As it happens — more or less — some thoughts on the opening keynote panel for EMP:
Ritmo and Blues: Hidden Histories Shaking Up “American” Pop
We all know the story: R & B got with country and they named the baby rock and roll. But really, “American” pop has always been a love triangle – profoundly influenced by the instruments, rhythms, and repertoire of Caribbean, Afro-Caribbean, and Mexican-origin communities. This roundtable discussion, featuring a mix of musicians and scholars, is inspired by the exhibition American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music, on display at the EMP|SFM and guest curated by University of Washington faculty. Looking at what scenes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, Miami, and New York created within a context of intense anti-immigrant politics and nativist sentiment, the exhibition attempts to shift discussion of national culture by reframing narratives of U.S.-produced rock and roll.
Participants: musicians Louie Perez (Los Lobos), Raul Pacheco (Ozomatli), panel co-organizer Martha Gonzalez (Quetzal), and El Vez; American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music curators Michelle Habell-Pallán, Shannon Dudley, and Marisol Berríos Miranda.
Posted in reverse chronological order:
9:01 pm — last question about politics as well as the industry — good stuff but I’m needing to wrap up. Good start all around for the conference! More later in a new entry!
8:53 pm — a last comment from an older Seattle Chicano activist noting the history of the area and asks if there are modern corridos. He also mentions himself as when he first arrived in Seattle fifty years back as “the loneliest Chicano on the planet,” which Raul loved! He tells the story of a bunch of teens from Juarez who are able to snake a few goods from across the border and who attack some US agents. A kid is arrested but escapes — and Raul asks, who is the hero? Everyone on the stage had to work hard to get those stories out.
8:44 pm — Ann Powers moderates audience questions…a grad/social worker from San Diego working with kids here noting how their identity looks to LA but often embraces division, north-south beefs, gang problems. He asks how arts can be supportive and offers much praise to the artists. Louie ponders the question of communication and the definition of being American. 70 million Latinos in the US is a sign alone of the definition changing. For Los Lobos it was in perfecting the vehicle of expression, not limiting themselves to carrying picket signs.
8:33 pm — Ned doesn’t have a problem with sabor but does with ‘aMerican’ and then goes in a series of great bits I can’t really sum up, but notes Cuban/Mexican differences and more, as well as ‘jingoistic’ summaries of what it is to be American and much more besides. Shannon notes the exhibit tried to be diverse and inclusive. Michelle wittily talks about how “Cuba is so Chicano” and what she really meant while Raul speaks of his Cuban visit as an experience to learn more about music and others, from fundraising to finding six guys in an old church killing it on their instruments.
8:25 pm — Marisol sees change in just their being there and in the reactions of the attendees — she has high hopes. Shannon noted that the NEA was distrustful of a grant request because of industry connections while El Vez notes that the musicians need support in a YouTube world. Michelle adds to the exhibit talk regarding education and “putting our story in the big story,” plus noting as Marisol adds that there is a lack of intercommunication.
8:18 pm — Marie asks entre nosotros “is a change going to come” because of the exhibit — Raul takes the wide and inclusive approach, that the change happened a long time ago, “I will be here either way.” Martha feels that the exhibit doesn’t change anything while still providing pride even while the industry chases money. She is not waiting for change, especially based on her own band’s experience.
8:13 pm — El Vez notes that what he does is constantly “add on” while Louie sees sabor as ingredient not additive, something vital like yeast in bread. A mystery why there were so many Chicano soul bands but not so many black mariachis, that there is something in urban sounds.
8:08 pm — Marisol says that sabor is not a taste but the center, the substance. Martha notes the “mad dash for cash” with things like Cinco de Mayo instead of the recombinations that the musicians and listeners make — and her mom LOVED “Double Dutch Bus” as did she!
8:03 pm — Josh asks after the title — ‘sabor’ or taste and additive, and asks how the panelist feel about being “added” to American culture, as well as the politics of playing non-rock and roll musics.
8:01 pm — Marisol and Shannon add further suggestions and memories.
7:56 pm — Raul feels that the full range of experience can’t be fully captured, notes how in fighting for ourselves (speaking of ‘the black and the brown’) don’t want to give a little ground sometimes, that cultural exchange can and does still happen.
7:50 pm — Kandia notes a friend who spoke in the exhibit, also a line “Wes Montgomery goes East LA,” noting her own family background with Caribbean and Spanish background but how it is not upfront in her sense of identity. Sounds very nervous, honestly!
7:43 pm — El Vez speaks of growing up among white surfers but with strong family pride and how a helped him and others be their own heroes just like their white heroes, while Louie talks of how “he’s not a kid anymore” and speaks eloquently about his many experiences with music, loving rock and roll and newly appreciating Mexican standards, “crossing generational divides.”
7:35 pm — Raul says “Who cares?” — meaning that you need to react to stereotypes and pigeonholing by simply carrying on, in life and in music, and that recombinations and creativity has “been going on since the beginning of time…I feel happy to be open.”
7:30 pm — Martha talks about growing up in East LA and how Los Lobos in particular helped to demonstrate, as further movements and bands have shown, that “we exist…in spite of the industry.”
7:25 pm — Marisol talks about the sound modules in the installation, “telling the story with the sound” for a diverse audience, playing a sample from the salsa module, music with illustrative narration.
7:15 pm — Shannon talks about how Caribbean music is often seen as black, notes how “Louie Louie” has roots in a Cuban composition, “El Loco Cha Cha.” He notes that Richard Berry learned the song from LA Chicanos rather than Cubanos, noting further the question of communication between Latinos.
7:12 pm — Michelle introduces the panel — five minutes per panelist, then questions from the responders.
7:07 pm — basic introductions so far from EMP folks and Eric W. Opening reception was very good fun as per usual, reacquainting with old friends and new.