Red Carpet Interview
Nominee at the 10th annual LA Music Awards
Quetzal is a bilingual (Spanish-English) Chicano rock band from East Los Angeles, California.
Martha Gonzalez of Quetzal, 2008
The band was founded by Quetzal Flores, with the intention of pushing the boundaries of Chicano music and is currently one of Los Angeles’ most important and successful groups. They play a mix of Mexican and Afro-Cuban rhythms, jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock music, supercharged by the dynamic vocals of lead singer and composer Martha Gonzalez. Their commitment to using art as a tool for social change is informed and inspired by global grassroots movements. They have also been instrumental in developing Fandango Sin Fronteras, a dialog between Chicanos and Chicanas from California and Jarocho and Jarocha (musicians from Veracruz, Mexico). The band began in 1993 in a Chicano owned cafe, Troy cafe, in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles. Martha Gonzales joined the group in 1995 They helped catalyze the Seattle Fandango Project in 2009 when Martha Gonzalez moved to Seattle to complete her PhD in Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies from the University of Washington. Martha’s research on the transnational music movement across the Americas and Europe, with a special focus for innovations of women in the music and dance of son Jarocho awarded her a Fulbright-Garcia Robles Award and a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. Martha released her Fulbright research project Entre Mujeres:Feminine Translocal Music Composition, as a CD compilation. 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 completed her PhD in the Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington and as an undergraduate 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.” A fan of old school artists, Martha cites some of her biggest influences in music are Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Joni Mitchell.
About the Band
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 1970s. 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. Son jarocho, the genre of music native to the state of Veracruz, Mexico, is made up from roots that are indigenous, African, and Spanish Andalusian. Son jarocho is born from a community fiesta called a Fandango. This connection of music and community building encompasses the base of where the band, Quetzal, came from which stands reason for the importance of son jarocho to Chicanos in general. Quetzal Flores describes the community of fandango in the L.A. area as a necessary practice because “I think it’s because as human beings we are kind of lacking this sort of connection,like these one-on-one connections in this high tech world.” 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.
The band functions in a very inclusive manner. “This band functions as a core unit but it also functions as a family. And everybody in the band past and present is still a part of our family,” said Flores, the son of farmworker-organizer social activists.
Quetzal was featured in the soundtrack to the 2004 short film, Stand Up For Justice: The Ralph Lazo Story, from Visual Communications (VC). In 2013 the band won a Grammy for Best Latin Pop, Rock or Album. Martha Gonzalez and Quetzal Flores are co-producers of Entre Mujeres, a cd released in 2012. Quetzal’s creative and innovative music earned them an invitation to speak and perform in the U.S. Library of Congress and Kennedy Center’s Homegrown music series. The Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music feature Quetzal as leaders and innovators of Chicano music. Smithsonian Folkways label released the 2013 Grammy-winning CD Imaginaries, marking the importance of Gonzalez’s past and ongoing work.
“Imaginaries” refers to scholar Emma Perez’s book, “The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History.” To the band it’s about creating and occupying a physical and conceptual space outside the established structures of capitalism and government. It’s a safe space created by neighbors, or musicians, or artists, or kids, or adults, or viejitos, or a combination of any of these. They’re inspired to create community around music, a communion where the listener is as much musician as the people on the stage holding the instruments.
Quetzal has won the Grammy for Latin rock, urban or alternative album for its release “Imaginaries” (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings), a characteristically ambitious foray into cumbia, neo-’80s-style R&B, Cuban charanga and Brazilian pandeiro, charged with the band’s collectivist political passion. It is the band’s first Grammy.
On Imaginaries, they creatively combine shades of East L.A.’s soundscape, traditional son jarocho of Veracruz, salsa, R&B, and more to express the political and social struggle for self-determination and self-representation, which ultimately is a struggle for dignity. 12 tracks, 55 minutes, 40-page booklet with bilingual notes. This album is part of the Smithsonian Folkways Tradiciones/Traditions series of Latino music albums, produced with support by the Smithsonian Latino Center.
Martha has been involved with Mujeres de Maiz since its inception. Mujeres de Maiz is an organization of women artist activists from all backgrounds who share their works through music, visual arts, poetry, sculpture, theatre works and dance. Its mission is to unite and empower women of all ages, colors and sexualities by creating safe community spaces that provide art education, mentorship, art exhibition and publishing opportunities.
Current band members
Martha Gonzalez — lead and backing vocals, congas, chekere, tarima, cajon, tap dance
Cesar Castro — lead and backing vocals, jarana jarocha, Requinto Jarocho, Leona, Pandero, Tarima
Juan Perez — electric bass, baby bass, double bass
Quetzal Flores — jarana jarocha, requinto jarocho, bajo sexto, electric guitar
Quincy McCrary — lead and backing vocals, Rhodes piano, Hammond B3, keyboard
Andy Mendoza — drums, cajon, backing vocals
Former band members
Kiko Cornejo Jr.
1998: Quetzal (produced by John Avila)
2002: Sing The Real (produced by Greg Landau)
2003: Worksongs (produced by Steve Berlin)
2006: Die Cowboy Die (produced by John Avila)
2012: Imaginaries from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
A Fair Forgery of Pink Floyd (features Quetzal covering Pink Floyd’s song Mother)