Having produced more than 60 stories told from 20 countries in its first two-plus years, Radio Ambulante is set to present its fourth live show Sunday, a bilingual event themed “Outsiders.” Half of the show’s stories are in English; some are half English, half Spanish; and all are subtitled, with multimedia components and the sound mixed live.
The program was founded by novelist Daniel Alarcón and a team of Latin American journalists and radio producers. It’s often compared to “This American Life” for its tight, well-produced and engaging stories, often told in first person and exploring the human condition. It was started in 2012 as a monthly Spanish-only podcast and has become a weekly production syndicated by Public Radio International.
“When we write it for live performance, it’s a little bit different because you have the person right there in front of you,” said Alarcón outside a SoMa cafe. “So it can be a little more personal. It’s perhaps a little bit less journalistic and a little more storytelling than the stuff we would have on the show; maybe a little funnier.”
The stories will range from a warring town in the heart of the Peruvian jungle to Cuban metalheads in Havana and a 17-year-old in San Francisco’s Mission District.
According to Alarcón, a recent survey revealed that 60 percent of the program’s listeners live in the United States.
“What that shows,” he said, “is there is a linguistic diversity in the States. That you can have storytelling in Spanish, which is an American audience — to me, if you’re living here, you’re American — and I think we are reaching those (American) audiences. It’s just that we’re doing it in Spanish. I think political boundaries are real, but linguistic and cultural boundaries are fluid, and that’s as it should be: The United States is part of Latin America just as Latin America is part of the United States, and I think that’s a beautiful thing, and I think it’s something that you don’t need to be particularly perceptive to realize.
“But this is a way that we can all be in a room at the same time, experience the same thing, and then meet out in the lobby and have a conversation about it. It will be a very Latin audience, (and) it will be a very non-Latin audience, and everyone will be sort of able to meet based on one experience. I think that’’s incredibly important and there aren’t enough spaces like that — in San Francisco or in the United States.”
IF YOU GO
Radio Ambulante: 5 p.m. Sunday. $20-$100. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F. (415) 978-2700.
Photo by May-Li Khoe