Flaco Jimenez and Max Baca, Still Tex-Mex Masters

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Flaco and Max at Flamingo Cantina Austin TX

A few weeks ago I had the absolute delight of attending a Flaco Jimenez and Max Baca  performance at the San Francisco Jazz Center, organized by the Mex-I-Am program of the Mexican Consulate.  I had heard that Flaco and Max were coming to town, and I hesitated a bit as to whether I’d go or not, simply because SF Jazz tickets are not cheap and yours truly is on a budget! Then I heard that a young local musician, Emiliano Rodriguez, son of my friends Eugene and Astrid, would be playing tololoche along with Flaco and Max and that sealed the deal for me….I was going for sure!

Check this video of Flaco and Max, playing a tune from “Legends & Legacies”

Studio video from Smithsonian Folkways

I knew it would be a special night hearing, Flaco, the Tex-Mex master accordionist perform along with the younger but equally authentic, Max Baca. Knowing that they had invited Emiliano, representing some homegrown talent from San Pablo made it all the more exceptional, since the folks at Los Cenzontles have trained, produced and educated local youth in the greater East Bay over the past twenty-five years.

I had seen Flaco perform exactly twice in my life, once at Slim’s in October of 1995 for the Arhoolie Records 35th Anniversary Party and once at the Mariner’s Hall a year or so later. I also had the privilege of having had his brother, Santiago Jimenez sing “Happy Birthday” to me, one year when he was visiting the Arhoolie warehouse. Though I became most familiar with Tex-Mex music and the Jimenez family from my years working at Arhoolie and listening to suggestions from the Down Home Records experts, I had already been steeped in some of the more traditional sounds by virtue of listening to rancheras at home from my father’s LP collection. I particularly remember LPs from Los Alegres de Terán. We also wore out 8-tracks of musica norteña y rancheras on road trips to Monterrey, Nuevo León. It was a long ride from Crockett to Monterrey! While those concerts at Slim’s and the Mariner’s Hall were outstanding and memorable, I was curious to see how Flaco’s sound had evolved after all these years. After all Señor Flaco is 76, but man, is he a force to be reckoned with!

From the very first note he played, I felt immediately transported to a country dance and that feeling of being on the edge of your seat, whether at a Mexican wedding or at a concert in la plaza.I kind of wished there had been a star-lit sky overhead instead of the sleek space of the SF Jazz auditorium, although it is a very sweet venue. They played classics such as “Margarita, Margarita” “Viva Seguín” and “Hey Baby, Qué Paso?”, along with a romantic melodic polka Flaco picked up and adapted in  Sweden, of all places. What I loved most, aside from the well-selected repertoire, was also the spareness of their sound, the three instruments: button accordion, bajo sexto,  and the upright bass or tololoche created such a pure, old country sound. Flaco and Max’s vocals complimented each other keenly, both powerfully in sync and radiating pure emotion…I was beside myself, thinking about all the ways rancheras were in my blood. They were the constant soundtrack of my childhood: weekends spent at my tio’s ranch in the Napa Valley, all the bodas and bautizos  my parents ever dragged me to, learning to dance norteño style with my cousin Martín on the family patio and the leisurely Sunday mornings my Dad would blast rancheras from his FM radio in the kitchen. While, Flaco and Max were riffing off each other and showcasing their songs, Emiliano played with driving, rock-steady rhythm as if he had been playing with these two legends for years. Dr. Loco (aka Professor José Cuellar) was also in the house, and did not hesitate to kick up his heels with his dance partner. I loved the dancers’ energy as they twirled through the aisles to the infectious music.

One of the highlights of the show was hearing the opening notes of one of my all-time favorites, “La Mucura” originally a Colombian cumbia. My first introduction to “La Mucura” was from Rigo Tovar y su Banda Costa Azul on the “Recordando Monterrey” album. That song is pure dancing pleasure. ¡No puedes resistir moviendo el bote! Even though, I was bopping around in my seat, still feeling hindered by the austerity of the SF Jazz environment, I became so damn-charmed by the timbre of Flaco’s voice. He handled the verses solo, with Max chiming in only on the chorus and he just sounded so youthful, like he could say sweet nothings to any girl in the neighborhood and she would follow him anywhere. It was amazing to hear this man, so notable for his prowess on the accordion, suddenly take a tune and render it his own with his singing, pure, vulnerable and honey-coated. He went from 76 to 16 in a matter of minutes.

from the Arhoolie Foundation Frontera Collection www.arhoolie.org

from the Arhoolie Foundation Frontera Collection http://www.arhoolie.org

I was impressed by their energy, their selections and their ability to shine as a trio, but mostly I was impressed by Flaco’s staying power. I wasn’t ready to witness how truly brilliant he was, but I guess that’s what happens when you dedicate a lifetime to your art, as evidenced by his Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, early this year. I guess the longer you live, the more attuned  you become to the heartbreak, hope and humor in the music.

Even though, the set was short, you got to give Max and Flaco props for staying past the end of the concert to chat with fans and sign autographs. Of course, I was a fan girl and got in line to have my Smithsonian liner notes signed from the CD, “Legends & Legacies.” (Liner notes? Who still prints them? You gotta love it, a thick, bilingual booklet detailing the history of Max and Flaco’s collaboration.)

So I got my CD signed and asked for a photo, too, simply because I already had some cool ones from that Mariner’s Hall concert. I extended my hand for an Americanita style handshake, and he held my hand instead. After I explained that I had met him twenty years earlier through Arhoolie Records, he smiled and said, “Thank you for coming, Mija.” Gracias a usted Flaco, for making such powerful, heart-felt music.

Here are some photos from my scrapbook years ago and the concert in San Francisco on July 26, 2015

Back stage with Flaco at the Mariner's Hall circa 1996

Back stage with Flaco at the Mariner’s Hall circa 1996

Flaco accordeonatFillmoe

Still a fan girl, 2015 at the San Francisco Jazz Center

Still a fan girl, 2015 at the San Francisco Jazz Center

Longtime friends: Chris Strachwitz and Flaco Jimenez.

Longtime friends: Producer Chris Strachwitz, and Flaco Jimenez.

From the archives, Leticia Del Toro, Maureen Gosling, Randy Pitts and Dix Bruce at the Great American Music Hall 1995

From the archives with Arhoolie, Down Home and Flower Films colleagues: Leticia Del Toro, Maureen Gosling, Randy Pitts and Dix Bruce at the Great American Music Hall 1995

Suggested listening:

“Ay Te Dejo en San Antonio” – Flaco Jimenez -Arhoolie Records

“Los Super Seven”  RCA Records

“Flaco Jimenez & Max Baca Legends & Legacies”  Smithsonian Folkways

 

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Girl makes some maki out of chili relleno “East Side Sushi”

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Okay, here’s a film I’ve got to see and I hope many of you will go out and see it, too. From what I can tell it goes something like this: young Latina gets her pepino cart jacked and has to look for work which she finds at a local sushi joint. She becomes enamored with the food, both for its flavor and how respectfully and beautifully it’s created. She’d like to give maki making a shot, but she’s up against tradition, and her own Papa’s lack of vision for her. Check out the trailer for “East Side Sushi” along with reviews and awards. The film features young, Diana Elizabeth Torres, a very promising newcomer, and she kind looks like my sister Lupe did in the ninth grade! It turns out this film is brought to us by Oakland talent, director Anthony Lucero. This is East Side Oaktown, as opposed to what Hollywood is used to, East LA. Check this article on Anthony Lucero.

I think I remember MISSING this at last years San Francisco International Film Festival, because it all sounds familiar in a good way. Glad it’s here locally at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. Get tickets here.

Buika, the poet, reads in San Francisco

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Buika, the Poet reads in San Francisco.

Last spring, I was lucky enough to catch Buika at the San Francisco Jazz Center. I was briefly familiar with her recordings, so I was excited to hear her live. Her identity, as a black Spanish singer with Flamenco roots, having run with cantaores on Palma de Mallorca, is equally interesting and unusual to me. The SF Jazz concert did not disappoint, and I was captivated, by her gritty, growly vocals. She gave songs such as,”El Último Trago”, an absolutely radical treatment. She returns to San Francisco next February 26th poetry reading and a concert at the Nourse Theater on February 28th. These two are separate events, so get your tickets soon.

photo B by B LLC

photo B by B LLC

It’s not surprising to me, that Buika is also a writer. It’s an easy jump to make from songwriter to poet! She will read from her published work at the Institute for Integral Studies. Although, tickets to the reading are kind of steep, $35 general admission and $50 for the Meet and Greet, and reserved seating.  As much as I would love to go to this and support Buika, it’s kind of a budget-busting event, considering you have to purchase the book separately from the reading fee. Maybe, if we call the venue and bug them they’ll change the price….but, hey, it might be worth it if you’d like to hear her in a small setting, and participate in the Q&A. I’m sure it will be an amazing experience!

Here is one of the song’s I most enjoyed from the SF Jazz concert, “No habrá nadie en el mundo cómo tú” in its official video clip.

 

Fun, inventive Peruvian Duo in SF, Alejandro y María Laura

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Fun, inventive Peruvian Duo in SF, Alejandro y María Laura So I spend a lot of time in my car, commuting, taxiing kids and I chanced upon a fun interview on KPFA, The Raza Chronicles, just when singer/songwriters, Alejandro Rivas and María Laura Bustamante were finishing up their interview. I also got a chance to hear their catchy, “Pez Cachetón de China.” With fun, whimsical lyrics and surprising turns of phrase, I immediately wanted to hear more from this group. I could easily imagine teaching this song to my kids and bopping around the house to it. From the group’s website, it looks like they’ve had a quick rise to the world stage, at least via folk and indie festivals and some notable producers. Considering Maria Laura’s Performing Arts thesis included a 2010 production which caught the attention of a local radio producer who put the duo in touch with Matías Cella, who produced their first album,”Paracaídas.” This tour presents music from their latest production,“Fiesta para Los Muertos.” Find out more about Alejandro and María Laura here. Looking forward to hearing them live at the Red Poppy Art House in San Francisco, Sunday, January 18, 2015. Doors open at 7PM. if you can’t catch the show, check out their music on Sound Cloud.

photo by José Ureña

photo by José Ureña

If I could be THREE places on New Year’s Eve….

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Here’s where I’d be!

December 31st, 2014

COMAL New Year’s Eve Party, Berkeley, CA for Oaxacan style small plates and excellent cocktails. COMAL features an open-air patio and typically, a very kick-ass DJ.

New Year’s Eve Dance Fiesta with Orquesta de La Moderna Tradición at La Peña, Berkeley, CA. This is a very homey, venue, a  Berkeley standard, but if it’s a Latin style band you’d love to bring you into the New Year, then check it out.

The Freight and Salvage, Berkeley California.

I love the the “new” Freight & Salvage, though, it’s not that new. Every time I say it…I do think of the original coffee house on San Pablo, with it’s nondescript street side facade. That is, in fact, where I originally heard Dix Bruce and Jim Nunnally perform.

If you love bluegrass or old-time acoustic melodies, this is a show you probably don’t want to miss. I am never disappointed with the performances I’ve enjoyed at the Freight.

New Year’s Eve Bluegrass Revue

with High Country and Dix Bruce and Jim Nunnally*

(Dix is an old buddy of mine from Arhoolie, and Jim is a fellow Crockettile. Their music is amazing!)

 

In the New Year 2015

January 8, 2015 at Yoshi’s

Los Cenzontles with David Hidalgo, Max and Josh Baca, and Leonel Mendoza at Yoshi’s.

The San Pablo based music group, known for their authentic interpretations of Mexican roots music, and innovative sound melding with other cultural influences, will joined by their long-time collaborator David Hidalgo, of Los Lobos fame. Max and Josh Baca of Los Texmaniacs will share the stage in this special celebration, commemorating 25 years of Los Cenzontles’ music making and cultural activism. Special guest also includes Leonel Mendoza, a harp player who specializes in the Michoacan arpa grande style.

From Berkeley to Barfleur

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I had hoped to launch this blog in early December of 2014. It just so happened that I aimed to release my introductory post as the Ferguson decisions were coming down, and that of course, stunted my progress as I watched in horror in the days that followed at the non-indictment of the officer of the Eric Garner case. Suddenly, my “light” little post about being a Mexicana traveling in Europe seemed a bit too fluffy compared to the issues that people of color are dealing with here at home in the United States, not just in Mid-western and southern states, but from sea to shining sea.

I had written about the disorienting lack of seeing diverse faces in Northern France and in the French Alps, and maybe I will revisit those words another day, but what strikes me now is the how lucky I have been to travel and create opportunities for myself, while so many struggle just to put food on the table, just to feel safe moving from point A to point B, and just to let their children go out the house unaccompanied. I have lived with a certain amount of privilege, probably due to a combination of luck and the somewhat nerdy paths I have chosen to seek. Not every kid who is curious about the world or who is born into a family who does not understand said child’s bookishness, or is perhaps is dealing with addiction or poverty in the home, has a chance to pursue his or her interests. It’s my belief that we can all benefit from learning from each other’s cultures and forms of artistic expression, which is part of why I’m launching this blog, as a showcase for Latino arts and multi-cultural arts events. If we can all get out of our own perspectives and learn something else about another culture or community, the world would be a better place.

Certainly, I am against police brutality and abuses of state power, but I am also for communities who create opportunities and safe venues for young people to create, compete and just plain hang out. I know a few of these venues, such as Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center, BrasArte Casa de Cultura, and La Peña Cultural Center, but they are few and far between.

In these chaotic days of protest, unrest and fear, one of the inspiring finds from my summer’s travels, is all the more striking. Here we are in December 2014, fighting to express Black Lives Matter. It’s distressing that we’ve gotten to the point that we have to advocate for the safety of communities of color when in so many other countries around the world we claim to be a protectorate of others. Sometimes our soldiers and representatives have enacted heroic missions, and it’s helpful to remember that those heroes were also Black, Asian and Latino Americans, people of color. Yet we cannot protect and provide for our own people, here?

This past summer while in France, I realized that the French were celebrating the Seventieth Anniversary of the Débarquement, the arrival of the American and Allied forces on the Normandy beaches in 1944. I happened to be visiting friends in Normandy and visited some of those quiet seaside towns. One of the towns I visited was Barfleur, where I found this homage to Vincent O. Carter, an African-American soldier and medic. Several tributes from the villagers were published in his honor, as was his photo mounted on a memorial along with a poem he wrote. Prior to arriving in France, I had spent a few days attending readings and impromptu celebrations with old friends and new from the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation workshop in Berkeley, so poetry was very much on my mind so a week or so later when I found the Vincent Carter tribute in Barfleur it reminded me that singular artists have been struggling for racial justice for a while, lone voices have lived and died and tried to express their struggles as expatriates for generations now. When I came home I learned Such Sweet Thunder was published posthumously by Steerforth Press.The contributions of writers of color, as political activists were very much on my mind and so there was a sweet synchronicity to finding Mr. Carter’s monument there in Barfleur. Here’s a photo of him and a reprint of one of his poem’s.

Vincent Carter photo Memorial in Barfleur, France

Vincent Carter photo Memorial in Barfleur, France

IMG_2212 IMG_2213Shortly, after returning to the Bay Area in California, I learned of a friend’s father who was being honored for being part of a Chicano Texan brigade in World War II. There were few of these veterans still with us, to receive their honor but my friend Alberto’s father, Sr. Alex Rivas, was one of them, and is written about in a book, Patriots from the Barrio, by author, Dave Gutierrez.

If we can only look around and look into our history, as well, to see how Black and Brown lives have helped build this country’s economy, society, military prowess, and cultural treasure, we might treat our fellow citizens with much more respect, ensuring opportunity for everyone.

The green boat I liked in the  marina near Goury

The green boat I liked in the marina near Goury