La Santa Cecilia from L.A. Photo Courtesy La Santa Cecilia

According to the Mayan calendar, December 2012 marks the end of a cosmic cycle, signifying rebirth and renewal. With that in mind, on Dec. 8 Acción Latina will host its 31st Annual Encuentro del Canto Popular at Brava Theater showcasing a new generation of talent and celebrating the ancient food source—corn.

The Encuentro was born out of the nueva canción (new song) movement that started in Chile in the 1960s and folk music with lyrics that criticized oppression in Latin America, Spain and Portugal. This year’s theme is “El Renacimiento de Cultura Popular,” or the rebirth of Latin American popular culture.

“In the 1980s the Encuentro brought different musicians from Nicaragua, El Salvador and South America who were singing protest songs against the dictatorships of Latin America,” Acción Latina Cultural Programmer Camilo Landau said. “They found a home with Encuentro del Canto Popular, so it’s been a festival that’s really aligned the political movement.”

This year, Landau said, young artists considered to the be the next generation of the nueva canción movement will be performing.

Local musician Diana Gameros. Photo Courtesy

“In many cases it sounds totally different from what nueva canción once sounded like but it’s stemming from the same need for a cultural movement for social change,” he said.

Headlining the event will be La Santa Cecilia, a lively band that traces its origin to traditional Mexican music on Olvera Street—the original and famously preserved pueblo, in Downtown Los Angeles, well known for the mariachis that play there during the weekend. Over the last five years they’ve developed a large following and in 2011 their song “La Negra” was nominated for a Latin Grammy.

La Marisoul, the energetic lead singer from La Santa Cecilia, said their music is a celebration of traditional Latin American music that they’ve all grown up with.

“We’re very much influenced by American culture—by rock ‘n’ roll and jazz. We like to fuse it together like a stew. We mix it up. Sometimes you just get something really delicious,” she said, her own words flavored with an East L.A. accent speckled with Spanglish. “But also we’re Latinos living in the U.S. and we were either born here or brought here when we were young, and we celebrate that. That’s what our music reflects: that bicultural, English, Spanglish, cumbia, ska—I mean de todo, no?”

La Santa Cecilia, she said, knows about the Encuentro’s tradition, feels honored to take part in it and are preparing some “special songs” for the event.

Diana Gameros, the Mission District-based singer songwriter who will perform along with a quartet, is also looking forward to an “energetic and magical” night. With her alt-Latin folk style, she has been cultivating a following in San Francisco and is currently recording her first album.

Arriving in the Mission District four years ago, Gameros declared herself a musician and hasn’t looked back. But musically, and as an immigrant—she came to the U.S. at the age of 13 from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico—she often draws her inspiration from her past.

“As immigrants, I think we do carry that around; there’s a certain nostalgia” Gameros said. “It’s always present no matter how positive we want to be. There’s that thing that always chases us. I can’t escape from that in my music.”

Though her music can be politically charged, Gameros said she chooses to sing and write from an emotional point of view. She cites Arizona SB 1070, the controversial law requiring police to determine the immigration status of anyone deemed reasonably suspicions, in her song about families coping with separation, as an example.
“In my songs, I try to have a happy resolution—lyrically and musically,” she said.

This latest edition of the Encuentro will also showcase the Quenepas Youth Ensemble, a group of singers and dancers who will perform the traditional sounds of Puerto Rican Bomba music.

Miguel Govea Y Los Compas, a local favorite, will perform salsa, cumbia and other Latin dance music in the theater’s lobby after the concert, as an extended after party of the festival.

Food, Landau said, will play a big part in this year’s Encuentro, as there will be a celebration of corn, which for thousands of years has fed the people of the Americas. Xiuhcoatl Danza Azteca will begin the Encuentro with a dance celebrating corn followed by a food festival.

“We are bringing and inviting all food vendors having to do with corn,” he said. “We’ll have pupusas, tamales, atol and corn on the cob.”

While still celebrating culture and social change, this year’s Encuentro promises to be a night of fun Landu said. “There’s going to be food, beer, wine and tequila. It’s going to be amazing concert followed by an amazing dance party with all live music, so what more could you want?”