”