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Beats & Rhymes: Los Angeles, Land of 1000 Dances


"Los Angeles: Land of a 1000 Dances" is inspired by Luis Rodriguez and Boyle Heights. Rodriguez wrote a series of articles on the Chicano Soul Movement, in which he educated about records like Thee Midniters and the Carlos Brothers. The history he dropped reminded me how classic records bring the city together - generations of carloads listening to the same radio stations, underground bootlegs & ballads, Art Laboe's Low Riders Oldies Show & Brown Brothers of Soul.


Los Angeles has always been a multicultural city since the first 44 Spanish settlers pitched their tents near the confluence of the Los Angeles River and Arroyo Seco in 1781. Twenty-six of those 44 Spanish were also part African, and some Italian, Filipino and Native Americans among them. Unity, together since the beginning.

Developed in the mid-19th century, Boyle Heights is one of the first suburbs of downtown L.A. It's also the first multicultural district in L.A. with its historic mix of Mexican, Jewish, Japanese and Russian. In 2004 my wife took me to her family's church in Boyle Heights, the Rissho Kosei Kei Buddhist Temple on East First Street. They've been members for three decades. A few blocks west of Evergreen Cemetery, the Rissho Kosei kei is one of the last remnants of Japanese culture in the area along with Otomisan, a small Japanese restaurant a few blocks west.

Libros Schmibros just moved two blocks west along East First Street next to Mariachi Plaza and the escalator to the Gold Line station. Owner-proprietor David Kipen knows books better than anybody in the city -- for years he was the book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Now he runs the used bookstore and lending library with Writer-Professor Colleen Jarrutche. Home of rare books and surprise visitors, there's a magnet under the store that attracts writers and lively conversation.

In 2007 Francisco Escamilla, aka the Busstop Prophet, began hosting Spoken Word events around Boyle Heights, particularly at Corazon del Pueblo where they continue now. Abel Salas runs Brooklyn & Boyle magazine from Corazon as well. Casa 0101 Theater is another epicenter of the Eastside art movement. Their state of the art facility on East First Street also has a sizable gallery. Popular bar Eastside Luv is across the street from Mariachi Plaza.

The micro-community of East First Street in Boyle Heights is one of the rawest artistic enclaves in the city. Here's to Eastside Kings of L.A. Letters.

P.S. This beat is another heater made by David Wittman aka DJ Dave known for "Whole Foods Parking Lot," and "Yoga Girl." He's a musical virtuoso specializing in composing, drumming, DJing, rhyming and producing. He produced my first album I Am Alive in Los Angeles! and several other recordings since. Check for more of his work at fogandsmog.com.

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Mike Sonksen aka Mike the Poet is a spoken word artist, tour guide, educator, journalist, and historian. L.A. Letters celebrates bright moments from literary Los Angeles with spoken and written word. See his Departures StoryShare videos here and here. Keep up with his activities by following his tumblr and Youtube channel.

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Top photo of Boyle Heights by Salina Canizales used under a Creative Commons license.

About the Author

Third-generation Angeleno Mike "The Poet" Sonksen is a poet, journalist, historian, tour guide, and teacher.
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