Quetzal
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Quetzal

Los Angeles, California, United States | INDIE

Los Angeles, California, United States | INDIE
Band Latin Rock

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The East L.A. band extends its reach -- and the dimensions of Chicano music -- asserting itself as a world-class act.
By Agustin Gurza
Times Staff Writer

September 25, 2006

I've been traveling recently to cities in Spain and Latin America to report on some of the best music the Spanish-speaking world has to offer. But on Thursday night, all I had to do was scoot up the freeway to Sylmar to catch a concert by Quetzal, the East L.A. band that has emerged as a world-class act.

A critic from another country would have been thrilled to come across this sophisticated show at the folksy Tia Chucha's Café Cultural, which sells books and Mexican mochas from a humble strip mall in what is otherwise considered a cultural wasteland: the northern end of the San Fernando Valley. It would be news back home that L.A.'s young Mexican American community was producing music so inspired, accomplished, passionate and rousing.

But sometimes, we don't appreciate the talent in our own backyard. Fewer than 50 people, including a couple of children, were on hand to see the newly reincarnated band perform songs from its latest album, "Die Cowboy Die."

This is the fourth CD since the band, named for a tropical bird prized by the Maya for its resplendent plumage, was formed in the early '90s by guitarist-composer Quetzal Flores, the son of community organizers. The reserved bandleader doesn't live up to his name, ceding the spotlight to his wife and co-writer, lead vocalist Martha Gonzalez, whose singing shows a mature control.

Each album has its distinct character. But the new work marks a radical reconstruction that once again broadens the band's sonic palette and the parameters of Chicano music.

"Cowboy" is a lot less folkloric, a lot more urban. It even incorporates elements of R&B with the addition of bearded, bespectacled Quincy McCrary on keyboard and vocals (in English) that evoke Stevie Wonder.

Why not? Soul has always been part of the East L.A music scene, though this is probably the first time anybody tried getting down with jaranas and requintos, those small Mexican acoustic guitars that have been a signature component of the band.

In Quetzal's case, soul is just another ingredient in the mix that makes its music so original. The other key flavors are all still there — traditional son jarocho from Veracruz, tasty salsa rhythms from the Caribbean and rock influences from Santana to Morrissey.

Gone are the violins that had been essential to the group's identity, adding sweet and melodic textures rooted in both Cuban and Mexican music. Gone too is Gonzalez's brother and longtime co-vocalist, Gabriel.

Flores and Martha Gonzalez are the only ones remaining from the previous lineup, though former members Edson Gianesi and Dante Pascuzzo contributed to the new album. Rounding out the current sextet are Cesar Castro on vocals, requinto and jarana; Juan Perez on bass; and Andy Mendoza on drums and backing vocals.

"The point was to go places we haven't been before, to shed our skin," Flores said over lunch recently at a Mexican restaurant in El Sereno.

"Instead of trying to replace people or a sound," added Gonzalez, "we just let the sound change."

That restless creativity has been a hallmark of a group that has single-handedly carried the torch passed on by Los Lobos, East L.A.'s greatest band.

"In terms of Chicano music, I think Quetzal is playing a real important role by pushing the boundaries," says Bay Area musician Greg Landau, who produced the band's second CD, "Sing the Real," from 2002. "They're not afraid to experiment and they purposely stay away from things that are easy. They take risks and sometimes they miss, but at least they're trying."

The changes are also thematic.

Quetzal has always been a socially conscious band, inspired by the Zapatista rebellion in southern Mexico led by Subcomandante Marcos. But in a song from the new album, "Candil Candelario," they question the wisdom of those who commit their lives to a cause but neglect their own families.

The song is based on a musician who fought in the Mexican Revolution and later helped spark the son jarocho revival of the late 1970s. Flores and his wife were surprised to learn that their hero, who would improvise revolutionary verses after battle, had been less than an ideal family man. In public, he was a romantic revolutionary; at home, an abusive alcoholic.

The song title comes from a Spanish saying: Candil de la calle, obscuridad de su casa (A beacon of the street, darkness of his own home).

"It's really about looking at myself now that I'm a parent," says Gonzalez, "and asking, 'What are you going to do?' "

She also reflects on the awesome new burdens of motherhood in the brief but effective "Breast Pump Waltz." The title reveals the machine that's making a strange industrial sound as she sings a lullaby to herself with the warning she used to hear from friends: "Baby boy is coming. Your whole life - L.A. Times


El cambio de integrantes no parece haber alterado el compromiso social y musical de la agrupación ecléctica angelina, que anuncia el lanzamiento de un aguerrida producción discográfica

Sergio Burstein
Especial para La Vibra

11 de mayo de 2006

Aunque han pasado ya tres años desde el lanzamiento de su más reciente disco, Work Songs, hay que saber que Quetzal sigue siendo una fuerza musical y cultural de relevancia. Y para demostrarlo, el grupo surgido en el Este de Los Ángeles —que ha sufrido una renovación completa, ya que sólo permanecen en su filas los compositores y esposos Quetzal Flores y Martha González— prepara la edición de su cuarto álbum, un trabajo independiente que verá a la luz a finales del próximo mes y que llevará como título Die Cowboy Die.
“Este nombre se refiere no sólo a la situación actual, sino también a los más de 500 años de genocidio y de colonización”, asegura Quetzal, encargado de la interpretación de instrumentos como la jarana, las guitarras acústicas y eléctricas y el bajo sexto. “Se trata de encontrar al cowboy dentro de cada uno y de terminar con él, sobre todo si éste lleva el espíritu de cowboys modernos como Bush, Cheney y los Texas Rangers, con sus historias de matanzas, manipulación y opresión de la gente pobre”.
Martha —quien además de ser la cantante principal toca varios instrumentos— completa la idea. “Este país lleva encima la carga de haber querido imponer su política económica en muchas partes del mundo, como El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panamá, Puerto Rico, Irak y México”, señala. “Lo que estamos dando aquí no es una posición antiamericana, sino el deseo de que se actúe con responsabilidad y se deje de lado ese aire de superioridad que hace, por ejemplo, que en los noticieros se informe solamente de los muertos norteamericanos en la guerra, como si los demás no importaran”.
El hecho de que Martha y Quetzal sean los únicos miembros de la formación clásica que quedan actualmente en el grupo se debe, según ellos, a que los demás optaron por otros rumbos musicales - La Opinión digital


Thu, Nov. 11, 2004
By Barbara Rose Shuler

Quetzal has appeared around the Central Coast more than a few times, and I've covered them often as a fan/journalist. The Los Angeles Chicano fusion band is able to crossover into several genre niches, including world, rock and jazz, carrying with them a sonically rich palette of songs that contain socially-conscious lyrics in both English and Spanish. They hold their own among their compatriots in the L.A. progressive Latin rock scene, including the godfathers Los Lobos, as well as more current bands like Ozomatli and the San Diego-based B-Side Players.

The band was formed in 1993 by Quetzal Flores and featured the lead vocals of brother/sister team Martha and Gabriel Gonzalez. Instrumentation included violin and several traditional Mexican guitars in addition to electric bass and several percussionists. The group mixes Mexican and Cuban rhythms, sometimes in the same song, and lyrically they embody the struggles of Los Angeles' Chicano community in addition to sympathizing with the Indians of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas and the Zapatista revolutionaries centered there.

The group's latest album is titled "Work Songs." I highly recommend this concert presented by Zook Beat at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center on Tuesday - Monterey Herald


Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2002 –

Quetzal: a Rollicking, Collective Good Time, by Augustin Gurza

At a club packed to the rafters Thursday night, Quetzal celebrated the release of its new album with a joyful and passionate performance that cemented its places as the premiere LA Chicano band of its generation. This polished, nine-piece outfit plas what you might call jarocho hip., an original blend of Mexican folklorico, Caribbean rhythms and American rock.

Quetzal is a cool and classy band. On stage they demonstrated the qualities that make them so appealing: Rich songwriting, enchanting arrangements, and serious musicianship. As a group they exude a lovely and irresistible spirit, much more so than on the live record. Quetzal is living proof that drawing on cultural roots can be a powerful source of creativity. They play with conviction, a quality missing from many mainstream Latino acts.


Hollywood Reporter, June 11, 2002

… set from Quetzal was rich in not just traditionally minded Mexican-American music, but Cuban, Latin American and Spanish styles as well.


All About Jazz, September 4, 2004

Worksongs – This is Latin American pop for the serious listener.


Barnes & Noble, July 15, 2003, Mark Schwartz

Proclaimed by no less an authority than Los Lobos as ready to carry the torch for Los Angeles's Chicano community, Quetzal embody the soul and the struggle at the heart of the Mexican-American legacy. Their mix of Mexican and Cuban rhythms, jazz, and rock is supercharged by the dynamic vocals of siblings Martha and Gabriel Gonzalez, who could send brown-eyed soul trifles straight to the top of the charts if they wanted to. Their music is informed by radical authors and grassroots tenacity.

LA Weekly, May 31, 2003, Gustavo Arellano

A decade ago and today, Quetzal practices music too rarely found in this country - politically progressive while sonically superb - and the joyous filled the Ford's aisles in appreciation
- various


Discography

Die Cowboy Die: 2006;
Sing The Real : July 2003,
Quetzal: 2000

Photos

Bio

In the early nineties, in a tiny cafe on the outskirts of Little Tokyo Los Angeles, Quetzal Flores, a son of two community organizers, formed Quetzal - A new experience in Chicano Music. His goal was to push the boundaries of Chicano Music as we knew it.

Twelve years later Quetzal has become of one Los Angeles’ most important and successful groups. Proclaimed by no less an authority than Los Lobos as "ready to carry the torch for Los Angeles's Chicano community," Quetzal embodies the soul and the struggle at the heart of the Mexican-American legacy.

Their mix of Mexican and Afro-Cuban rhythms, Jazz, R&B, and Rock is supercharged by the dynamic vocals of Martha Gonzalez. Their commitment to using art as a tool for social change is informed and inspired by global grassroots movements. Aside from touring, the band frequently engages in organizing and participating in opening spaces for transnational dialogue. For the past five years they have been instrumental in developing Fandango Sin Fronteras, a dialogue between Chicanos from California and Jarochos (musicians from Veracruz, Mexico).

In 2008, Quetzal added to their repertoire Dia de Los Muertos: Re-membering the Dead, a celebration in music, dance, and story-telling of the annual holiday honoring the ancestors.