DAWA’s Unity Concert Brings Together Austin’s Rising BIPOC-Led Acts

Showcase kicked off a week of creative Vision:8291 programming

Urban Heat (photo by Jana Birchum)

There’s no way the crowd assembled at Stubb’s on Tuesday night – at its peak certainly north of 1,000 – could have come away from the evening unclear about the intent of the showcase that blended hip-hop, Latin pop and psychedelia, soul, and goth rock from Austin-based acts.

Riders Against the Storm’s Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone made sure the mission of his nonprofit group Diversity Awareness and Wellness in Action (DAWA) was at the forefront of the evening as he took to the stage throughout the event to introduce the artists and speak about the goal of the Vision:8291 project. Flip that number and you get 1928, the year Austin power brokers installed a master plan that forced the city’s Black community to relocate from other parts of the city to the Eastside, the culture of which is now being steadily wiped away by gentrification. The concert, in its second year at Stubb’s in partnership with South by Southwest, kicked off a week of free BIPOC-led art, music, and cultural programming as Vision:8291.

Between bringing out a number of guest speakers from community organizations between sets, Mahone added, “Community is our greatest technology, because before the phones, before any of that, we had each other. If we knew that more, then we wouldn’t have to have so many things.”

Eimaral Sol (photo by Jana Birchum)

Intended to demonstrate the ability of music from diverse artists to bring people together, Tuesday’s Unity showcase brought together rappers CP Loony and J Soulja, Latin pop band the Tiarras, psych rockers Caramelo Haze, powerful neo-soul songwriter Eimaral Sol, and buzzy darkwave band Urban Heat. That’s a lot of creative ground to cover over five hours, but the crowd hung with the lineup of acts, all of whom felt comfortably at home onstage at one of downtown’s larger, high-profile venues.

Of those, Urban Heat showed to be one of the city’s hottest upcoming bands, with singer Jonathan Horstmann leading the trio to combine Depeche Mode’s mood with the maximized rock of fellow Austin synth/dance act Ghostland Observatory. It’s a fair bet that Urban Heat will find itself top-billed at Stubb’s again sometime within the next year, if the band’s star continues to rise at current pace.

the Tiarras (photo by Jana Birchum)

Also strong on the night were the Tiarras, a power trio made up of the Baltierra sisters, who moved comfortably between spunky Latin pop to flamenco to soulful rock over the course of their moving 40-minute set. Singer Tori wowed the audience at several points with supple, intricate guitar solos that added surprising color and nuance to their tight rockers, riding a strong groove from the rhythm section of drummer Sophia and bassist Tiffany.

Caramelo Haze (photo by Jana Birchum)

Caramelo Haze’s turn onstage was perhaps the most attention-grabbing of the night, capturing the showmanship and experience of its members’ time in Grupo Fantasma, Money Chica, and Dos Santos with a slow-burn take on Latin psych rock that grew in volume and impact, but never overwhelmed. Guitarist Beto Martínez alternated between laid-back, beat-heavy grooves that sometimes felt like a combo of Steely Dan and Nortec Collective, while dropping in Led Zeppelin volume and thunder at times to jar the audience. It all worked, and the band’s addition to Austin’s Latin rock scene is a welcome one.

A few words of support and encouragement for opener CP Loony and show closer J Soulja, who did more than admirable work warming up winding down the crowds for the evening. The latter, after shouting out his mom in the crowd, blasted through selections off new EP Out The Blew. While CP Loony pulled from melodic 2022 record godspeed., both showed more than deserving mic skills, charisma, and showmanship and proved they belong on any stage in town looking to showcase Austin’s rising rap talent.

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DAWA, SXSW Music 2023, Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone, Vision:8291, Urban Heat, Tiarras, Caramelo Haze, CP Loony, Eimaral Sol, J Soulja

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