The South by Southwest extravaganza taking place in Austin, Texas, this week began in 1987 as a local music festival with 700 participants, mainly from the region.
Today, it is the world’s largest music festival of its kind, with more than 2,000 performers and nearly 30,000 people attending. Although film and interactive technology are components, music is still at the heart of the event. Bands from around the world come to the Texas capital city every March seeking to be discovered or to expand their audience.
At South by Southwest, you can still hear some of the local sound, blending elements of country with rock and other Texas flavors.
Austin musician Lauren Gammon said, “We still enjoy our culture whether that is Tejano music or country music or whatever that culture is. We are trying to embrace all of it.”
Diversity, world music
The diversity of Austin’s musical scene was on display at the Austin Music Awards program, held in conjunction with South by Southwest, where new Austin resident Robert Plant, formerly of the British rock group Led Zeppelin, went onstage with such Texas legends as blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan.
But international groups playing at South by Southwest provide a different flavor.
Austinites like Susan Peterson attend mainly to hear international groups like Lulacruza.
WATCH: A Video Montage of Music From SXSW
“I spent about four years in West Africa when I was in my 20’s, so Latin music and African beats really appeal to me; it is kind of like home to me, but also I love seeing the traditions of other places,” said Peterson.
Lulacruza’s lead singer, Alejandra Ortiz, is from Argentina; her bandmates are from Colombia. Together, they explore both the nature and cultures of the Andean region.
“We have done a lot of deep listening and research into how the sound of nature creates the music that then becomes part of a culture,” said Ortiz.
One foreign group that delighted many fans is Chirkutt from Bangladesh.
Singer Shumi says the band members incorporate traditional music with elements of rock.
“We do what we love to do. That is it, basically. And we are very happy that, from Bangladesh, for the first time, a band can perform at South by Southwest,” said Shuni.
Chirkutt’s eclectic approach even includes a banjo. In other songs, the guitarist draws on years of listening to Jimi Hendrix, as well as other rock musicians.
There also are bands from Europe, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and Mexico - adding to the diversity of sounds this year at South by Southwest.