Quetzal Flores and Martha Gonzalez of Quetzal
Quetzal is an ensemble of highly talented musicians, joined for the goal of creating good music that tells the social, cultural, political, and musical stories of people in struggle. Martha Gonzalez (lead singer, percussionist, and songwriter) calls it an “East LA Chican@ rock group,” summing up its rootedness in the complex cultural currents of life in the barrio, its social activism, its strong feminist stance, and its rock and roll musical beginnings. Besides being a rock band, the group and its members participate in a much larger web of musical, cultural, and political engagement.
In 1992, Chicano rock guitarist, Quetzal Flores discovered the burgeoning revival of traditional music of Veracruz called son jarocho. This jaranero resurgence began in Veracruz in the late 1970’s. 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 Chican@ music groups performed the music at rallies, marches, and events flowing from the Chicano vein of the Civil Rights Movement. 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 Smiths, Ruben Blades, Stevie Wonder, and much more.
Flores’s approach to music, however, was influenced by much more than the East L.A. musical soundscape of Mexican musica ranchera, salsa, Chicano Rock, R&B, 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. For members of Quetzal, music expresses the ultimate struggle for dignity.
Martha Gonzalez who was born and raised in East Los Angeles joined the group shortly after it was formed. Gonzalez grew up singing and learning the sentiment of Mexican music with her two siblings. Encouraged by their father, the youthful trio sang with mariachi ensembles in the greater Los Angeles area. Gonzalez, now a doctoral candidate in the Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington, had studied drumming and dance of Ghana and Cuba at UCLA. Her musical background gave her a solid foundation to contribute as a performer, lyricist, and composer. She affirms a strong female perspective in the group’s creative projects. In her words, “part of being in the band is having a Chicana feminist analysis. 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.”
The group Quetzal emerged out of a particularly contentious time generated by events such as the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, 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. The proactive strategy of Quetzal and other artists was to maneuver through the societal problems that were affecting the communities in which these artists were living. As a prominent force in this East L.A. creative culturescape, Quetzal vividly portrays how music, culture, and sociopolitical ideology come together in a specific place.
About Quetzal Flores:
Growing up in grassroots movements, as the son of labor union organizers, Flores inherited an undying accountability to community struggles. From land struggles with South Central farmers, immigration reform, supermarket workers union strike, and the indigenous Zapatista struggle, to the everyday community struggles in East Los Angeles, he has been active with music in hand.
Since 1993, he has been working as the musical director for the East Los Angeles based rock group Quetzal.
Throughout his professional musical career, he has shared the stage and has collaborated with groups and artist such as; Los Lobos, Taj Majal, Zack De La Rocha (Rage Against the Machine), Los Van Van, Son De Madera, Susana Baca, and Daara J, Aloe Blacc, among others. The ensemble Quetzal has made considerable impact in the world of Chicano music in the last 19 years.
The importance of their work is marked by their participation in events such as the Homegrown Music Series at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, the traveling exhibit American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music, and the completion of five albums, the latest of which, Imaginaries, was released this year on the Smithsonian Folkways label.
Since 2002, Flores has been a central figure in the transnational dialogue between Chicana/o musicians and artists from California and Mexicano musicians and dancers from Veracruz, Mexico. From this dialogue emerged many recordings, performances, publications, workshops, and community building efforts under the organizing auspices of “Fandango Sin Fronteras.”
To enhance this dialogue, Flores spent nine months in Xalapa, Veracruz, in 2007 with his family composing and recording music with women of “El Nuevo Movimiento Jaranero,” a movement geared at reinvigorating the son jarocho music tradition of Southern Veracruz.
With developed skills in music, organizing, and producing, Flores was hired as the Program Coordinator for the American Music Partnership of Seattle in 2008. In facilitating this collaboration between the University of Washington (UW), The Experience Music Project, and KEXP 90.3 FM, he co-founded and launched the Seattle Fandango Project, one of the UW’s most successful and sustainable community partnership initiatives engaging diverse and historically aggrieved communities inside and outside the university.
About Martha Gonzalez:
Martha Gonzalez was born and raised in East Los Angeles and is a Chicana artivista(artist/activist), feminist music theorist and academic. Gonzalez earned a PhD in Feminism from the University of Washington Seattle. In addition, Gonzalez holds an undergraduate degree in Ethnomusicology from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
Her academic interest in music has been fueled by her own musicianship as a singer and percussionist for East L.A’s Quetzal for the last 17 years. Quetzal has made considerable impact in the Los Angeles Chicano music scene. The unique blend of East Los Angeles sounds as well as the social justice content in the work has sparked dialogue and theoretical work among various artist communities, culture theorists, and scholars across the country, Mexico and Japan. The relevance of Quetzal’s work has been noted in a range of publications from dissertations to scholarly books, most recently Patricia Zavella’s I’m Neither Here Nor There: Mexicans’ Quotidian Struggles with Migration and Poverty (Duke University Press, 2011). As a result, the U.S. Library of Congress and Kennedy Centerextended an invitation to perform and speak in September of 2011 as a part of their “Homegrown” music series. The traveling exhibit “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music” sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute, featured Quetzal as leaders and innovators of Chicano music. This feat coupled with their Grammy Award winning album on the Smithsonian Folkways label “Imaginaries” marks the importance of her past and ongoing work.
As a musician, Gonzalez has collaborated, and/or toured with artist such as Los Lobos, Los Van Van, Jackson Brown, Susana Baca, Perla Batalla, Jaguares, Ozomatli, Jonathan Richman, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, iCubanismo!, Taj Mahal, Tom Waits, Los Super Seven, Lila Downs, Raul Malo, Rick Treviño, Son De Madera, Relicario, Chuchumbe Charanga Cakewalk, The B-side Players, Teatro Campesino, Aloe Blacc, Maya Jupiter, and Laura Rebolloso. In these ways music pedagogy and transnational music movement experience has influenced Gonzalez’s scholarship.
Gonzalez was awarded a Fulbright Garcia-Robles fellowship (2007-08) for her research on transnational musical social movements across the Americas and Europe, with a specific focus on innovations of women in the music and dance of the fandango culture. She is also the recipient of the Doman Award for Excellence in Teaching as well as a Ford Dissertation Fellow and Dean’s Arts Medalist for the 2012-2013 scholastic year.
The promise of Gonzalez’s scholarly work has been recognize through publication in various academic presses. “Sonic (Trans) Migration of Son Jarocho Zapateado: Rhythmic Intention, Metamorphosis and Manifestation in Fandango and Performance” given at the international conference “Corn Bread and Cuchifritos”: Ethnic Identity Politics, Transnationalization, and Transculturation in American Urban Popular Music” was later published in an edited volume based on the conference. In addition “Intersectionality in Context: Three Cases for the Specificity of Intersectionality from the Perspective of Feminists in the Americas,” was co-authored with my colleagues Rebecca Clark and Sara Diaz for an anthology emerging from the International Conference for Young Academics titled Race, Class, Gender as Categories of Difference and Inequality: Which Perspectives Arise from the Concept of ‘Intersectionality’ for Human and Cultural Sciences? held at CIERRA University of Erfurt. Paris, France. Gonzalez’s essay in Dancing Across Borders: Danzas y Bailes Mexicanos, entitled: “Zapateado Afro-Chicana Fandango Style: Self Reflective Moments in Zapateado” was included in the first Chicana/o focused dance edited volume published by an academic press. In addition while completing her graduate course work The Seattle Fandango Project (an extension of Fandango sin Fronteras) became the model upholding the theoretical arguments concerning transnational music and social justice movements. As a result and interest in Seattle Fandango Project as a model community music project, led to a co-authored publication with the School of Music Faculty and Ethnomusicology Chair, Professor Shannon Dudley entitled “The Seattle Fandango Project” for Harmonic Dissidents Magazine in 2009 and a TedX Talk in Seattle Center.
Gonzalez’s Fulbright research project, which has come to be known as Entre Mujeres: Feminine Translocal Music Composition was released in the Summer of 2012 as a CD compilation. This release was accompanied by a multi-media performance/lecture tour funded in part by The Mellon Foundation John E. Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures. In conjunction, a theoretical analysis of Entre Mujeres project entitled, “ ‘Mixing’ in the Kitchen: Entre Mujeres (Among Women) Translocal Music Dialogues” is scheduled for publication in Performing Motherhood on Demeter Press in the Summer of 2013.
Finally, as a testament to the body of music and community work Gonzalez has accomplished on and off the stage, in the summer of 2014 Gonzalez’s tarima (stomp box) and zapateado shoes were memorialized in the National Museum of American History.
Gonzalez is currently an Assistant Professor in the Intercollegiate Chicano/a Latino/a Studies Department at SCRIPPS/Claremont College. She lives in Los Angeles with her partner Quetzal and ten year-old son Sandino.