A First-Gen Mexican-American Artist, Ariel & The Culture Talks About The Beauty In Playing For The Right Crowd, Relearning Spanish And Making Music That Reflects The Hyphenated Latinx Experience.
Welcome to Como Somos, a new recurring Central Track series about Latinx music in North Texas. Como Somos, a phrase that translates to “as we are” in Spanish, focuses on the up-and-coming Latinx acts that are heavily inspired by the sounds and roots of their cultural backgrounds. Here, they share their stories of what it means to be a Latinx musician in DFW today, as well as Spanish tracks that helped shape their artistry, to better connect with their ever-growing community.
Before Ariel & The Culture stepped on stage of the House of Blues’ Foundation Room in Dallas, he really only had two Spanish tracks out.
He wasn’t sure if he would release anymore, even after his 2020 Cumbia love song “Dame Tú Amor” went viral on TikTok and received praise for Latinx music publications. Instead, Ariel & The Culture, which was once considered a collective but is now the solo project of Jason Bobadilla, focused mostly on making hip-hop and R&B-inspired music, which make up his debut EP Nostalgia, and stick to that.
That changed immediately after returning from tour with Dallas artist A-Wall.
In November, Ariel & The Culture, A-Wall, Sophia Valdez and members of Dallas rap collective CHROMA joined Chilean bedroom pop musician on selected dates of his Wachito Rico tour. Ariel & The Culture and CHROMA were asked to be part of A-Wall’s support band during the sold-out Texas dates, but there was something special about the Dallas date.
Of course, it was special to begin with because the musicians share a hometown, but that wasn’t exactly why. About 2,200 fans had filled the venue anxiously waiting for two of the most popular indie pop acts right now. If you’re on TikTok or Gen Z, you totally get the hype.
Ariel & The Culture surprised them without else – a remixed version of “Dame Tú Amor” and the crowd went wild. As he danced on stage, the crowd just kept getting louder – energy he had never seen before or came close to the shows he had played around DFW for years now.
“The videos don’t do it justice,” Bobadilla says. “I’ve never experienced that kind of energy. It’s a drug. It’s insane.”
When returned home from tour, Ariel & The Culture knew exactly what to do. He stayed up until 5 a.m. writing the draft to his new single “Tú Y Yo,” a Spanish city pop track that combines elements of indie, reggeaton and disco, which will be on his official upcoming EP.
However, Ariel & The Culture doesn’t necessarily need to make Spanish tracks to appeal to the Latinx community. Who he represents, the kids who struggle to find their place between two cultures, is a reflection of what many of his fans go through. In fact, he makes that his purpose as a Latinx musician.
Here, in Dallas, when we think about the Latinx act taking over the scene, Ariel & The Culture is at the top of the list, but many still don’t know about his influence.
So here you go. This is Ariel & The Culture, for the culture.
I have a question I always ask my sources even if I know the answer to it. It really allows them to unpack and I want to ask you the same way I ask everyone else, so who the fuck are you and who the fuck do you think you are?
Oh my God, I love that. I’m Jason Bobadilla. I’m Ariel & The Culture. I’m an artist from Texas, originally based in Dallas, but I’m all around Texas a lot recently. I make music for the kids who are too brown for the white kids and too white for the brown kids.
Hell yeah! When did you decide to switch Ariel & The Culture to a solo project after starting as a collective?
It wasn’t a decision I actively wanted to make or something I was looking out for. It just kind of happened during the beginning of the pandemic. Honestly, after the Central Track Music Honors. That was the last big show I did as Ariel & The Culture being kind of a collective.
We want people to know, essentially, that it was considered a collective, but it was still my project. I wrote all the songs, did all the arrangements, recorded all the music and all that. I figured I was doing all that already, so when COVID really hit hard, I had the urge to keep trying to create. Every time I was with the collective – they’re all great people and I still love them – I just felt I couldn’t do what I really wanted to do. When you’re in a group project or something, you’ve got to consider other people.
I really felt that when the opportunity came — it was really just me and I was continuing to make the music. I figured I’d delve into what I actually really wanted to do for a long time and that’s was make music that I wanted to hear.
I know you connected with the artist you just toured with, such as Boy Pablo and A-Wall. Really cool dudes. How about the audience? Did you feel a special connection with the audience, who was made up of mostly Hispanics? Did you feel like there was a sense of unity from them or close to them like family?
I definitely did more than I expected to. The thing that made me the most proud about this entire thing is that it wasn’t my tour, I was [performing] with A-Wall, but I felt some kind of ownership. I think everyone who was on that stage that night [did]. The importance of what was going on, every single person on stage contributed to selling out that show. Boy Pablo, A-Wall, me, CHROMA, Sofia Valdéz.
It hit me in McAllen. After the show we got swarmed and that’s never happened in past shows in Denton, where no one would care. It was just insane what playing in front of the right audience can do for you. People were telling me that they have never heard Cumbia on stage before and they felt a connected [asking] like, “where you from? You from Mexico? Are you from Texas?” They didn’t know where we were from and I was like, “I’m first Gen.”
I was just like the people in the audience. They were just surprised that someone like them, or someone in the same situation as them, at that point. I was very proud and it made me feel very, very connected to my Latino community. It felt like people were surprised to see that on the stage, especially an all-brown lineup. Everyone on that stage was from Hispanic or Latin descent that night. The fact that we did that and sold out all those shows is incredible to me. I’ve never seen that before.
That’s really amazing. A lot of us come from the same background and when we see people on stage who look and sound like us, we feel like we’re being represented and that there’s definitely a space for us there too. I grew up listening to a lot of Cumbia and Spanish music in general. When the Y2K culture started to come back last year, and people were reminiscing growing up listening to Britney Spears and NSYNC, I really couldn’t relate. Seeing young artists be inspired by the Spanish music and styles of their childhoods is so beautiful. I want to showcase the kids who grew up just like me and are making music they grew up listening to.
Yeah, I love that. I didn’t really have that in mind when I was making music, like when I made the Cumbia “Dame Tú Amor,” it was just so innate to me because it’s the music I grew up on. Saturday mornings at 8 a.m., the Cumbias, the Salsa and the Boleros. All the cansiones románticas would play early in the morning. That was just part of it. I didn’t really think about it. It’s crazy to see how much it’s affecting people; how much things are changing for me and other people around me. That was the coolest part about the whole thing.
People were touched by it, some people got emotional. When you sit with your own music and your own art for so long, you don’t think about it that way anymore, but it all reminded me that it all came from there. It hit a chord with some people, so it’s really cool that the Hispanic community reacted to that.
Here’s a more personal question, how was it like growing up as a first-generation Mexican-American in Dallas?
My parents are from Mexico City and that’s really where my family is based from. That’s what I consider a second home. My first language is Spanish, so I grew up speaking Spanish for a lot of my life, but I went to a white school. They didn’t want me speaking Spanish, so I stopped and eventually fell out of touch with it for so long. When it was time to start speaking Spanish after I got out of that public school education, I had to relearn a lot of it and it really affected my connection with my community, for better and for worse.
People will treat you differently if you speak Spanish with an accent. They’ll look at you like you’re gringo or you’re too white or not brown enough. Honestly, that’s my entire identity struggle. The music that I make now — I know has some imperfections in my music. There are some grammatical errors in “Dame Tú Amor” that I left on purpose because that’s how I grew up speaking Spanish – sometimes like Spanglish and broken Spanish.
That is so Selena! If you listen to Selena’s music, you can sometimes hear grammatical errors or mispronunciation of Spanish words, but that just makes her music so much relatable to Mexican-American, or Tejano, fans.
I know I’m saying stuff “wrong” or some things could be better said another way. People tell me all the time like, “You know you said this wrong,” and I’m well-aware of what I’m saying. I’m well-aware of what I wrote. That’s just how I speak. I had to relearn Spanish from scratch and it’s been tough. My family, out of love, they tease me for speaking with an accent.
I mean, I’m the first generation to be in this country for the first time fully. Even though I have a funny little accent, when I speak in Spanish or sing in Spanish I know who I’m doing it for. It’s for myself, it’s for my family and everyone I care about because they didn’t get the opportunity to sing at sold-out House of Blues shows or any of these things.
If I have to keep singing in a little funny Spanish accent to keep doing that, I don’t care.
So, would you say that the way you sing in Spanish is sort of like an homage to the First-Gen experience?
Yeah, that’s really who I am. I think part of the experience is that people always try to correct you. American people and people who are super Mexicano or super Latino are always trying to make you do thing a certain way. I think that’s also part of the identity. The way my family came up in the U.S. The experience is different for everyone. Some people have it the hardest. Some people don’t have papers, some people do. I think that no matter what situation you’re in, just try to make the best of what you have and outwork the next person because of where you come from – that’s super important to me.
I know that there’s people who are probably more talented than me in the scene, but I will make it a daily thing — whenever I feel like crap, or I don’t feel like working on music or rehearsing — to think about the experience my parents had crossing the border and how hard they had it. My mom literally swam across the freaking Rio Grande and I’m complaining about writing a song? Like, c’mon [laughs]. I kick my own ass, like I have to get it together.
I can totally relate. My parents were teenagers in the ‘90s when they came to Dallas. I was born a little after they settled here, so my mom was still a teen mom. I can’t even imagine what’s like to be a teenaged, new mom and living in whole new country.
It’s insane to think that when I was their age, I was not doing things half as hard as they were.
One of the best things about having such young parents was that they still listened to such like Spanish punk or rock en Español, but I also listened to a lot of English music like Led Zeppelin and Radiohead as a child because I had other family members that really liked that [yes, “Creep” by Radiohead really does something to a fourth grader’s head]. Did you grow up with a blend of music like that and how did it look like?
Yeah, I grew up with a mix. My mom came to U.S. in the early ‘90s when she was young and she didn’t speak a word of English. She went to school in South Oak Cliff and she graduated from W.H. Adamson High School – that’s like my first roots in the United States.
What was big back then was hip-hop, especially in Oak Cliff and in Dallas. She listened to a lot of R&B, soul, hip-hop — that was like my mom’s music. She obviously loves Spanish music, but you know, a lot of the music that shapes you is when you’re a kid and when you’re becoming an adult, and that really affected her.
My dad didn’t come to the states until later. He carried with him, being older, more music from Mexico and cansiones tropicales. He brough Salsas, Cumbias, Bachatas and stuff like that. I really enjoyed it growing up. I grew up listening to, because of my mom, like Mariah Carey and then listening to rap, and my dad, when I would get in the car with him, we listened to Frankie Ruiz and Juan Luis Guerra. All these Salsa artists and Cumbia artists. The music I really grew up connecting to its Salsa music. I know I haven’t made any Salsa music but hopefully one day I will. It has such an emotional connection and emotional connection. There’s so much passion in that music.
We asked Ariel & The Culture to share 10 Spanish tracks he loves or was inspired by, in no particular order. Check out our Spotify playlist to listen.
Cover photo courtesy of Ariel & The Culture.