Feb. 18 2014 06:43 PM

A roundup of rising Latin alternative artists

Carla Morrison
Carla Morrison

Living in a border town makes for a remarkable fusion of Mexican and American culture. And that fusion is being interpreted in fascinating ways by artists on both sides of la frontera. Tijuana birthed two of the most important Latin alternative musicians of our generation: Grammy winner Julieta Venegas and Grammy-nominated Bostich + Fussible. Since their emergence, Tijuana's musical landscape has flourished with the rise of new genres—like ruidoson—and a kaleidoscopic group of young musicians. 

Here's a roundup of five buzz-worthy Latin alternative acts from San Diego, Tijuana and Tecate that are changing the landscape, one track at a time:

Carla Morrison (Tecate)

In 2010, Carla Morrison attracted attention with the debut of her breakout single, "Compartir." The unassuming Tecate girl's heart-wrenching vocals, reminiscent of Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval—en Español—and incredible guitar-playing style made her Baja's next big thing since Julieta Venegas. Morrison's the founder of independent label Pan Dulce Productions and has become an outspoken activist for gay Latinos and the #YOSOY132 movement, which was sparked after two college students were killed after Enrique Peña Nieto, then the governor of the state of Mexico and a presidential candidate, ordered police to quell a young voters' protest at Ibero-American University. This year, Morrison will star as the subject of the documentary Encendí Mi Alma.

Madame Ur y Sus Hombres (Tijuana)

Madame Ur is a soulful and enchanting cabaret-jazz songstress who uses her voice as an instrument, as seen in the video for the 2012 single "Venada"—you'd think she was actually muting a trumpet, but it's all her. Madame Ur is forging her own path with a sensual, bilingual, feminist approach to cabaret jazz that stands out among the more prominent EDM and rock scenes in Tijuana. The Orquesta de Baja California (OBC) has even taken notice of Madame Ur y Sus Hombres and has been performing concerts with them at the Tijuana cultural landmark CECUT. Recently, the band's been dropping experimental trip-hop remixes on SoundCloud from their debut, Animal Man, and are currently working on new material. While the group hasn't given any indication of what the album will sound like, expect a fusion of Portishead-like atmosphere with Gloria Steinem's politics.

Los Hollywood (San Diego)

Los Hollywood is a trio fronted by Heidy Flores, whose roaring voice—comparable to Gwen Stefani's—can seamlessly transition into a whisper. It's a comparison she can't get away from, but Flores can do a few things Stefani can't—namely, play bass and speak Spanish. The band's bilingual 2008 single, "No Te Aguites," was featured as a Song of the Week on iTunes, and with good reason: It's their best song. Los Hollywood are planning a summer release for their full-length debut, which is being produced and engineered by Thom Russo (Tom Morello, Johnny Cash, Juanes, Maná). They recently dropped an unedited acoustic performance video with Encore Sessions for "Lejos de Ti," shot on Harbor Drive in a pedicab and showcasing their musical synchronicity.

Dani Shivers (Tijuana)

Dani Shivers' obsession with collecting Casio keyboards has produced a witch's brew of sounds—like those heard on sophomore effort Jinx, released last year on Tijuana cassette label Prima Crush—that are so full of gothic angst, you'd think she transported here from 1980s Manchester. But Dani Shivers is all the way Tijuanera—born and raised. Her new release takes you by the hand on a dark exploration of witch hunting, grave visitation, bad friendships and vampire boyfriends. In January, the goth-pop Casio princess released "Body of One," a feverish dance tune that sounds like a lost relic of the '80s New York City underground disco scene where Madonna got her start. Her self-directed music video for the song comprises a series of "selfies" done right, with head-turning graphic sequences rife with mod cool.

Vanessa Zamora (Tijuana)

Tijuana's acoustic-guitar darling, Vanessa Zamora, gives the impression that she could be a distant, much younger fifth member of the Mamas & The Papas. The 22-year-old singer / songwriter is a classically trained pianist and guitarist, and her songs often recall those born of the 1970s Laurel Canyon scene. Zamora first caught the eye of Carla Morrison when she covered a Morrison song on YouTube, and, since then, she's been signed to Morrison's Pan Dulce Productions. She's been on her grind in Mexico, booking shows anywhere and everywhere, and amassing an impressive fan base that's reflected in her rapidly growing social-media presence. In March, Zamora will release "Te Quiero Olvidar," the lead single off of her yet-untitled sophomore album.

Correction: The original version of this story stated that the #YOSOY132 movement was sparked by the death of two college students. However, the movement was actually started in solidarity with a protest movement against the Institutional Revolutionary Party's then-presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, and as a reaction to false media reports surrounding the 2012 election, in which the student protestors were accused of being paid actors.