Festival Estéreo Picnic 2023: Lalo Cortés is bringing jazz back

By Oli Pritchard March 21, 2023

“We need to rethink jazz.” It can be a marmite genre, but soul singer Lalo Cortés is leading the charge to redefine rolo jazz for a new generation.

Lalo Cortés onstage

One of the key things that we love about Festival Estéreo Picnic is the platform it gives to all kinds of music under one umbrella (which with this weather, you’ll need). It’s often thought of as an indie-rock event, but there’s so much more going on. This year, jazz comes in the form of superbly soulful sensation Lalo Cortés. “I’m the only jazz or soul singer in the festival,” she cheerfully admits.

She doesn’t fit into an easy genre pigeonhole though, saying “I’m really into hip hop nacional, like TSH Sudaca.” That’s something that she allows to crash the jazz party, mixing styles with aplomb. She says of her tastes: “It’s hip hop with jazz. Hip hop is a big influence on my music but jazz is the main thing. Also R’nB, it’s kind of the same.” Those are all quickly audible when you listen to her, as she shapeshifts through genres. No Se Ve is her latest release, less than a week old.

Her voice is her magic weapon: a phenomenally emotional hurricane. She uses the soaring vocals sparingly, which gives them far more power when they appear. She stretches out sentences where you wouldn’t think they could go, moulding and kneading the words at will. She’s capable of shifting through the gears too, equally comfortable at the husky lower ends as delivering emphatically piercing high notes. 

Terrific though her voice is, she’s aware that it needs great support too, and so she says: “I’m playing with a full band – guitars, drums, bass, piano, even a choir.” It’s set to be a spectacular sight on the big stage. She’s the centrepiece attraction, but she stands on a platform built from greatness. 

Lalo Cortés at the press event. Photo courtesy of author.

Jazz isn’t always an easy sell, with a reputation for overwrought noodling and pretentiousness. On top of that, good venues aren’t in abundance in Bogotá – although if you’re not hitting Festival Estéreo Picnic 2023, there’s the Jazztropicante festival this weekend in Chapinero as well. Jazz al Parque is another good bet, but regular jazz clubs are few and far between – Jazz 45 on Calle 45 stands out but there aren’t many more.

She’s trying to remodel the genre and make it more relevant for a new generation. She says: “[Playing the event] is a good thing, because we need to rethink jazz. It’s really beautiful music and young people need to know that.” She’s certainly more in the Winehouse mould than the jazz odyssey camp, which makes it instantly accessible. There won’t be any dope-fuelled experimentation at her shows.

In person, Lalo is intensely charming, with a natural likeability, much like her namesake from Better Call Saul. She seems less murderous than the fictional Mexican hitman though, instead a natural performer. Her voice is every bit as engaging and mellifluous in conversation as in full throttle and she gives as much energy to a couple of hacks as she does to crowds of thousands. It’s a good sign of a good personality.

That’s borne out by the number and calibre of people that she’s collaborated with – having played the festival before with TSH Sudaca and Briela Ojeda. She’s looking forward to seeing “All the national artists, for example DawerXDamper, Santiago Navas, Juliana. Felipe Orjuela, too, we’re friends. We studied together.”

When it comes to the international big name headliners that she’s looking forward to, her rap fangirl side comes out as she quickly answers: “Wu-Tang. I really love that band, it’s so important for the entire history of hip hop.” Her favourite of her own tracks? Mil Palabras, showcasing her voice perfectly.

Shake your jazz hands to Lalo Cortés on the Banco de Bogotá stage at 3.30pm on Sunday