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Music by VICE

Baja Beach Fest Was a Game-Changing Showcase of Latinx Excellence

The electrifying beachfront gathering—which featured Bad Bunny, Becky G, and J Balvin—felt like a line in the sand for the future of música urbana.

by Gary Suarez
Aug 29 2019, 1:00pm

Photo by Baja Beach Fest/Miranda McDonald

After running through a selection of peppy Latin pop hits, Becky G decided to get personal. Her neon-clad backup dancers likely in need of a breather, the bilingual pop star looked out at the 30,000 revelers assembled on the sandy shores of Playas de Rosarito and spoke her proverbial truth. "I’ve lived my life between two worlds, representing two flags," she said, speaking to the duality of her American upbringing and her Mexican heritage. "I’m proud of where I was born and raised, but the blood that runs through my veins, nobody can take away from me."

South of San Diego, just 20 miles over the border separating the U.S. state of California from Mexico’s Baja California, Becky’s message couldn’t have rung truer with the Baja Beach Fest crowd. Billed as a reggaeton and Latin trap festival, the two-day event attracted a predominantly Latinx audience from both nations to experience the kind of música urbana event they’ll be bragging about to their kids some day. With big name headliners like Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam, and Ozuna alongside worthy undercard urbano acts including R&B wave runners Alex Rose and Lyanno, the beachfront gathering served as more than a snapshot of what's popping in reggaeton and Latin trap now. It felt like a line in the sand for the urban Spanish-language musical movement itself.

Anyone looking out upon this massive assembly of Latinx excellence, as I did more than a few times from a plum hotel balcony vantage point eight stories up, could see just how much the game has changed, and how unlikely it will ever be the same again. Those in the industry who expect música urbana to fizzle out as the so-called Latin Explosion around the millennium need only to see the scene at Baja Beach Fest to know how woefully wrong they are. Proud displays of body positivity and ethnic pride surged for the duration, reinforcing just how much of an impact this music is having on a young generation of Latinx people. That energy was shared by the artists themselves, who expressed gratitude and even awe at what was happening, often resulting in stronger performances.

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Photo by Eric Scire

This physical demonstration of concertgoers willing to pay a premium and pull out their passports for an entirely Latinx lineup all but required the talent to deliver in kind. Echoing his recent runs at Coachella and Lollapalooza, the production values of J Balvin’s set alone suggested a sophistication trumping that of most hip-hop shows in any language. From start to finish, the FriendsWithYou art collective not only provided bright cartoonish videos to correspond with the songs in the Colombian superstar’s growing repertoire, but even brought the characters onstage as real life mascots. As he danced and mugged like a technicolor superhero through hit after hit after hit, these cute creations posed and bopped for the crowd. An anthropomorphic cloud person joined for opener "Reggaetón" and a bobblehead take on Bad Bunny came through for "I Like It." By the time he closed with his 2017 Hot 100 charting smash "Mi Gente," the stage was crowded with groovy mushrooms, rainbow worms, and a Cookie Monster variant straight out of the multiverse.

"This is the first time I’ve seen a Latin urban festival like this," Balvin shared with me before taking the stage. "It’s a blessing to see all my colleagues and friends here. It’s really dope."

Throughout the day, DJs warmed things up anyone within earshot of the festival’s almost inconceivably loud sound system with thumping dembow rhythms and infectious vocal hooks spanning roughly 15 years of classics and hits. Anthems like Daddy Yankee’s "Lo Que Pasó, Pasó" and Ivy Queen’s "Yo Quiero Bailar" boomed out of the speakers with as much frequency as recent Billboard charting hits like Bad Bunny’s "Callaita" and DJ Snake’s "Loco Contigo." By 5:00 PM, the live music programming would begin, with singalongs and call-and-response moments increasing with frequency until well after midnight. As three simultaneous afterparties each night raged toward the dawn, the sense of community never dissipated. As Becky G had so eloquently implied earlier, we were all united by blood.

Los Favoritos Del Mes

J Balvin and Bad Bunny, "Yo Le Llego"

The latest spotlight cut off their joint Oasis mini-album, the Latino Gang representatives glide and flex over a tropically tinted Tainy beat.

Chanty OTM, "K Dios Te Bendiga"

Another banger from the Neoperreo familia, the Argentinian reggaetonera’s single and its video faithfully captures the femme-focused reclamation of the genre sweeping the underground.

Farina, "Olvídame"

A worthy addition to reggaeton’s breakup songs canon, the X Factor Colombia finalist and Roc Nation signee’s follow-up to her “Como Una Kardashian” further showcases her eminently danceable popwise promise.

Omy De Oro, "Sayonara"

One of Puerto Rico’s most solid traperos delivers a work hard, play hard message to the streets, selflessly offering himself up as an example of how to do it best.

Myke Towers and Farruko featuring Arcangel, Sech and Zion, "Si Se Da (Remix)"

In a heady haze of Cognac and kush, two of Puerto Rico’s trap pioneers tap an intergenerational urbano power trio to lend their voices to this essential remix.