Surrealist Women, Martha Gonzalez & Quetzal's Imaginaries & The Politics Of The World Diva

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, March 12, 2012 08:46am | Post a Comment
I couldn’t help but think while viewing LACMA’s new exhibit, In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States, How many people spent more time at the paintings made by Frida Kahlo than any of the dozens of excellent surrealist artists featured at the exhibit. Certainly, Frida is the rock star. Her artwork is used in advertisements for the exhibit that are plastered all over Los Angeles. So much so that I heard at least a dozen people refer to the exhibit as “The Frida Kahlo Exhibit” and were disappointed over the fact that there were only seven pieces of her work in the show. Still, it didn’t stop the multitude of women in rebozos wearing ethnic jewelry and posing for pictures in front of Kahlo’s artwork, sharing in Frida’s pain and heartbreak.

I don’t want to sound like a hater, because I do appreciate Kahlo’s artwork and to not acknowledge what she has meant for women artist and the art world in general would be unjust. Not only was she a great artist but also her artwork was superior to many of her male counterparts. Her art forced the inclusion of her and many other great female artists that weren’t given much respect beforehand. But as I continued through the exhibit, marveling over the great surrealist art of Maria Izquierdo, Remedios Varo, Dorothea Tanning, Gertrude Abercrombie and Francesca Woodman, it was evident that people for the most part, were more hung up on Frida’s biography than the art.

This is who we are as a society. We love our icons. We like our revolutionaries handsome and strong and we like our suffering artists to be tragic. You can’t be a multifaceted. You can’t be a tragic icon who met someone nice and settled down. You can’t be a revolutionary that decided, “Eh, I rather get a steady job” We admire them because unlike many of us, they are all or none and they are who they are until their death. Even if it is a perceived notion, we want our icons to make us think they are not like us. Nothing speaks volumes than modern pop music. Was 2Pac really a thug or a very talented rapper/actor who made us believe he was harder than he was?

One World Music term that I hate to hear being used is “World Diva” It is a marketing term used by lazy record industry people and booking agents who book international female singers into festivals. It is a homogenous title to say the least. It doesn’t tell you where the singer is from, is about or what style of music they perform. You just lump them into one category and market it to the suckers that feel like getting “ethnic” for a day. The result of that term is that many of the artists feel thy have to play into that role. You can be a tee shirt and jeans Nigerian singer but if you put on the headdress and wood-beaded necklace you will be perceived as legitimate African singer. Once again, it’s perception. We want Lila Downs in her Frida meet Carmen Miranda wear. We are more comfortable with Susana Baca wearing traditional Afro-Peruvian clothing. We want Angelique Kidjo to wear a thousand gold bracelets and big hoop earrings than to look like western pop star. It's not to dismiss the artists pride in their culture, it just plays into what people want in their World Divas. We want you to dress in ethnic clothing. We want you to sing in a language that we don’t understand. We will think you are more authentic that way. We want you to be from a country that we know nothing of. We will put you on a pedestal as something we wish we could be, but never really take the effort to understand.

I have followed the work of singer Martha Gonzalez. She has performed in the group Quetzal for close to fifteen years. They have released five albums. The latest, Imaginaries, was released a few weeks ago. When I heard it, I thought, “Why isn’t Martha name ever mentioned as a great international singer?” Names like Lila Downs, Angelique Kidjo, Maria Rita, Ana Moura, Carmen Consoli, Azam Ali and Lira are marketed as “World Divas” They are mentioned are all over the press. They play all the world music festivals and are revered by audiences across the world. They have all had some great moments but have become inconsistent at best. Martha just keeps getting better and better with time.

Imaginaries is an example of Martha Gonzalez’s ever-expanding talent. As a writer, (along with husband and long time collaborator, Quetzal Flores) Gonzalez continues to explore complex social issues with storytelling that recalls great songwriters like Ruben Blades. Both Gonzalez and Blades writing are social/political in nature but never overt. Both have ability to getting one singing and dancing first before realizing the subject matter.  An example of that is a song like “Dreamers, Schemers” a blueglass ode to the freestyle movement of the 80’s that also serves as example how a creative force was able to thrive in the barrios of East L.A. during the years of Reaganomics. Another song in the same vein is “Estoy Aqui (I Am Here)” A song that questions the privileges one has living in the U.S. when even the poorest pueblos in Mexico have more self respect and dignity living in squats constructed by found material. Martha’s songs inspire as well as serve as a way to check one self.

Musically, the band continues to grow. The song, “Duermete” recalls the classic Fania-era Son Montuno in both musical styling and in storytelling ability. “Tragafuegos” is the continued evolution of Son Jarocho beyond the traditional, with an organ that takes Jarocho out of Vera Cruz and into the streets of East L.A. “Witness” could comfortably fit in Earth, Wind & Fire’s set list and everyone would rave it’s the best thing they’ve done in years.

Many of Gonzalez’s best songs are often given to other singers to perform. “Time Will Tell’ features the R&B crooning of Quincy McCrary and “Luz & Miel” a Charanga that recalls the great Cuban groups of the eighties, is given to her brother Gabriel Gonzalez to sing. Both Quincy & Gabriel perform commendably but it isn’t that Martha couldn’t shred on those songs. It’s Gonzalez’s sense of community, a desire to give the opportunity for other musicians to share the spotlight rather than to take all the glory.

The underlying theme of Quetzal’s music has always been about community. For that reason, perhaps Martha Gonzalez will not get the same respect as an individual artist would. Perhaps that she is from East Los Angeles and not from the Caribbean, South America or rural part of Mexico like Oaxaca or Vera Cruz, which people see as more “exotic” Perhaps because she is down to earth and you won’t see her playing the game of “World Diva” It’s a shame that most that would appreciate her will miss her in the hype of World Diva-ness, much like Dorothea Tanning’s powerful painting “Birthday” gets overlooked as people rush by it to get to a Frida Kahlo painting.

Jende Ri Palenge, A Recording & Documentary on The Afro-Colombian Community of Palenque, Out Now

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, March 4, 2012 11:05pm | Post a Comment
I’m a fan of the group, Bomba Estereo. Recently, I have become even more of a fan for how they represent their home country of Colombia through their art. Their Electro-Dub influences mesh well their Cumbia, Champeta and Colombia Salsa references. Along with such artists as Frente Cumbiero, also from Colombia, Bomba Estereo brings a fresh take on Colombian music to the rest of the world.

I was happy to read about a project that a couple of members of Bomba Estero, Santiago Posada and Simon Mejía, were a part of. Jende Ri Palenge is the result their three month stay in San Basilio De Palenque. Not only is San Basilio De Palenque the birthplace of Afro-Colombian music but also it’s a town famous as being the first free slave community in Colombia. During their stay, Santiago and Simon built a studio in the town of San Basilio De Palenque and recorded the various artists that live and work there. At the end of their stay, Santiago and Mejia left the studio for the people so that they can continue to record themselves.

The culmination of their stay is a 3 disc/5LP + DVD box set, released by Soul Jazz Records. Jende Ri Palenge features the music recorded with the Palenque community, as well as remixes of their original compositions by some of South America’s best remixers. Each version includes a documentary film of the recording process, also made by Mejia and Posada

According to the Soul Jazz website, Posada and Mejía chose to focus on three artists: Panamá, León, and Sikito, who put together various line-ups to play music typical of the region. The Afro-Colombian sound that the musicians of Palenque recorded for Jende Ri Palenge is the origins of Colombian music and quite frankly, of many Latin America musical styles today.

The CD version includes a disc of original music and the documentary. It also includes a separate disc of remixes by electronic artists such as Osunlade, Matias Aguayo, and Kromestar.

The LP version will be limited to a 1,000 worldwide. It's a 5-LPs set that include both original music and remixes with the documentary on DVD.

This Week On Radio Sombra

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, February 26, 2012 04:12pm | Post a Comment
We have a some great new shows this week on, plus a new look website!

On this week’s edition of COUNTERSTRIKE, host Marco Amador will interview the legendary Norm Chomsky and a coordinator of, Hamid Khan. Counterstrike intermixes many local issues that affect Chicanos today and shows parallel struggles internationally through interviews of some of the best critical thinkers today. In the past, Marco has interviewed the likes of Dr. Cornel West, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Chicano activist Carlos Montes. Marco is also the creator of

Following Counterstrike is the debut of a new show, Radio Discostan. Radio Discostan is the creation of Arshia Haq, a former employee of Amoeba Hollywood and a contributor to the label, Sublime Frequencies. Radio Discostan explores lovely music from Belarus to Burma via Bombay. Having worked with Arshia in the past, I can say firsthand that her musical collection and knowledge runs deep. From Arabic love songs to Turkish Rockers to Hindi Disco, I guarantee that you will hear something that you have never heard before. Discostan runs from 9-10 pm PST

Following Radio Discostan will be our ever-popular Heartbreak Radio with Lady Imix. Every two weeks, Lady Imix curates the best soundtrack for the lovesick, the heartbroken and even the heartbreakers. It doesn’t matter if you would stand by your man as he fights an unholy war or you want her to be “free”. It doesn’t matter if you think you need to try a little tenderness or if love will tear you apart, Lady Imix has got your back.

Heartbreak Radio continues right after Radio Discostan from 10pm-11pm, PST.

On Tuesday, February 28th from 8-10 PM PST is the return of Discos Inmigrantes, my show featuring the best in international LPs that have traveled far and wide to be played over the airwaves. The 2/28 edition of Discos Inmigrantes will be a rocking one, from the 1960’s garage rock of South America to The 80’s Roc En Espanol movement. Also, we will hear some gems from Yemen, Nigeria, Japan, India and our backyards of East Los Angeles and San Antonio, TX.

The Influence Of African-American Culture On A Non African-American: Four Examples

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, February 19, 2012 11:31pm | Post a Comment
I grew up on black culture. For most Mexican-Americans like myself growing up in the seventies and eighties, we didn’t feel a part of dominant society nor of our Mexican heritage. Schools were devoid of Latin American studies and English as a second language courses were frowned upon. As a kid I was lost; I didn’t know anything about my own culture but felt distant from American or European culture. For many of us, African-American culture was our alternative. I believed our struggles were the same. We were occupied people. We were once a part of progressive society and then we were conquered and made slaves. Although we received some basic human rights over the years we were always looked as second-class citizens here in the U.S. We were looked as something to fear and exclude. As years went on, some blacks and Latinos started to feel that they were part of mainstream society. Perhaps wanting to forget the past, some blacks and Latinos forgot the oppression they once shared. We separated, made our own history and often competed against each other to get out of the racial cellar.  

Even after becoming aware of my own cultural heritage, I never forgot the influence that African-American culture had on me. I find it strange to meet Mexican-Americans that have many European influences but no black cultural influences. I find it even stranger that many of them have the same fears of blacks as other members of dominant society. 

I cannot shake the influence of the many African-American musicians, activists, athletes and artists had on me, even after discovering the many great Chicano/Latin American icons that influence me today. For that reason, I would like to pay tribute to some African American icons that have influenced my life in some way or another.

Malcolm X

Reading The Autobiography Of Malcolm X was like having a light turned on in a dark room. I could identify with almost ever aspect of the book. In the beginning, Malcolm's father is murdered and leads his family in poverty. After being displaced from his family, he is robbed of his culture and self-worth, which led to his self-destructive lifestyle. Take any child’s family, security and culture away and most likely the child will live a self-destructive lifestyle much like young Malcolm.

His days in prison showed that many of us end up there because we are in prison in our minds. We start to believe every horrible thing people say about us and feel that there is no other path than death or jail. Malcolm convergence was due to his Muslim faith but it was his need to educate himself that helped in his self-determination. His time with The Nation Of Islam led to examining every facet of dominant society and challenging it, even if it meant going against the very people who supported him. Once he left the Nation Of Islam and goes out on his own, he sees the struggle of the African-American as a world struggle. That people across the world share the same oppression and that need for basic human rights is a global struggle rather than a national struggle. This message ultimately leads to his murder, but not before he got his message to many like myself, who view his example as a way to fight for human rights for all people, everywhere.

Magic Johnson

 The NBA was dead before Magic Johnson. When The Lakers won the championship in 1980, the game was delayed and played after the eleven o’clock news so that CBS would not have to preempt their mighty Friday TV line-up of The Incredible Hulk, Dukes of Hazard, and Dallas. Along with the emergence of Magic Johnson came his rivalry with Larry Bird of the Celtics, which led to a faster and more physical style of basketball. It was L.A. "flash" versus working-class Celtics and everyone was into it. Basketball ratings went up and every kid playing at the local park was throwing behind the back passes just like Magic. By the time Michael Jordan came into the NBA, the league was a different level, ready for someone like MJ to take it to new heights.

However, in 1991, Magic announced his retirement from the NBA after he found out he had the HIV virus. At the time, it seemed like a death sentence. The only thing people like myself knew about AIDS were pure misconception. The thought was that AIDS was strictly a disease that only gays and drug addicts contracted. By Magic coming out and telling the world he had HIV, it forced a homophobic society to look at the severity of AIDS and that everyone, gay straight, man, women, black or white, could get it. One could have understood if Magic kept his disease in the dark but he used the opportunity to become an activist for HIV prevention, both in the U.S. and abroad. Most recently, he has started a campaign to stop the spread of homophobia, saying, “you realize that homophobia is still an issue everywhere, but especially in the black community. When people are scared to talk about it, that's how the disease spreads.” You can easily use that same quote for all persons of color.

Magic Johnson’s Foundation has given many college scholarships to inner city youths as well as funding for various AIDS organizations. On top of that, Magic’s net worth is listed close to a billion dollars. His investments include businesses that cater to the betterment of inner cities. By putting a movie theater or a Starbucks in lower income neighborhoods, it kept money and jobs within the community. For someone like myself who grew up far from any entertainment, I would travel far outside my community to get it. I see Magic Johnson as an example for people that have grown up in lower-income communities who feel the need to leave once have made money. Most people who leave never put any of their fortune back into the communities. Magic did and made money doing it.

Wanda Coleman

You will not see Wanda Coleman name on many top lists of African-American writers, nor would you find her on lists of top female African American writers. Truth is told; I’ve read better writers since. However, there was nothing like the feeling of reading Wanda Coleman’s A War Of Eyes And Other Stories in high school. To me, Wanda’s strength wasn’t just that she was a female African-American writer, but that she was from South Los Angeles. Every story was from a neighborhood that I knew. The voices she gave to her characters were voices I heard all my life. The streets that she walked were the same that I’ve walked. The fast food joints she worked at reminded me of all the greasy spoons I ate at. Her feelings of isolation and rejection were far more real to me than anything my literary high school friends were reading. I couldn’t get down with Holden Caulfield, but I certainly could get down with Wanda Coleman.

Recently, I listened to a track off a poetry record she did with Exene Cervenka of X. It’s called “Silly Bitches Institute," which was a story about being locked up in the Sybil Brand Institute For Women. That particular piece holds its own against some of the best African-American spoken word artists.

Miles Davis

 There are three albums that I listened to as a teenager that I felt I had to hide from my parents. The first being Black Sabbath’s Paranoid album, because my family was Catholic and I didn’t want my parents to think I was worshiping the devil. The second was Black Flag’s Damaged, because Black Flag was in the news for starting riots. I didn’t want my parents to think I was a self-destructing punk. The third was Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew; because I didn’t want my parents to think I was devil worshiping, self-destructing punk who took drugs.

That album hurt to listen to at first. I couldn’t believe it was the same guy who did Round About Midnight, a record I jacked from my father’s record collection. It was intense to say the least, but after repeated listings, it all made sense. Once I got into it, I loved it and I began to examine everything Miles did before and after Bitches Brew. He was always on point it seemed. The more I listened to Jazz, the more I noticed that when he changed styles, everyone would follow.

In his autobiography, entitled, Miles, The Autobiography, Miles broke it down like a wise uncle. His story is as he saw it, with no apologizes or excuses. If he thought you were a terrible musician, he let you know. Likewise, if he thought you were great, he gave much praise. His choice of musicians did not fall under color lines. He played with many non-black musicians if he thought they were a better fit for him. When black musicians questioned him about choosing a white musician over a black, he felt that they were weak and only making excuses for their own inabilities. He never relented. He loved being black. He didn’t like Free Jazz. He thought he should be paid top dollar and flaunted his wealth. He didn’t like musicians that did a lot of grinning. He hated cops. He liked the French. He liked all kinds of women. He was a terrible husband and a deadbeat dad. He had drug problems and many faults, but he was an excellent composer and musician.

His example is not one of integrity. His example is that in art, there is only art. If you stay loyal to friends, family and loved ones, your art will be compromised. The best artists are just that. They are not good friends, husbands, wives, father and mothers. Somewhere along the line, we started associating great art with good people. In some cases, perhaps, but most cases, never. To be a legend, one has to practice, create and not be afraid to get rid of dead weight, even if they show talent or dedication. What I got from Miles, as an artist is that it’s better to be honest with oneself and be a bad guy then to be liked and have mediocre art. Miles career lasted almost fifty years, with many milestones and his influence is still felt to this day.

Luis Alberto Spinetta 1950-2012

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, February 8, 2012 04:33pm | Post a Comment
One of my greatest joys when I was picked to write a blog for Amoeba was that I was able to write about music that I truly loved. It was within my first few blogs that I wrote about my love for the music of Luis Alberto Spinetta. Sadly, Spinetta passed away today. A few months back he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died with pulmonary cancer complications. He had just turned 62.

My love for Spinetta’s music grew with my relationships with customers and some fellow employees who encouraged me to delve deeper into his music. Once I did, I found myself doing the same with others. Although a legend in Argentina and for that matter, with most Latin American rockers, he was still a bit of an unknown in mainstream society. I often wondered why other Latin American rock & psychedelic artists got more hipster cred when Spinetta’s volume of work was far superior to others.

His early groups, Almendra, Pescado Rabioso, Invisible and Spinetta Jade where some of the best rock, psyche, progressive rock and folk ever to come out of Latin America. As a solo artist, he released over twenty albums, all of them relevant to the time it was released. To be fair, not all of the solo albums were great but he never wallowed in nostalgia. He attempted to be contemporary without sounding like a dinosaur. If anything, sometimes he was too far ahead of the pack and people needed time to catch up to him.

As a well-read musician, his lyrics were both profound and abstract. I imagine even the most literary Spanish language types needed time to stop and analyze his lyrics. He was inspired by the works of Arthur Rimbaud, Carl Jung, Freud, Nietzsche, Carlos Castaneda and Antonin Artaud, which inspired his greatest album in my opinion, Artaud. Fellow music enthusiast, Gustavo Delanuca, described Spinetta as, “Hip, ahead of his time and never an old man trying be young”

In 2009, Spinetta celebrated his 40th anniversary of the release of Almendra’s first release by playing a five-hour show in Buenos Aires. He reformed his past groups in various configurations as well as played his solo work. He was the father of Dante Spinetta, co-founder of the legendary rock-funk band Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas, who recently reformed after a several year hiatus.

Former Soda Stereo front man Gustavo Cerati’s had a monster with a cover of Spinetta’s song, "Bajan", which is off of Artaud. Spinetta's music can be heard on such movies as Fuego Gris and Valentin

Also, if you find the movie, Rock Hasta Que Se Ponga El Sol, which has concert footage from Pescado Rabioso as well as other Argentinean bands from the 70’s, it’s well worth watching.

Here is a list of albums by Luis Alberto Spinetta that is mandatory for your appreciation of his work:

Almendra (1969)
Almendra II (1970)
Spinettalandia y Sus Amigos - La Búsqueda de la Estrella (1971)
Desatormentándonos (1972)
Pescado II (1973)
Artaud (1973)
Invisible (1974)
Durazno Sangrando (1975)
El Jardín de los Presentes (1976)
A 18´ del Sol (1977)
Pan (2006)

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