Music Stories From the Cosmic Barrio

Betto Arcos has published his first book “Music Stories from the Cosmic Barrio”, a collection of more than 140 stories – profiles, reviews, reports, and chronicles – about the music that has been broadcast in different public radio programs since 2008, including NPR, PRX’s ‘The World’ program, KPCC radio in Los Angeles and BBC in England.

Listen to the interview here:

The book is divided into 12 chapters and addresses topics related to music, like identity, female power, education/learning, migration, adversity, social upheaval and violence, producers, instruments, place and nation, Cuba and its diaspora, and Brazil. 

The book centers on Latin American music of all styles and genres – from renowned artists such as Jorge Drexler, Rosalía, Lila Downs and Gabriela Ortiz, to popular music from Mexico, Colombia, Cuba, and Brazil – there are also chronicles of musicians from Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and North America. There is a special focus on the Latino community in the United States and, more specifically, in Los Angeles as the epicenter of musical creativity in the United States. 

The book also tells a very personal story about Arcos’s constant search for the stories behind the music that demonstrates the richness, diversity, and complexity of our culture and how this common language unites us. Each story is accompanied by a photo of the artist.

Betto Arcos started his radio career as a volunteer at KGNU back in the 1980s. There, he started writing stories for radio, right before graduating from the University of Colorado in May of 1993. But his radio career goes back to 1987 when a Brazilian friend introduced him to the host of a program called “Latin Jam” on public radio station KGNU in Boulder, Colorado. The program was hosted by Javier Garcés, a Colombian who had been doing the show for a few years and wanted to pass the baton to another Latino. “I didn’t have any radio experience and I was undocumented,” says Arcos. 

The only thing he had going for him was his passion for music. He did the training, took over the show, and changed the name to “Tierra Mestiza.” He also invited friend and singer-songwriter Elena Klaver to co-host the show. In his book, Arcos acknowledges that he “cut his teeth” at KGNU and that it was people like David Barsamian who had a huge influence on his career.  “Thank you David Barsamian for helping me find my radio voice,” says Arcos.

From May of 1993 to the Spring of 1996, Arcos wrote and produced stories about news, music, and culture for Latino USA and Radio Bilingüe’s “Edición Semanaria.” Later, he moved to Los Angeles in 1995 where he found a bigger and more diverse music scene with many more stories to tell. From 1997 to 2002, and from 2005-2015, he produced “Global Village,” an outlet for many local, national, and international stories about music. Throughout his career, Arcos has interviewed musicians from Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and Los Angeles. The list is long, but there are some artists that stand out: Jorge Drexler, Hossein Alizadeh, Lila Downs, Waldemar Bastos, Chucho Valdés, Astrid Hadad, Chango Spasiuk, Ronu Majumdar, Baaba Maal, Manu Chao, Paddy Moloney, Flaco Jiménez, Hamza El Din, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Rachid Taha, Radio Tarifa, Ry Cooder, Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Charlie Haden, Bill Frisell, Jordi Savall, Carlos Varela, Eugenia León, Cimarrón, Susana Baca, Vicente Amigo, Seun Kuti, Santiago Auserón, Kronos Quartet’s David Harrington, Boubacar Traoré, and many more.

The book will be available in Mexico and the United States through Ingram Publishing.