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Tucson singer uses national platform to shine spotlight on the Old Pueblo
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Tucson singer uses national platform to shine spotlight on the Old Pueblo

Brian Lopez is one of 200 artists selected to perform on a national platform

Music lovers across the country will get a taste of Tucson when singer-songwriter Brian Lopez hits the virtual stage as part of the national Kennedy Center Arts Across America series.

The series, which will present 200 diverse and visionary visual and performing artists in events livestreamed on Facebook, kicked off this week and runs 20 weeks into December.

Lopez on Tuesday said he had no idea how he came to the attention of the Kennedy Center which reached out to him two weeks ago. The center, home of the National Symphony Orchestra, has hosted concerts by the biggest names in entertainment. It also awards lifetime Kennedy Center Honors to performing artists for their contributions to American culture. Past winners have included Tucson’s own Linda Ronstadt.

Lopez and his guests — Tucson singer-songwriter Mattea and the Latinx cumbia duo Los Èsplifs — will be roughly 2,280 miles from that hallowed Kennedy Center stage when they perform Friday. But the idea of having a national audience experience Tucson art is almost more exciting than being on that stage, Lopez said.

“I want people from across the country to get a unique sense of what this area looks like and sounds like and the things that we care about from this area, and all of that can be done through advocacy of music,” Lopez said. “And I think that’s what you get from music.”

One of the goals of “Arts Across America” is to showcase artists who “exemplify unique regional artistic styles, and are using their medium as a tool for advocacy and social justice,” according to the Kennedy Center.

“In these times when people are striving for liberation, I think it is very important for us as brown and Black people to show people how we can strive to keep our traditions” alive and relevant, said Saul Millan of Los Èsplifs.

Friday’s concert will attract the biggest audience for Nogales native and Tucson resident Millan and his musical partner Caleb Michel, who lives in Phoenix. The pair, whose band includes Chris Del Favero, Zach Parker, Casey Hadland, Alan Acosta and Gus Woodrow, have focused their attention on small statewide and regional festivals including appearing at HoCo Fest at Hotel Congress in 2018 — the year the pair launched the band after playing together for nearly a year in several ensembles in Phoenix.

The 25-year-old Millan launched his music career playing in Orkesta Mendoza when he was 18, and the Mexican Institute of Sound. Michel, also 25, has been playing percussion with the Afro-Cuban All Stars since 2014.

Los Èsplifs fills in the musical blanks for both, borrowing influences from contemporary Latinx rhythms of cumbia and porro, as well as traditions of 19th-century Cuban changüí and early-20th-century son music.

“We are trying to incorporate those Latinx rhythms with new perspective aimed at younger people,” said Millan, who said his overall goal for his music is to reach mainstream audiences without sacrificing his art.

“We want to make space for this Latin music and this new Latinx music into (the mainstream),” he explained, adding that he would love to see his band included in a hip-hop or jazz festival, for example, instead of being relegated only to Latin events.

“When this opportunity arose, I thought it was an awesome chance to showcase the universality of the music,” he said. “I want Latino kids to see that you can be into this music but also be into fashion and really hip (expletive). I want to empower Latino kids.”

Friday’s Kennedy Center concert starts at 1 p.m. Tucson time. Tune in on the center’s Facebook page at facebook.com/kennedycenter.

Others showcased during the program’s premiere week have included Minnesota’s Movement Music, Virginia’s fiddle fanatics Earl White and Eddie Bond, and Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (Florida) with Sammy Figueroa and Celia and Paco Fonta.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch.

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