Dancers perform at the 2019 Indio International Tamale Festival.

The Indio International Tamale Festival has long been an annual highlight for many Coachella Valley residents. Every year (except for last year, because, well, you know), food, music and culture combine to create a fantastic—and undeniably local—experience.

That said … when the entertainment lineup for this year’s fest dropped, many people—myself included—were flat-out shocked at the high-profile acts on the schedule, including La Sonora Dinamita, Tijuana Panthers and The Red Pears. The local names on the bill are impressive, too, including Israel’s Arcade, Koka, the Sol Suns and many others.

The festival will take place in downtown Indio on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 4 and 5. I spoke to the festival’s new producer, Gopi Sangha, of CUSP Agency.

“I have been working, producing events and festivals, in the Coachella Valley since about 2008, so the region is something really important to me,” he said. “I think the city wanted something more out of the event. … We want to give everybody an attraction to look forward to—so, obviously, we’ve brought a lot of live music to the table. The festival has always had music, but the tamales and the carnival, historically, have been the biggest attractions of the event. We really wanted to focus on the culture of the community, and hone in on the idea that tamales are a vessel for culture and community.”

Sangha has a lot of big music-festival experience. He produced the Tachevah music fest and used to work for Goldenvoice, the producer of Coachella.

“I’ve been promoting local bands in the valley for quite some time,” Sangha said. “(At Tachevah), we had a local-band element, and some of those local bands, while I worked for Goldenvoice, had an opportunity to play Coachella. … It inspired me to make sure there’s progressive platforms for local bands in the Coachella Valley. The intention was to create a platform for local bands and creators and musicians, and amplify their voices, by pairing some regional acts and touring acts that speak to a variety of the culture that we want to represent at the event.”

Andrew Gonzalez is a familiar name in the local music scene thanks to his band, Alchemy, which performed all over the valley—and at Coachella, in part thanks to Sangha. He’s now working with Sangha via his Palma City Productions.

“This year, we took a slightly different approach as far as the caliber of bands … but we wanted to match that by bringing the best local artists, vendors and musicians as well,” Gonzalez said. “I’m a local, so having the opportunity to be a part of the Tamale Festival meant it was important for us to include locals as much as we can.”

Choosing the musicians to share stages with regional and national acts was no easy task.

“Technically, I wasn’t allowed to choose,” Gonzalez said. “My job was to give them options, so I put together a list of 30 to 40 bands, singers and musicians of all calibers. On that list, I did highlight some that caught my attention, ones that recently dropped an album or a single, or played a show.”

The Academy of Musical Performance (AMP), a program that provides students with musical education, will also have an onstage presence.

“I told my parents that La Sonora Dinamita was playing, and they’re like, ‘Whoa, that’s kind of crazy.’ It’s just really weird to see my parents’ reactions, because they’re not in the music scene, so if they’re surprised by it, it’s making me think outside of my bubble that I’m in. I’m kind of like, ‘Whoa, this is a pretty big deal.’”

koka bassist sebastian camacho

“We have a couple of their bands performing on the Community Stage,” Gonzalez said. “… Israel’s Arcade was a part of AMP. I was a judge one year for the summer jam that they did, and Israel (Pinedo, the frontman of Israel’s Arcade) played in, like, five different bands. I remember telling him, ‘Man, you are awesome; keep up the good work,’ and fast-forward in time to now, just to see the evolution that he had from AMP into being his own artist is amazing. I’d love to see that keep happening. By involving AMP in the Community Stage, those artists keep on growing.”

Pinedo said he is excited about what this event could mean to young, up-and-coming performers.

“I feel that in a way, we’re representing a lot of the younger Latino crowd in the valley,” Pinedo said. “I think that maybe this event is showing that it’s possible to do something like this. With a lot of the (bigger) names on the lineup, it can sound really intangible to get there (as a local musician). … I think it’s a great opportunity. They were very selective with who they chose to have perform, and it’s a great honor that they chose us to, in a sense, represent the valley.”

Pinedo said he hopes that the Tamale Festival’s impressive music lineup is a sign of even bigger things to come.

“I think that it’s definitely going to bring a lot more people to the valley,” he said. “I can see the valley becoming more of a hub for more music festivals, and maybe get a lot more people moving to the valley and a lot more creatives popping up.”

Koka bassist Sebastian Camacho said the Tamale Festival gig is big for him and the band—in more ways than one.

“I don’t want to say it’s surreal, but I’m very grateful for the opportunity itself,” Camacho said. “This Tamale Festival … is completely different (this year). It’s an entirely different format. It’s organized similarly to big festivals in terms of, like, it’s not just going under the radar. It means a lot, especially because it’s literally in our backyard. We’re from (the east) side of the valley, and it’s very incredible, because not only is it the first show on that scale that we’ve been contacted to do, but it’s also our first show in about a year and a half. It’s not one of those things where we’re coming back, and we get the opportunity to play some backyard show.”

Camacho said sharing a stage with national acts is a huge accomplishment—and a big opportunity.

“It’s a huge honor, because you don’t really know who’s watching, and the fact that people like this are watching us and keeping tabs is incredible, to say the least,” he said.

Camacho’s parents helped him realize how big of this show is, he said.

“I told my parents that La Sonora Dinamita was playing, and they’re like, ‘Whoa, that’s kind of crazy,’” Camacho said. “It’s just really weird to see my parents’ reactions, because they’re not in the music scene, so if they’re surprised by it, it’s making me think outside of my bubble that I’m in. I’m kind of like, ‘Whoa, this is a pretty big deal.’”

The Indio International Tamale Festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 4; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 5, in downtown Indio, around 100 Civic Center Mall. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.indiotamalefestival.com.

Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...

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