Latin Heat

Five bands, from Los Lobos to lesser known rising stars, will make you sweat.

And you though all they could do was bailar la bamba. On Sunday, November 18, the Los Angeles-based group Los Lobos will share the Anselmo Valencia Tori Amphitheater stage with five other Latin performing artists for the Desert Heat Latin Music Festival. The sparkling month-old stage at the Pascua Yaqui Reservation's Casino del Sol has been tread by few performers yet, but after this weekend there will be some big shoes to fill. In a dual effort to fund-raise for six charities and promote the new facility, the casino organized an eight-hour festival of dance, song and even the occasional bag of kettle corn.

"Latin music is all about emotion and heat. People should never stop dancing," insists Tina Lentz, the casino's vice president of marketing. Unlike other large-venue concerts, where the audience shuffles to its seat to slump before the performers, the Desert Heat Latin Music Festival is practically designed for debauchery. Gates open at noon, and the festival romps way past sunset. Rows of seats relocate for dancing space, lawns behind the stage beckon two-steppin' boots, and traditional food concessions bubble with anticipation. With a capacity of over 4,000, and tickets going fast, the AVA on the 18th of November should rival any cinco de mayo fiesta.

The mix of legendary and rising Latin performers is key to exciting and enticing people to mosey over to the reservation. Tender 21-year-old Shelly Lares leads the festivities, but she won't sweat the opening slot. Either a winner or nominee every year at the Tejano Music Awards since age four, Lares knows her música inside and out. Belting her Tex-Mex tunes to break into the biz, her musicianship has carried over into guitar and percussion as well as composing and arranging.

Whether it be the memories of Latin music heavyweight Freddy Fender's 1950s hits or the promising future of hot young acts like the Kumbia Kings, both abuelito and el bebé will get theirs. According to Lentz, the audience isn't the only one ready to do the Mexican hat dance over the variety of acts, but the performers themselves are thrilled to be working together.

DAVID LEE GARZA, of David Lee Garza and Los Musicales, is encouraged to see younger audiences keeping Tejano music alive. Recording 12 albums in less than five years, this busy accordionist makes exposing his music to new listeners a priority.

Though a father of two himself, Garza will be sharing the AVA stage with some Latin youngsters, the Kumbia Kings. These eight sexy guys are bringing in more young female fans to the festival than a Contempo sale at the Tucson Mall. Not as vocally adept as the good ol' Barrio Boyzz but just as saccharine as everybody's favorite boy band, 'N Sync, the Kumbia Kings are popping up the charts. With their debut album, Amor, Familia y Respeto, selling half a million copies and earning a Grammy nomination, the Kumbia Kings are sure to be among the most anticipated performers at the festival.

The Garcia Brothers precede the sexy octet, with no Kangol hats or saggin' drawers to be seen--only zoot suits. Though self-described as a four-piece "hard-core conjunto" group, the band prefers snazzy suits to cowboy costumes, carnal. But no matter what they wear, the closing act will be the most recognizable of the bunch. Los Lobos rides into Tucson as the Desert Heat Festival's headlining act.

After two decades and three Grammys, these five musicians have a long career to reflect. David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Louie Perez and Conrad Lozano founded Los Lobos as high school buddies in East L.A.; years later saxophone player Steve Berlin joined the group. (Lozano was originally a member of the band Tierra, which incidentally performed last month at the AVA.) Today they are still producing albums and touring regularly. Even those only marginally familiar with Los Lobos can proudly mumble along with their popular rendition of the son jarocho "La Bamba." Not entirely Tex-Mex, not all rock and roll, Los Lobos uniquely creates a style with elements from R&B, punk, blues and traditional Mexican sounds.

Their road to success was literally a bumpy one. One of their first breakout opportunities was opening for the punk group Public Image, Ltd. The group was promptly pummeled with various objects by the raucous audience. Their human bull's-eye experience didn't leave their spirits bruised, however. Within two years, they were signed with Warner Bros. records, and five years after that, "La Bamba" was a No. 1 Billboard smash.

Los Lobos recorded the soundtrack for the Luis Valdez film La Bamba in 1987, and would continue to work on soundtracks including Desperado, The Mambo Kings and From Dusk Till Dawn, among others. Just last month, the quintet hustled back to the studio to record its 11th album--which will be released in time for its 25th anniversary in 2002. But before that, they're making one stop in Tucson.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of the entire event is not the assorted talent or the dance floors, but the warm fuzzy feeling you'll get after buying a ticket. As part of the Red Carpet Tour, 100 percent of the proceeds will be distributed among six charities. The Southern Arizona Red Cross, after feeling a financial blow from sending significant amounts of money to the New York relief fund, will be one beneficiary. Four of the six charities are for children: Third Street Kids, Youth on Their Own, Steele Memorial Children's Research Center and Hohokam Middle School. The Tucson Community Food Bank, whose mission is to "provide education, advocacy, acquisition and distribution of food for the people of Pima County," will also receive a check this Sunday on the AVA stage.

Whether you go to scout out the hot young Latin acts, mingle with neighbors, or cover up your gambling addiction, grab those last few seats for the Desert Heat Festival and bailar that bamba.