On a gray afternoon a handful of days short of his 30th birthday, Brandon Badillo sits in a downtown café plucking away at his laptop. City noises bound outside.
With his iPhone and unyielding social networking skills, Badillo has made a name for himself around Austin as an event planner, promoter and producer.
“This is what I am meant to do,” he said, while sipping an iced coffee. “Everybody has to find what they are made for in this life. And when you finally find it, it’s like, ‘Man, that was beautiful and I gotta hold on to this.'”
Badillo, dressed sharply, was characteristically unshaven.
In many of Austin’s social circles, Badillo is viewed as a schooled lover of music, a remarkable networker and savvy young professional. A true pioneer in establishing a diverse music scene here in Austin, Badillo makes true efforts to showcase the talents of great musicians past and present.
Badillo can attest to the amounts of energy and time it takes to become a mainstay in the Austin music scene. Using his event planning company Bemba Entertainment as the conduit for his love of music, he handpicks various artists for a number of shows around town. Every Tuesday night, he hosts a World Music night at Momo’s. And, to express his love of soul music, Afrobeat and jazz, Badillo promotes various shows at Austin’s historic Victory Grill.
“I’ve spent the last year of my life here in Austin just networking to establish a name for myself and my company,” Badillo said.
However, la madre of all of Badillo’s events is a festival called Xemumba. It is the one true love of Badillo’s life. And, hands down, it is the golden egg of all his shows and why he decided to pursue a life as an event planner.
“I want people to know who I am and what Bemba stands for. I want people to know I am here to stay and hopefully all these efforts will lead up to an explosive Xemumba this year,” Badillo said.
The name Xemumba, pronounced sheh-MOOM-bah, was birthed from a playful fusion of the words rumba, mambo and salsa, as well as the name of a friend, Xelina. Badillo’s main reason for creating the festival was to raise funds for his grandfather, Francisco, who was battling cancer and was riddled with debt.
“After all his work for my family, this was my chance to do something to help my grandfather and to show my love,” he said.
The first year of the event in 2007 was a success with more than 300 attendees. The second year of the festival was more of a trial by fire situation, though. In 2008, Badillo planned for a two day event, which he attributes to being too ambitious much too soon. Hurricane Ike and inclement weather loomed over the festival and the first day had a meager turnout. Day two of the festival was canceled altogether.
“It was absolutely devastating for me and it took a while for me to get past it. But, we live and learn,” he said. “Now, I will be better prepared and be more realistic.”
This year, Xemumba is on Saturday, Oct. 24 at Kenny Dorham’s Backyard in East Austin. Marking the third year of the festival, Xemumba 2009 boasts almost a dozen groups, with performances ranging from Samba to AfroCuban and onward to Latin Hip-Hop. Xemumba’s purpose is to showcase, praise and promote the many styles of Latin and South America to the utmost. Full disclosure: Austin Vida is an official media sponsor for the festival this year.
“I think it’s a great idea. Plus, it shows that this kind of programming is something that the community wants and needs,” said Harold McMillan, founder and director of DiverseArts Cultural Works.
McMillan added that it’s great to have a large annual festival but even more events, including smaller and more frequent variations of Xemumba would satisfy a communal need for this kind of programming. McMillan has been a cultural arts producer in Austin for more than 20 years. His career spans everything from documentary work, publishing art magazines and managing art galleries around the city.
McMillan said that he was drawn to a working relationship with Badillo because of his great ideas and great energy.
“One of the things I have been disappointed with over the many years I’ve been working in Austin is there were not many who shared my vision about expanding diverse cultural offerings,” he said.
Xemumba gives back to the community in other ways. For example, this year fifty percent of the proceeds will be divided amongst three organizations: Lupe Arte, the National Hispanic Institute and the People Fund.
“Bemba is an ever-evolving vehicle to create the events I want to create and believe in,” Badillo said.
The success of Bemba Entertainment thus far can be attributed to Badillo’s interesting business model that melds a love of music, a passion for promoting talent and an intense desire to create events that are engrained in people’s minds indefinitely.
“To see people enjoying what I put together for them and creating a memory in time is enough for me. It creates this sense of elation inside me, makes me feel like I am on top of the world,” he said. “It’s a permanent gift.”
There were ancillary reasons for Xemumba, too, including a crush that forced him to assess his life’s goals and a longstanding love affair with music. Badillo noticed his love of music as a film student at the University of Texas. Specifically, he realized his appreciation for beautiful, dramatic and even exotic film scores, rather than the actual film.
Upon graduation, Badillo realized he wasn’t interested in a movie-making career. Instead, he took a break and got a job at Alamo Drafthouse, moving his way up the ladder from food runner to private event coordinator. He credits much of his success to his time there, polishing his craft.
Once the dust has set on Xemumba 2009, Badillo will most likely been seen walking around Austin’s east side with a song in his heart for quite a while. The ‘Xemumba Cycle’ will begin again as he works toward 2010. When it comes to the future of Bemba Entertainment, he hopes to include more booking functions, so that the company can also operate as a booking agency.
To follow his heart and pay his bills while he continues to build Bemba Entertainment from the ground up, he will keep moonlighting as a server at East Austin’s Buenos Aires Café.
“I am a doer, not just a talker. I make things happen,” he said. “I can be a broke or strapped for cash while I keep doing this. It’s okay because this is what I love.”
Austin Vida is an official Xemumba media sponsor.
Alysha Hernández is an Austin Vida staff writer.
Her personal blog is No Mamas, Guey!