“When I hear something that’s really special, I get goose bumps and that’s a really good feeling because music is so special. I’m like a 15-year-old kid, I get so excited, baba and everything — I get stupid.” chuckles Tomas Cookman, founder of the bilingual bicultural Latin Alternative Music Conference, now in its 14th year.
“We are very excited to bring acts like Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux, Venezuelan alt band La Vida Boheme, Mexican singer-songwriters Carla Morrison and Ximena Sariñana to the United States, it’s about giving fans access to the music they love,” Cookman says.
Every year thousands of musicians, music lovers, industry experts and record labels descend onto NYC to check out what is hot in the Latin alternative music world. This year’s conference, which kicks off on Tuesday July 9, has expanded to include books, art, film and food. There will be free movie screenings and performances across New York City by Fat Joe, Julieta Venegas,The Pinkertones, Nortec Collective , Mexican Institute of Sound, Lila Downs and Fofe y Los Fetiches.
When one thinks of Latin Alternative music one doesn’t think New York. But for the native New Yorker, there was no question where the LAMC should be held. “I thought it was a lot more of a message to do it in New York because it’s harder to do. If I did it in LA, where there is a fan base for Latin Alternative, it’s like doing a country music conference in Nashville; of course it’s going to be successful. So it was about making it successful,” says Tomas Cookman.
For Tomas, there was no question that he was going to be involved in music somehow. As a Puerto Rican kid growing up in the projects on the Lower East Side, Tomas was a drummer and part of the original New York punk rock scene of the 70’s and 80’s that gave birth to bands like the Ramones and Blondie. “Back when I used to play with Colors my manager was the owner of CBGB’s, so we played there like every other weekend. Whenever you’re managed by Hilly Crystal, probably the best perk of it is that every night you have the allotment of three beers, so I’d sit there every night – you get in for free of course – with my fellow band members and listen to bands play all night and that was probably my best education on what to do and what not to do.”
As punk began to fade from the New York scene, Tomas traveled to Argentina where he lived for five years; it would become a huge turning point in his life. Instead of playing in bands he wound up managing them, bands like Manu Chao and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. But that wasn’t enough for him. After years of being in the music industry he wanted to give the world access to what he was surrounded by, which lead him to form Nacional Records, an independent record label, ranked #12 by Billboard magazine’s list of top indie labels. He created Cookman International as an artist management group.
Artists like Manu Chao, Aterciopelados, Los Amigos Invisibles, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Maldita Vecindad, Ana Tijoux, Plastilina Mosh, Nortec Collective, The Pinker Tones, The Tom Tom club and many more have garnered the label an impressive twenty-nine plus Latin Grammy and Grammy award wins and nominations. Tomas has also ventured into the world of Radio and Television with his radio show LAMC Mixtape on SiriusXM and La Hora Nacional a weekly TV show on MTVTr3s showcasing some of the best in Latin Alternative music. “When it came to the Tr3s show I didn’t want a host; I want it to be about the music and only the music.”
It’s his love and passion for music that makes this much more than a business to him, it’s about what he has achieved and continues to strive for. Cookman just partnered with Search Party – a major film/music licensing company. “The thing about the LAMC, our artist, TV and Radio programs, partnerships and Nacional Records – the concept is to make more and more people aware that these artists do exist because we have so much more to give and say.”
In an industry that continues to decline, Nacional Records has done just the opposite; they are thriving. “The fact that we had the number one Billboard Latin Pop Album and the number one Billboard World Music album with our compilation Café Con Musica, and you have kids in Indiana saying they came across it and love it — it’s a testament to the world of Latin alternative.”
For more information on the LAMC log on to…http://latinalternative.com
Eneida I. DelValle has worked in all areas of media from radio, television and print, traveling across the United States and Puerto Rico covering both the Latino and non-Latino communities. She previously worked at PBS-owned Spanish Language station V-me and Peacock Productions, a division of NBC News. A self-professed news junkie, book-worm, art and music lover, you can frequently find her at a rock or salsa concert and photographing the streets of New York.