Sponsored link
Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Sponsored link

San Pablo's Los Cenzontles ramps up its Mexican rhythms

San Pablo’s Los Cenzontles ramps up its Mexican rhythms

A new sound system and renovated space, a collaboration with Linda Ronstadt, youth programs, a cross-border documentary—what can't this cultural academy (and band) do?

ALL EARS There are certain well-worn channels through which culture tends to move. Socioeconomically dominant countries export cultural products, regional art forms are picked up by the global mainstream to be re-appropriated. From center to periphery and back again, the cultural commodification process rarely works to benefit creators of regional art.

But the Bay Area is known for institutions that look to buck these trends. From Oakland’s La Peña Cultural Center to the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, Brava Theater to the annual Son Jarocho Festival, the region is blessed with many places where cultural bridges between the US and Latin America are built, community-to-community connections that sidestep the commercialization or fetishism of regional art and center that art’s creators.

San Pablo’s Los Cenzontles Cultural Arts Academy, with its youth group founded back in 1987, certainly figures on this list of key cultural hubs. But when asked if he thinks of the Bay Area as a center for Chicano and Latino art, its founder Eugene Rodriguez has cause to bridle at the word.

Los Cenzontles’ band (from left) Emiliano Rodriguez, Lucina Rodriguez, Fabiola Trujillo, Eugene Rodriguez.

“I don’t think in terms of centers,” he explains. “There is so much variety and diversity within the Latino community.” Eugene sees the work that Los Cenzontles does as tending to “represent the working class immigrant cultures, which are all over the county in often isolated pockets. The idea of a center is more of an urban concept.”

Los Cenzontles is an important entry point for people of all ages looking to learn about Mexican arts and culture. For over three decades, it’s been a place where young people can come to learn traditional music, dance, and song.

Some graduates of the youth program are now members of Los Cenzontles’ official band, which has worked with other world-class musicians—Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, Ry Cooder, The Chieftains, and Jackson Browne among them—in creating work that not only reflects Mexican regional genres like son jarocho and huapango, but also resonates as a distinctly Californian evolution of those sounds.

“Our approach is also to dig deeply into our roots, but to also explore our connections to other roots and genres,” says Rodriguez. “This may be disorienting from a marketing point of view. But it is our journey.”

Los Cenzontles perform on a recent trip to Sonora to visit a local folkloric dance troupe.

Recently, Los Cenzontles got an upgrade. After 20 years in the same location, the school and practice-jam space got a new paint job, flooring, furnishings, and heating-ventilation system. A donation from Meyer Sound resulted in a new sound system—perfect for the “Music & Tacos” event series (next one happen Fri/22) that invites in the public for an evening of comestibles and live sounds from across the organization’s repertoire, like corridos, pirekuas, and boleros.

Lucina Rodriguez also makes for a good guide to Los Cenzontles’ work. She first came to its youth program when she was 15 years old and immersed herself in the study of zapateado, the stomping, folkloric Mexican dance. Now she not only sings and dances with its band, she is teaches movement to young students and serves as Los Cenzontles’ external education programming coordinator.

“Children in our community need a place where they feel comfortable and safe,” Lucina told 48 Hills in an email. “It’s important for children to connect and stay connected to their roots … This gives them more confidence to face the world outside the center.”

Much of Los Cenzontles’ work is based on the personal importance of cultural heritage. San Pablo’s median household income is just over half that of Oakland. If few of the community’s kids are financially privileged, at Los Cenzontles they are able to explore the richness of Chicano and Mexican past and present.

This year, members of the group and students from the Cenzontles’ youth program took a trip documented by the LA Times with singer Linda Rondstadt to visit Grupo de Danza Xunutzi in Banámichi, Sonora. That’s far from the first time Los Cenzontles have made a trip south — check 2015’s excellent Fandango: Searching for the White Monkey documentary that was made about similar cross-cultural voyages taken throughout the organization’s history. (Not to mention, a fascinating look at how young US artists come to terms with the rural realities of their beloved music genres.)

The work of Los Cenzontles has also opened paths for artists from Mexico to come to the United States, another embodiment of the group’s commitment to making sure that regional forms of Mexican art receive the support that they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Center or not, these sounds play an important role in the Cenzontles’ community and beyond, and they aim to keep it that way. As Lucina puts it; “Music doesn’t die unless we let it die.”

LOS CENZONTLES: MUSIC & TACOS
Fri/22, 7:30-9:30pm, $15
Los Cenzontles Cultural Arts Academy, San Pablo
More info here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Caitlin Donohuehttp://www.donohue.work
Caitlin Donohue grew up in the Sunset and attended Jefferson Elementary School. She writes about weed, sex, perreo, and other methods of dismantling power structures. Her current center of operations is Mexico City.
Sponsored link
Sponsored link

Top reads

Puff: Cannabis hits the Westfield—are we ready for mall weed?

A streamlined ordering process raises the question; what if all cannabis retail had it so easy?

Memo to SF supes: On affordable housing, don’t be Joe Manchin

Approving money for social housing is a clear mandate—and the opposition talking points are the same old tired nonsense we have heard before.

Supes face key affordable housing vote

Plus: more taxpayer dollars for bad cops, and 248 people locked up beyond the legal time for a speedy trial because SF courts are lagging ... that's The Agenda for Nov. 29-Dec. 5

More by this author

Día de los San Franciscanos: Altars return to SOMArts

Beloved performer Per Sia speaks about hosting a Muertos drag show at the yearly exhibition—and what a queen brings to celebrations of resilience.

Reading is fundamental: 44 years of the Bay Area Playwrights Festival

At nearly a half-century, this showcase of early-career playwrights must be doing something right. Find out what, starting Fri/16.

La Moni Stat comes home for SF edition of her Asian drag monthly SENSAZN

On this beloved shady queen's stage, AAPI representation is key.
Sponsored link

You might also likeRELATED