Welcome to Artbound's new music series Hear and Now, where we explore songs with a sense of place. The idea is simple: put Southern California musicians in the locations that inspired a song, and document a performance of the song, in that place. Through this juxtaposition, Hear and Now aims to paint a rich, multidimensional portrait of the creative process and draw connections between musical inspiration and the environment that nurtures it. Look closer. Listen in.
To kick off Hear and Now, we wanted to pick a musical group that was quintessentially Los Angeles; a band who could represent the cross-cultural collisions of this sprawling city. We immediately thought of Quetzal, the East Los Angeles Chicano rockers.
Fronted by Quetzal Flores and Martha Gonzalez, the troupe performs a hybridized version of son jarocho, a form of effervescent folk music from the Mexican state of Veracruz. But Quetzal's music doesn't stop there. They explore ranchera, salsa, and good ol' fashioned rock and roll too.
For our debut of Hear and Now, they chose to perform their song "Tragafuegos, "which translates to "Fire Breathers," off their newest album, "Imaginaries," inside the downtown Los Angeles bus terminal of El Paso Los Angeles Limousine Express, Inc. The "limousines," as they are called, shuttle people -- many of whom are migrant workers and weary travelers who have journeyed across borders -- throughout the Southwestern United States. These buses often represent a convergence North and South American cultures, that same cultural melange that Quetzal explores in their music. So there, in that lobby of the bus station, their performance became a sort of greeting, a impromptu celebration bidding those tired bus riders a warm welcome to Los Angeles.
Following the performance, Artbound had the chance to speak with Quetzal's singer/percussionist Martha Gonzalez about what inspired them about "Los Limousines."
Why did you pick this space?
Martha: Well, actually it was a collective decision. And some of us have had more experience in this space than anybody else. But [bassist] Juan's mother, for example, is always traveling out of here. So where other people are used to go to LAX or other places to get to where they're going, I think that a majority of people, especially immigrants and people of lower economic brackets travel out of spaces like these, bus stops, such as these.
What's your own experience here?
Martha: Well, we used to drop my dad off here. What I do remember is that my dad used to come here whenever he had to go to Guadalajara. And so it was always cheaper to travel from Tijuana to Guadalajara. So he would take a bus here overnight, get there, to Tijuana, and then go into Guadalajara from the Tijuana airport. This place has a lot of life but what it reminds me of is my great grandmother's death.
Martha: Because I remember bringing [her father] here late at night when we knew that she was dying, or that she had died already, or something like that. And so we brought him here, dropped him off, and he took off.
So, what was it like standing up there and playing in this space that has all this meaning to you?
Martha: Well, like any other space. We've played some of the nicest stages all over the world and I think this is just as meaningful, maybe even more. I feel even more nervous being in a space like this because you have people walking around you as you're playing and so there is no cheating the sound or whatever is happening. So it is very live and raw and there is nothing like having contact, face to face contact with people that you're playing for.
How did that feel?
Martha: One of the things I did beforehand because I think it's only fair to do, like any other telonero would do--a telonero is a person that plays for tips basically--is that you ask permission before you go in. And so I, before we walked in actually, I said, "you know we're going to make a bit of noise right now." And they said, "oh no, that's fine, that's fine." So I got a lot of okays from people.
I think that there's a dignity to it. So I feel proud, I feel happy that I am able to bring the music to people in this way, and more than anything, it made me think we need to do this more often.