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These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

A Charlotte band's tribute to the immigrant dream goes national

UltimaNota_Group_Comp_2.jpg
Jeff Cravotta
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UltimaNota
Tony Arreaza, third from the left, is one member of Latin music group UltimaNota, formed in 2009.

This story was produced through a collaboration between WFAE and La Noticia. You can read it in Spanish at La Noticia. Puedes leer la nota en español en La Noticia.

A local Charlotte band will reach a national audience next month at the Official Latino Film and Arts Festival in California. UltimaNota’s film festival debut, with their music video "Mi Sueño," comes after two years of songwriting and video production.

Many elements of "Mi Sueño" — or My Dream — are a nod to the Queen City.

The video was shot in Charlotte, and it’s packed with cameos by Latino community leaders — like bakery owner Manolo Betancur and immigrant advocate Stefania Arteaga.

These elements were intentional choices, says band member and guitarist Tony Arreaza.

“From the beginning, I wanted it to have that community feeling,” he said. “It was a community effort. So, it wouldn't make sense to have it without everybody involved.”

Other elements of "Mi Sueño," such as the lyrical storytelling, are intended to resonate with immigrants everywhere.

The chorus says, "There are people in life who just want a better world. But they need access to things like education, fair treatment and immigration reform."

The video tells the stories of four Latino and Latina immigrants and the barriers they must overcome to build a better life. There’s the former surgeon who now works as a delivery driver and the successful, tax-paying business owner, who lives in fear over his immigration status.

“We wanted to do a tribute to our community, all of the problems and challenges that we face as immigrants,” Arreaza said.

Working toward a dream

The story behind "Mi Sueño" began with the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020. Suddenly, there were no live shows and Arreaza found himself with free time. So, he started applying for grants.

Through two successful applications to the Arts and Science Council, the band wrote and recorded an album, produced a documentary about Charlotte’s Latin music scene and filmed the video for "Mi Sueño."

“I was very grateful that I got those grants. But at the end of the day, I spent four times more than what I got. But I'm grateful and I wanted to do it right,” he said.

Back when "Mi Sueño" was just a melody, Arreaza knew the lyrics needed to carry a message.

“It had an old-school Ruben Blades, Willie Colon feeling,” he said. “I wanted lyrics that were a little more meaningful, something more like reality. We love playing about love and goofy stuff. But this one was different.”

He played the track for his wife, Ailen Arreaza, and she had an idea. She suggested dedicating it to the immigrant community and wrote some lyrics that Tony presented to the band.

“Then our singer Fred and our saxophone player Oscar kind of worked on the chorus,” he said. “It was very magical and that's how 'Mi Sueño' came to us.”

While "Mi Sueño" makes a point to highlight the struggles many immigrants face, the message isn’t all about hardship.

“The end of the song, I didn't want it to end sad. So, we came up with this catchy chorus that says that we are all here to make this country a better country. And then we show a scene where everybody is dancing,” he said.

Having the video selected to screen at a film festival feels like a payoff for the band’s hard work, Arreaza says.

“I just want more people to see it,” he said. “I feel like we already won. We already got nominated to this very prestigious opportunity. So, we're just happy to be able to share our culture.”

The video, produced by Edgar Marcano, will compete in the music video category at the Official Latino Film and Arts Festival, from Dec. 9-11, in Palm Springs, California.

More than 100 U.S.-based Latino filmmakers will screen short films, including comedies, dramas, documentaries and sci-fi, at the event.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.