In 1992, Chicano rock guitarist Quetzal Flores discovered the burgeoning revival of traditional music of Veracruz called son jarocho. This jaranero resurgence (from jarana, the regional guitar central to the son’s performance), began in Veracruzin the late 1970s. It crossed the border into California, where it and other Mexican folk music traditions had already been appropriated by Mexican Americans as an expression of mexicanidad—Mexican roots. Local Chicano music groups, most notably Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles, later known simply as Los Lobos, performed the music at farm worker and student rallies and events flowing from the Chicano vein of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Flores took up the music and its folk instruments and incorporated them into his own musical blend, which included sounds and sentiments from many sources: the Beatles, Rubén Blades, Stevie Wonder, and more.
Flores’s approach to music, however, was influenced by much more than the East L.A. musical soundscape of Mexican música ranchera, salsa, Chicano rock, rhythm and blues, and international popular music. Raised in a family of social activists, he saw music as a means to work for social justice as well as a form of creative expression. He was born in Salinas, California, while his parents were organizing farm workers in that area. His first home was a housing camp provided by the farm owners, which had served as a Japanese internment camp during WWII. His awareness of being a member of a disenfranchised cultural minority and the historical lineage of this condition directed his music performance, composition, and production, and it steeled his empathy and political alignment with other disenfranchised communities. Growing global awareness of other parallel struggles—such as the African-American Watts insurrection in 1965 and the 1968 massacre of students and civilians in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco square— resonated with East L.A. Chicanas and Chicanos and extended his musical perspective. For members of Quetzal, music expresses the political and social struggle for self-determination and selfrepresentation, which ultimately is a struggle for dignity.
A major formative musical milestone for the group was when Flores found his musical and life partner in Martha González, who had been born and raised in East L.A.’s Boyle Heights neighborhood. González, with her brother Gabriel and sister Claudia “Cava” (both of whom are featured on this recording), grew up singing and learning the sentiment of Mexican music. Encouraged by their father, the youthful trio sang with mariachi ensembles in the greater Los Angeles area. Martha González, who at the time of this recording was a graduate student in the Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington, had studied drumming and dance from Ghana and Cuba at UCLA. Her background in Mexican music, along with her study of dance and drumming, gave her a solid foundation to contribute as a performer, lyricist, and composer. In addition to her work with Quetzal, she performed and recorded extensively with groups and individuals such as Los Lobos, Rick Treviño, Los Super Seven, and Susana Baca. She affirms a strong female perspective in the group’s creative projects. In her words, “part of the culture of being in the band is having a Chicana feminist analysis. This varies a lot, compared to the rest of the musical scene, where it tends to be more male-dominated. The presence of women in the group is not ‘eye candy’ or a tokenized gesture toward balancing any sort of gender scale: it’s an honest recognition of the poetic, musical, and compositional strengths the female musicians in the community possess.”
Against this historical and social background, the group Quetzal emerged out of a particularly contentious time in Los Angeles, generated by events such as the 1992 Los Angeles uprising (the reply to acquitted LAPD officers who had beaten Rodney King), the 1994 Proposition 187 campaign (to deny medical and public services to undocumented immigrants and public education to undocumented children), and the repercussive reach of the Zapatista insurrection in Mexico. These events spurred a powerful synergy, in which avenues of expressive culture such as music and public art emerged as platforms from which to voice marginalized people’s desires, opinions, and resistance to the conditions in which they found themselves. Quetzal came from this milieu and creative synergy, which produced many other ensembles too, such as Blues Experiment, Aztlán Underground, Ozomatli, Lysa Flores, and Quinto Sol. Flores viewed the work of these groups not so much as a reaction to a specific political or social crisis, but as a proactive strategy to maneuver through the societal problems that were affecting the communities in which these musicians were living. As a prominent force in this East L.A. Chicana and Chicano creative culturescape, Quetzal vividly portrays how music, culture, and sociopolitical ideology come together in a specific place. Imaginaries illuminates this intersection by providing an evocative perspective on social conditions through its profound sonic and poetic proposals.
In addition to Quetzal Flores and Martha González, many musicians have contributed to Quetzal and to this album. Gabriel González started his career as a child film personality, singing alongside renowned artists such as Juan Gabriel, Lucha Villa, Mercedes Castro, and Yolanda del Río. He made excursions singing R&B, soul, funk, and pop, but ultimately developed into one of the premier salsa singers of Los Angeles, working with Johnny Palanco, his own group, Bombachante, and the famed Mexican orquesta tropical La Sonora Santanera. Tylana Enomoto is a violinist in the Los Angeles area, with a solid background in classical and hip hop, having worked with Tom Waits, Ozomatli, the Charanga Cubana, and other artists. Rocío Marrón is a highly sought-out violinist for recordings and performances, having worked with many marqueename artists such as Marc Anthony, Joan Sebastian, Los Lobos, Chucho Valdez, and Mariachi Divas. Both women offer serious musical contributions and a foundational voice to the sounds and songs of Quetzal. Tonantzin Flores-Ramírez, Marrón’s younger niece and musical disciple, rounds out the album’s violin presence.
The son jarocho, traditional music of Veracruz, has long been a foundational pillar for the sound of Quetzal, and bassist Juan Pérez has played a pivotal role in the intercultural exchange between Quetzal and Veracruz jarocho musical ensembles, such as Son de Madera (see SF 40550, Son de mi tierra). As a member of Son de Madera, he put jarocho music in direct conversation with punk rock, metal, (Latin) jazz, funk, and blues. His sound and mature intensity enables him to create grooves that offer possibilities for new compositions, to which he has contributed extensively on this recording. On Imaginaries, Pérez also contributes the distinctive sounds of the Turbo Didley Resophonic guitar. Flores praises him and drummer Andy Mendoza, a California Institute of the Arts graduate and Ozomatli alum, as “incredibly competent: they are fluidly versatile and progressive, always pushing the envelope, providing a solid foundation, and perpetually pushing the band in new directions.” The newest member of the group, Quincy McCrary, adds keyboards and vocal layers to the rhythm section, guiding the group’s ventures into R&B, soul, funk, gospel, and other genres of black music.
Peter Jacobsen adds cello, percussionists Edson Gianesi, Kiko Cornejo, Camilo Moreno, and Francisco Huete provide a rich tapestry of percussion, and Claudia “Cava” González joins siblings Martha and Gabriel in chorus voicings. Longtime member of the collective Dante Pascuzzo plays bass and leona guitar with artful sensitivity. Alex Chadsey of Seattle, Washington, provides salsa keyboard. Los Angeles-based Veracruz musician and luthier César Castro reinforces the group’s grounding in the son jarocho tradition, playing the requinto jarocho (melody guitar). And young Sandino González-Flores debuts with his parents Quetzal and Martha as a vocalist in “2+0+1+2=Cinco.”