At 19, Reyna Avelar has two bands and two Spanish-language reality TV show competitions under her belt.
She’s part of a Latin American music scene in Wichita that sometimes escapes the notice of Anglos but will be free for all to hear during a festival Saturday at Nomar Plaza.
“We’re all really fun,” said Avelar, who sings and plays several instruments. “You don’t have to be Latin American to go.”
Wichita Latin American Festival 2015, the city’s first, runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the plaza at 21st and Broadway.
Avelar specializes in regional Mexican music forms such as mariachi and banda, but the event is designed to show the culture that doesn’t stop at the United States’ immediate neighbor to the south. The music, food and art of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Cuba and Peru will also be featured.
The festival is the brainchild of DJ Travieso, a Guatemala native who’s lived in Wichita off and on since 1999, operating nightclubs and an entertainment company and spinning records at festivals and other events. Travieso recently moved back from Chicago, where he said he was inspired by big Central American and Puerto Rican festivals.
“Man, everything they do over here is Mexican,” Travieso said. “We want to get something for the rest of the Latinos, not just the Mexicans.”
Travieso makes it clear that he has nothing against Mexicans – by far the largest segment of Wichita’s Hispanic population – as can be seen by the inclusion of Avelar and Swing Latino, a salsa band from Wichita. He just wants people to know that there are many styles of Latin American music popular here.
The festival’s headliner is a group called Mala Fe, whose members hail from the Dominican Republic. They play merengue and bachata, two genres of music and dance traditional in the Caribbean country. Merengue also refers to the dance form in which partners hold each other close while mirroring each other’s moves.
Two Reggaeton acts – including Willex Music from Las Vegas – will perform. As the name suggests, Reggaeton is influenced by Jamaican music but also blends elements of Latin American styles and hip-hop.
DJ Bacan Bacan, who’s from New York, and two other disc jockeys will spin records. A comedian and a dance troupe will also perform.
Travieso said he was able to recruit artists because “I have connections all over the United States.” Many are donating their time and just being reimbursed for travel and hotels, he said.
Travieso said he was able to present the festival for free thanks to several sponsors. One of those, Noe Rivera, said it’s not the first time Travieso has come to him for help.
“I always say, ‘OK, let’s make it happen,’” Rivera said.
Rivera, who owns a trucking company, said he grew up loving to dance in his native Ecuador. But for the most part, “We don’t have our music here.” The festival is a way to make that happen and also to connect with people from Honduras, Colombia and other countries who now call Wichita home. “Have fun in our community, you know?” he said.
Travieso noted that the festival is coming shortly after a planned Puerto Rican festival here had to be canceled because of a lack of sponsors. There will be a booth at the festival devoted to Puerto Rican history and culture, he said.
Organizers also plan to give away donated school supplies to children.
Avelar is looking forward to performing for local fans, who seem to be growing in number thanks to her appearance on a couple of reality TV show competitions.
She reached the finals of one on Telemundo, which filmed in Los Angeles, and to the semi-finals of another, on Estrella TV, which filmed in Orlando. Producers of the first one contacted her after finding her self-produced videos on YouTube.
“It was something super unexpected,” she said. “I knew about this show, but I didn’t think about going on so quick.”
Avela was born in Mexico and moved to Wichita as a child. In addition to singing, she plays the accordion, keyboards and guitar. She plans to perform a half-dozen songs Saturday. Then she’ll do some listening herself.
“It’s the first Latin American festival focusing on more than just Mexico,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
If you go
Wichita Latin American Festival 2015
Where: Nomar Plaza, 21st and Broadway
When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday
11 a.m.: DJ Flaco and DJ Cez
12:30 p.m.: Reyes de la Calle
1 p.m.: VG
1:30 p.m.: Conjunto Zairo
2 p.m.: DJ Metiche and DJ Tino Morales
2:30 p.m.: Issac and Yemena
3 p.m.: Boris Silva
3:30 p.m.: Roy Moye II
4 p.m.: Swing Latino
4:30 p.m.: DJ Bacan Bacan
5 p.m.: Cali Rumba Dancers
5:30 p.m.: Cahuchilangis
6 p.m.: Reyna Avelar
6:30 p.m.: Willex Music
7 p.m.: Mala Fe