How Sonido Clash Music Fest Became a Hub for Forward-Thinking Latinx Sounds

By Azucena Rasilla

Before Chicanx singer-songwriter Cuco had international buzz, he was handpicked to perform at Sonido Clash Music Fest, a small but influential upstart out of East San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley. 

For the past ten years, the Sonido Clash crew has created a platform for emerging, out-there Latinx sounds, curating events with an eclectic mix of genres such as punk, cumbia, alternativo, oldies and hip-hop. The collective (comprised of Angel "Mextape" LunaRoman Zepeda, a.k.a. Turbo Sonidero; Thomas Ramon Aguilar, a.k.a. Chale Brown; Osvaldo Chavez, a.k.a. Sonido Ozzy; Quynh-Mai Nguyen; and Fernando J. Pérez Fiesco, a.k.a. Tlacoyo) reflects the Bay Area’s melting pot, and is committed to representing Eastside San Jose’s Latinx community amid ongoing gentrification. 

With DJs and culture workers among their ranks, the members of Sonido Clash have a knack for booking buzzworthy acts before they blow up, and for introducing important international artists to the Bay Area music scene. For the festival’s fourth installation on Sept. 1, expect to hear music from Argentine-Spanish perreo artist Ms Nina, cumbia DJ G-Flux from Mexico City and headliners Nina Sky, the Puerto Rican twin duo known for 2000s pop hits like "Move Ya Body."

Sonido Clash members (from left to right) Fernando J. Pérez Fiesco, Ramon Zepeda, Quynh-Mai Nguyen, Angel Luna, Thomas Aguilar and Osvaldo Chavez.
Sonido Clash members (from left to right) Fernando J. Pérez Fiesco, Ramon Zepeda, Quynh-Mai Nguyen, Angel Luna, Thomas Aguilar and Osvaldo Chavez. (Azucena Rasilla)

Sonido Clash’s events represent a multicultural viewpoint familiar to many Latinx folks in the United States, where cumbia and ranchera sounds might be the norm in some households, while soul, hip-hop and oldies are in rotation in others. Previous editions of Sonido Clash Music Fest have featured new and old-school acts alike, such as Mexican dembow producer Chico Sonido, garage-pop band Los Blenders, electronic “cholo goth” duo Prayers and electro-funk pioneer Egyptian Lover. 

Keeping it hella San Jose, the festival takes place at the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza. Since 1999, the Mexican Heritage Plaza has been a hub for Chicanx culture in the South Bay, hosting concerts by Mexican bands like Kinky when rock en Españolreigned supreme. For the past four summers, Sonido Clash Music Fest has transformed the campus into a vibrant celebration of Latinx youth culture. 

Every year at Sonido Clash Music Fest, local vendors’ and visual artists’ booths line the pathways of the Mexican Heritage Plaza. In addition to two music stages, there’s one devoted to spoken-word poetry. This year, the Poets of Color podcast crew and San Jose undocu-artist, poet and author Yosimar Reyes are slated to perform.

While in recent years, reggaeton and Latinx trap have become fixtures on the radio, and collaborations among artists from different genres are no longer uncommon, this was far from the norm when the Sonido Clash crew got their start back in 2009. “Everyone was [musically] segregated,” says Luna, adding that those into rock en Español, cumbia or pop did not mingle with one another. 

The crew put their ideas and resources together and got to work. Their first events took place at Silicon Valley De-Bug (where Pérez works), an organization rooted in social-justice organizing through multimedia storytelling. For one of their first events, titled Cultura en Tu Idioma (or Culture in Your Language), they booked Cuban artists DJ Leidis and Las Krudas, as well as Mexican rapper and poet Bocafloja. “We had punk bands with cumbia bands all together,” Zepeda adds. 

Sonido Clash's eclectic booking has made the collective a force in the South Bay music scene and beyond.
Sonido Clash's eclectic booking has made the collective a force in the South Bay music scene and beyond. (Franz Berrato )

It was through Aguilar’s reputation as a hip-hop DJ that Sonido Clash was able to break into clubs that typically played hip-hop and Top 40, though the crew encountered some resistance from club owners at first. "It was difficult," Luna says. "[There was] ignorance about the music we were playing, and what we were doing."

After years of making a name for themselves with monthly parties, the crew's inaugural Sonido Clash fest in 2016 was well received, with over 600 people in attendance, exceeding the 250 that the collective had anticipated. That year, artists like bilingual hip-hop duo Los Rakas, hip-hop and funk band Bang Data, East Los Angeles disco-pop artist Tropa Magica and DJ collective Chulita Vinyl Club were on the lineup. By 2018, the number of attendees grew to 1,700.  

Over the last decade, the members of Sonido Clash have seen their influence grow. This year, they curated a stage at the renowned San Jose Jazz Summer Fest. And former Sonido Clash member DJ Eazy Uno recently set up a similar event in Los Angeles, El Meneaito at La Cita Bar. “He was the best DJ in our collective,” Zepeda says. 

Following in Sonido Clash’s footsteps, new Bay Area party crews specializing in eclectic Latinx sounds have sprung up in recent years, including Chulita Vinyl Club (whose DJ Mare E. Fresh joined Sonido Clash as a resident DJ) and the Central American DJ collective Amor Digital, comprised of Juanny Depp, Namaste Shawty and 99 Percent Lean.

As the members of Sonido Clash celebrate their 10th anniversary as a crew, they have a clear vision of the work they want to continue in the years to come. As they get older and start families, they want to inspire the next generation to take risks and continue building space for communities of color. 

As Luna put it, “We’re not afraid to be who we are and preserve history.”

September 1, 2019

School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza
1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose

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