Catalina Maria Johnson

International radio broadcaster, bilingual cultural journalist, music curator


There are a lot of wonderful festivals to catch Latin music in the U.S., but you may be surprised to know that there is always an excellent selection of Latin acts both small and large at the classic New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, celebrated annually in the Crescent City since 1970.


Every year’s selection of Latin artists both local and invited reflects the rich mestizo heritage of New Orleans past and present, starting with a musical relationship that was born in the Caribbean.

Pedrito Martinez at Jazz Fest

A shared Afro-Caribbean heritage and other ties between cities like Havana, San Juan, Santo Domingo and New Orleans harken back several centuries, born in maritime commerce. Last year, you could hear melodies born in that back and forth on common sea routes when Cuban percussionist and vocalist Pedrito Martinez brought his Cuban rumba to the Congo Square state.

This year, two legendary Caribbean artists grace the stages of Jazz Fest:  Puerto Rican pianist Eddie Palmieri with his Salsa Orchestra and Dominican superstar Juan Luis Guerra. Additionally, local mambo funk specialists Los Po Boy Citos will surely set the audiences dancing once again this year when they play their Cuban-tinged, New Orleans driven grooves. Also in 2013, local band Vivaz will bring their Cuban and Brazilian beats to the Fest.

The city’s largest Latin population is actually Honduran, due to the 20th century arrival of enormous fruit companies headquarters to New Orleans which gave Honduran citizens easy access to work and life in the city.


The members of the  New Orleans Hispano-America Dance Group, who performed in 2012 and will be present again this year, presented folkloric dances from Honduras and other parts of Latin America complete with dance and colorful costumes.


For the 2013 edition of Jazz Fest, the sounds of Honduran Fredy Omar con su Banda who has been present at every edition of the fest since 1998, make novice and expert dancers break out everything they know with their super danceable repertoire of merengue, salsa, cha-cha-cha and other Latin dance beats.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Latino population of the city has doubled, due the presence of mostly Mexican workers who have arrived to reconstruct the city. Last year, Baton Rouge’s Mariachi Jalisco, delighted the audience with classics such as “La Negra” and “El Rey”. Additionally, pop singer Paulina Rubio, as well as guitar superstar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela from Mexico brought a thousands of fans to a state of enthusiastic frenzy.


In 2013, sounds with south of the U.S. influence are well represented with Tex-Mex pioneers Little Joe y La Famila, who took traditional Mexican “norteno” music and added large doses of country, blues and rock. Other major Latin acts include California’s veteran rockers Los Lobos and the rock driven-surf cowboy twangs of Phoenix’s Calexico.

There’s even flamenco to be had!  John Lawrence y Ven Pa Ca Flamenco Ensemble, a local Spanish flamenco and dance ensemble, evoke the twenty-five years at the end of the 18th century that New Orleans and Louisiana formed part of the Spanish Empire.

Finally, on top of  the finest jazz and amazing music of all kinds, for a really quite modest ticket price you will have access to the most amazing food, including my favorites, the pecan-crusted catfish and the rose-mint iced tea.

See you in New Orleans!


New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest will take place in New Orleans April 26-28 and May 2-5.

Check Catalina’s  radio show Beat Latino  (On FB  and iTunes too!)


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