Maria Isa
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Maria Isa

Band Latin Hip Hop


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"Reggaetón Animal"

boom-ch-boom-chick boom-ch-boom-chick

Reggaetón might be the first new musical phenomenon of the century, but the dance is as old as mammals. Fans call it el perreo, and Minneapolis newspaper Vida y Sabor has reported that it "simulates the copulatory movement of two dogs." But on a cool Saturday night at the Loring Pasta Bar, men and women rotate their lower torsos in the way only humans can. The DJ onstage, Omari Omari, has switched from the brass and piano razzle of salsa to the digital boom-click of reggaetón, and dancers on the crowded tile floor have abandoned the gyroscopic elegance of spinning and dipping for the more basic pleasures of animals trying curious poses.

"I've found the dancing pretty out there sometimes," says Katie De Los Reyes, 18, a regular at the Pasta Bar since she got her fake ID two years ago. "It's very sexual, and it makes a lot of guys uncomfortable to see their girlfriend out there doing that. I know my boyfriend doesn't like it, but that's why I don't bring him."

"Omari, cabron," shouts a man with two fingers on the straw of his drink, wading into the grinding couples as two women slide up under the DJ's portico to make requests. Omari, 25, speaks fluent Spanish, though his mother is Jordanian and his father, '70s rumba singer Hassan Omari, is Kenyan. (The son looks a little like Seth Gilliam from HBO's The Wire, wearing the white sports casuals of a grownup hip-hop kid.) Omari says he started listening to salsa as a way to pick up girls back at Minneapolis South High, though he plays "air cowbell" to his merengue selections with a fan's abandon.

Reggaetón (pronounced reggae-tone) is the next thing, he says, a Spanish Caribbean blend of American rap and Jamaican dancehall that has become an advertised draw at hip-hop, reggae, and Latin dance nights around town. Scenes like the one at the Pasta Bar have multiplied ever since El Nuevo Rodeo launched the first local reggaetón night in 2004. (Last year it moved to Thursdays, as Noche de Perreo.) Now the genre's stars touch down in Minneapolis—Luny Tunes at Rodeo on Halloween 2005, Ivy Queen at First Avenue in April, Tego Calderón at Rodeo in July. Meanwhile, the music has breached the previously rap-free zone of Minnesota Spanish radio, lighting up request lines on "regional Mexican" La Invasora 1400 (WMNV-AM, Thursdays from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.) and La Mera Buena 107.5 (KBGY-FM, weekdays from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.), with more regular play on the new La Picosa 1530 (KQSP-AM).

"Nothing like this has ever happened in Latin music," says local reggaetón producer Diego De La Vega. "I've been to Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela. Reggaetón is out of control all over Latin America. If you can hear it on KDWB [101.3 FM] in rural Minnesota, imagine what it's like in some place like Peru."Maya Santamaria, owner of El Nuevo Rodeo, compares the explosion to salsa in the '70s, another sensation powered by Puerto Ricans through the hemisphere. Yet the new sound outsells salsa at Mena's International in Minneapolis, according to the store's owners. Four years ago, Universal began distributing reggaetón king Daddy Yankee and others on Puerto Rico's VI Music label, thanks to the connections of Gustavo López, a native of the U.S. territory who worked as a rep to Best Buy in the late '90s while living in Hopkins. Last year, López launched Universal's Machete Music, a major-label reggaetón imprint with echoes in Jay-Z's Roc La Familia and Diddy's Bad Boy Latino.

The same year, more than 100 students at Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights participated in recording and performing an anti-tobacco reggaetón song. And since the first local reggaetón show in March of 2004—Honduran-born brothers Caribbean Connection at El Nuevo Rodeo—more than a dozen Twin Cities acts have taken their version to the stage and into the studio, with enough evidence on demos and MySpace to justify buzz over next year's slated wave of CDs. One forthcoming compilation, produced by Leroy Smokes trumpeter Kyle Borchert, features bilingual St. Paul rapper and singer Maria Isa, Dominican-born MC Back-Up Plomo, Panamanian-born deejay the Kamillion, and others working across genre with such local reggae and hip-hop vets as Prince Jabba and Unicus. Watch this space for the future of Minnesota music.

Like any genuine pop movement, reggaetón is three new things at once—a beat, an audience, and an ethos. The beat is the ubiquitous, tripping dem bow, the boom-ch-boom-chick rhythm that is the hull of any reggaetón song. The audience is the changing urban core of the Americas, including the thousands of young Spanish speakers in Minnesota who marched for immigrant rights last April. "Most of the immigration that we saw in the last 10 years was from rural areas," says Alberto Monserrate, co-founder of Latino Communications Network, which owns Vida y Sabor and La Invasora. "Now what we've seen in the last two or three years is a lot of immigrants coming from big cities in the U.S., or from Mexico City."...
(7 pages) (continues at - Peter S. Scholtes, City Pages, Nov. 22, 2006

"McNally Smith River Rocks Music Festival 2008"

This year’s McNally Smith River Rocks Festival was a success on all levels. It had it all; great music, awesome weather, beautiful atmosphere, two stages of entertainment, and an outdoor festival sound quality that I’ve only heard in a few outdoor venues around the country. The Gorge Amphitheatre comes to mind.

Although, on the surface this was a musical festival just like any other, upon closer examination it was an exploration of diversity and culture wrapped up in Minnesotan influences: from the “Nordic stock” that Mike Doughty claimed as his heritage as he flirted with the crowd, to the Puerto Rican infuesed grooves on history and life by Maria Isza, and the intelligent composition of the Heiruspecs.

Sure, this festival also had historical dream concerts put on by The Roots and Semisonic.

When I spoke with college co-founder Jack McNally, who was more Richard Branson meets Ty Webb than stuffy college founder, I began to realize this show really was a tribute to the students. He spoke of their hard work, dedication, and help putting it all together. He spoke of their diversity, from the metal bands,to the classical ensembles, to the classical ensembles that may play Led Zepplin sets, and he spoke of their promising Hip Hop community and being one of the few colleges in the world that offers a music degree in Hip Hop. And while I did give Jack plenty of opportunity to expound on the college and it’s unique and ever growing influence with music, he continued to speak about the students.

Jack, I like you, hook up some Twitter.

So after several great shows, interviews with fans and musicians, and that little extra something something that comes with all outdoors festivals; I came to the conclusion that River Rocks is probably the best Minnesota outdoors music festival and I got an idea of just how much the students contributed to the whole show; from help with the infrastructure,to band selection, and giving performances. Lock, stock, and two smoking barrels of action packed stage performance.

I get the feeling River Rocks is getting better every year and with the reasonable prices I have a hard time imagining why anyone would miss out. I only hope that next year I can make it to all the shows.

Read the reviews, interviews, and see some pics: The Roots, Mike Dougty, Maria Isa, Semisonic,and Heiruspecs.


When I arrived on Harriet Island I could hear the Heiruspecs rocking out in the distance. I managed to catch the end of their energy infused show, but I had to find uber PR rep Molly to figure out my picture and interview situation.

My first scheduled interview was with Jack McNally. I already covered most of my interview with Jack above, but I’ll add this, he summed up the festival as “Great American Music” and added “The world tries to emulate us, but American music is the best” I added “Suck it, Britian.” and the whole table nodded in agreement. I asked Mr.McNally what his personal contribution was to the festival and he said “Me? I’m just the lousy founder.” I wrapped it all up with the million dollar question “Are you on Twitter?” to which you know the answer, but he added “I have an iPhone.” with the pride of a new parent. He then introduced me to Steve, head of event promotions, and said “The bloggers are here” to which Steve made the sign of a cross and crossed his arms anti-vampire style. We had a little chit chat and then I cut out to get to the music.

First up, The Roots. As The Roots started out with some nice harmonies I turned to my buddy in the photo pit and said “This sounds like War’s The World is a Ghetto” and suddenly it all came together into a full fledged rocking version of that very song. I almost wet myself, but instead sang along at the top of my lungs. “Don’t you know, that it’s true, that for me, and for you, the world is a ghetto” and that set the tone for an action packed hour of almost nonstop funk and jazz. About a half an hour in the band took a little interlude to remind everyone to vote and Black Thought spoke about getting out and not repeating the same mistakes as the last 8 years. During his whole voting speech they played the marching music from the Wizard of Oz “Oh-A-Oh - Whoooa - Oh-A-Oh- Whoooa” and then they wrapped up with another half an hour of live musical genius. One thing that makes The Roots stand out from other live acts is it’s obvious from the smiles on their faces to how they interact they’re having a great time and there’s no place they’d rather be, and the crowd was happy to be along for the ride. The Roots

I originally saw Maria at an MPR taping of In The Loop, but didn’t put two and two together until after her show when we were speaking. Maria is a rising star of local Raggaeton combining Hip Hop with Latin grooves and rock and roll. I moved up to the front of the stage to snap a few pictures and found myself caught up in the music dancing along with the crowd. For the encore song Maria invited Muad’dib of the Heiruspecs up on the stage for a jam that seemed as natural as Sean Paul/Shasha tune. Afterwards, I caught up with Maria for an interview. She spoke of River Rocks being an amazing experience and we talked about her musical mission to “Bring T.C. on a global map and bring unity” and she spoke of growing up in a musical family and following those roots and their immigration path both culturally and mucially on quest from Puerto Rico to Phillidelphia to New York to Chicago and finally back home to Minnesota.Maria spoke of music as a stew with the main ingredient being life and I was eating it up. She smiled and said “Positive energy reflects positivity” and I believe this girl is going good places.

I wrapped it up and headed back to catch the final part of Mike Doughty’s show and wait like a fan boy outside of Semisonic’s trailer. The banners on the side of the stage came down, the smoke machine came on, and Semisonic took the stage to “F.N.T.” as they blasted through their set with intensity and the skill of a band that has mastered their craft and fallen in love again with music, I could only smile. The crowd was going wild. The night air was perfect. Semisonic was a band again and all seemed right with the world.

With Live getting ready to take the stage I used the break to hook up with Sean (Twinkie Jiggles) and Peter Leggett from Heiruspecs and get a feel for what’s new in their world. When asked about the festival Sean laughed and said “A week and a half into my new job at McNally Smith they asked me if we wanted to play”. They spoke about the stress of touring and an upcoming album that they’re making and a 3 song prerelease called “Get Up” to be released on October 5th with the album release scheduled for December 13th. When I asked what their musical message was Peter summed it up as “Good music. Positive message” and I asked if they went home and night and listened to their work to which Sean said “Oh yeah.” and Peter replied “Sean is bad” and Sean agreed “I’m bad!” I like a band that listens to their music and these guys were funny and nice to top it all off. Live was taking the stage so we wrapped up just as dVRG was entering the room. I heard “Lightening Crashes” begin and turned to dVRG and asked if he felt like chatting and he did. We talked about the various band member’s musical influences, we spoke of how tough it is to tour and be in a band, and we waxed on musical influences. dVRG compared Mozart to Charlie Parker and talked about Peter’s insatiable appetite for 20th century classical music and it’s influences on Heiruspecs music. I could have talked with dVRG all night, but it was time to go. I’m looking forward to the new release, Heiruspecs.

Afterwards, as I walked out into the crowd I couldn’t help thinking once more just how great the sound quality was and what a great festival this has become. As I was leaving, Live lit the fire one more time and rocked me out.

Big ups to everyone that took time out of their busy day to speak with me and I suggest you all catch this festival next year.

( - David, MN Metblogs, Sept. 24, 2008

"Maria Isa delivers at her CD-release party at Trocaderos"

Remember 2007? Women's shirts that looked like short dresses? Barack Obama's run for president? And reggaetón, the soundtrack beat for Miss Universe Mexico? Okay, maybe the first new rhythm of the century has yet to overtake its hype, but its ongoing miracles were manifest last night in Maria Isa's set at Trocaderos. Brought down hard behind a slower version of the St. Paul singer's live standby "Yo Lo Quiero," the dembow beat became an organizing force in her complex music, saving that song and a couple others as a Godsend of simplicity amid what seemed at times like too much of too many good musical things. To be sure, no one else in Minneapolis/St. Paul (or anywhere else?) has even attempted Isa's fusion of Spanglish rap, keen R&B, Puerto Rican percussion, and live-band funk: Among her band mates last night, I counted two guitarists, one bassist, one keyboardist/trumpeter, one full-time keyboardist, three percussionists, three backup singers, and two dancers flanking Isa (though no DJ)—all hailing from different groups, with core talents from Leroy Smokes, and extra percussionists and singers (on a couple songs) from the local Puerto Rican folk dance group, Raices. A product of Raices training, Isa is the rare local singer/MC who dances as she performs, and with all that rhythm and movement, you'd imagine that beats would drive her songs. At her best, they do, but sometimes the chaos overwhelms. Isa began strong, with Raices dancers in headdress garb swishing their dresses to hand percussion beats, a spectacle that gave way to the full-band grooving along. The group faltered a on a sluggish number with a "Rock Box"-like beat (the audience thinning to get drinks), but then took flight with "Yo Lo Quiero," for which the crowd gave praise with its hips and shouts. A slower funk number followed, and I imagined the drummer inserting a go-go beat to liven things up. But then Isa did something with a one-drop reggae beat, and once again, all the parts fell into place, though I wanted more from the backup singers just then. The show wound up with "MN Nice," the kind of slow, radio-ready synth dirge that requires more swing than Isa could muster at that pace, but then she encored rapping in Spanish on something suddenly lighter, faster, and funkier. Behind her, a large screen displayed posed photos from the new album, M.I. Split Personalities (Emetrece Productions/Smoke Signal), a bit of expected promo, and then she ceded the stage entirely to Raices as the house lights came up. The group's tradition-minded simplicity somewhat upstaged Isa's ambitious busyness, I think, if only because the three drummers and the maracas player locked together so tightly as a band, and the young singers wailed with such abandon. It's this kind of naturalness that Isa strives for at a higher plain of expression, personalization, and polygot musicality. - Peter Scholtes, City Pages, May 30, 2007


M.I. Split Personalities, album 2007, single "MN Nice", "Image", "Tres Preguntas", "Que Tu Quieres", "Ese Diablo" airplay on MPR/The Current 89.3, KDWB 101.3.



MARIA ISA Emcee // Singer // Songwriter Born and raised in the Twin Cities to Nuyorican parents, emcee, singer, and songwriter Maria Isa is recognized for her dedication towards celebrating her cultural diversity through music and her political activism. In 1992 Maria started her performing arts education at El Arco Iris Center for Arts, forming Raices in 2002 with other advanced students to conserve their ancestral Puerto Rican folkloric music. Isa released her first independent album M.I. Split Personalities (EMETRECE) in May of 2007 and has been promoting her music in the Twin Cities and in Puerto Rico. She is known for delivering her message through a unique flow which is at times accompanied by her 8-piece band introducing the Sota-Rican essence. Many believe Maria Isa to be a young woman with the rays of revolutionizing the next generations of voices. Maria Isa has just been cast to star as Angie in the independent film STRIKE ONE ( ALSO Be on the look out for her new EP from Sota Rico coming soon featuring the new track produced by Ganzobean "IMAGE." " Isa’s sound is a 'call to order'.” -Courtney Lewis Minnesota Monthly/May 2007 "...the uber-talented Isa's amazing energy and verbal dexterity (aka the ability to sound dope just shit-talking over a classic break beat)... Prevent having to lie about seeing Isa live before she goes big time forever." -Jordon Seldom City Pages "Lightning and Thunder" Review/March 2008 "...Maria is an immensely charming and intelligent individual who also happens to be one of the more driven young musicians I've had the pleasure to meet." -Jay Boller Minnesota Daily /March 2008