In Conversation with Garth Trinidad

by Brian Sonia-Wallace

AfroLatino is an ongoing dialogue about the roots of rhythm,” KCRW DJ Garth Trinidad tells me. As a native Angeleno, I’ve been listening to him on the radio for as long as I can remember.

Garth Trinidad by Kawai Matthews
Garth Trinidad by Kawai Matthews

I arrive at KCRW under the cover of darkness, just after Garth’s show finishes at 10 p.m., to talk to Garth about the AfroLatino show taking place at the Ford on September 10. It’s Garth himself who answers the door and gives me a tour, taking special pride in the music library, whose shelves reach the ceiling with LPs. It’s like the iTunes store come to life.

Garth has known Oscar Merino of 52BLEND, producer of AfroLatino and a curator of culturally and musically diverse events, for years and the two have been bouncing around the idea of connecting music with history for some time. Usually, Garth says, discussions on the melding of African and Latino cultures in music end with Afro-Latin jazz, seen as the culmination and final synthesis of music in this area where African, indigenous and European cultures met and melded for the first time. But Garth draws the lineage further. “Where are the rhythms of hip-hop and house music rooted?” he challenges me. “These rhythms are ancient.”

“The early kids were filled with that rhythm. Looping two turn-tables to make endless beats is Afro-Latino rhythm. We’re trying to bring this musical history to the modern age, showing its roots.”

Taking advantage of his radio voice and encyclopaedic knowledge of music, Garth will narrate from offstage a theatrical story that weaves 13 eclectic artists together to show their common roots.

AfroLatino

When I ask Garth what drives him, where his passion and mission come from, he tells me he has a character in his head – his “kid self,” who instinctively knows “this is great – this is wack.” Garth holds himself accountable to this no-BS approach to sorting out music with soul and depth, with purpose and the ability to inspire. “It’s not about saying ‘now we’re grown’ and chasing money,” Garth tells me, “It’s being true to my childhood self who would never want to sell out.”

Garth is optimistic for new generations, new childhood selves. He sees a new thirst for knowledge as everything becomes accessible online. “I hope whole families come to AfroLatino,” Garth says, “parents and kids and grandparents all joining in.” Music, he muses, can be a wedge between generations. The goal of this project is to create a bridge, showing how rhythm can be the thing that crosses cultures and generations to bring people together.

52BLEND presents AfroLatino at the Ford Theatres on Saturday, September 10. Info and tickets here.