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Sample Track 1:
"A Tu Lado" from Regeneration
Sample Track 2:
"The Silence" from Regeneration
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Los Cenzontles, Regeneration Revolution of Spirit:
The Rocking Multigenerational Call for Renewal of Los Cenzontles’ Regeneration

New, highly charged release features Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Jackson Browne, along with the coolest of Mexican roots rhythms and psychedelic guitar riffs.

“We’re talking about our right to be whoever we want to be,” says Eugene Rodriguez, musician, educator, and one of the driving forces behind the cultural center and genre-defying band Los Cenzontles. “If we want to mix this with that, we will, no matter what you say. We are proud of who we are. We are embracing our many cultures.”

What Los Cenzontles (literally “The Mockingbirds”) embrace on Regeneration (release: October 9, 2012): the trippiest vintage rock, the complex rhythms of Mexican traditional music, the border-crossing sounds crafted and championed by young Mexican-Americans, the fastest growing demographic in the country, who comprise a major part of the biggest generational shift since the baby boomers came of age in the late 1960’s. These young people are striving to create their own cultural expression in the midst of competing political and social pressures.

The album, the band’s third working with David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), channels the raw edge of these converging sounds and ideas, uniting swamp rock guitars, Mexican folk styles and beats, and bold, and unflinching lyrics in Spanish and English. Finding the common vibe between rhythms of indigenous Mexico and the real-deal traditions of rural Mexican musicians, and the broader world of American pop (working with icons like Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt), Los Cenzontles make a defiant yet optimistic songs with instant appeal.

“In the larger context of music, there’s always tension between the old and new, and we were playing with that tension on Regeneration,” Rodriguez reflects. “Music develops in reaction to previous sounds, in a way that’s raw, intense, urgent. You can hear it in Mexican traditional music, or in genres like banda. That, to me is the essence of that revolution of spirit, like the heyday of rock or the punk movement.”

{full story below}

There’s more to Los Cenzontles (pronounced los senn-sont-less) than your average rock or folk band. The group’s members found each other at Los Cenzontles Mexican Art Center, a neighborhood cultural center in working-class San Pablo/Richmond, CA. Founder Rodriguez spearheaded a community barn building to transform an ex-liquor store into a thriving arts training ground for thousands of kids.

At the Center the kids embrace tradition in highly personalized and creative ways. Lucina Rodriguez, who arrived at Los Cenzontles at the age of 15, is originally from Jalisco, Mexico. “I did not like traditional music when I was young. It wasn’t until I got to California that I connected to it.” Her grandfather played in their pueblo’s banda and both Lucina and her drummer brother Cristian compose pop music in English and Spanish.

Singer Fabiola Trujillo is from Zacatecas, Mexico and California, with a deep love for both Mexican ranchera music and American country songs, and the artistic range to interpret both the deeply traditional “La Lloroncita” and the Burt Bacharach classic, “Only Love Can Break A Heart.” Bassist, accordionist, guitarist Emiliano Rodriguez, 18 years old, born in San Francisco, is Mexican-American and French-Vietnamese, and his musical tastes are firmly planted in roots music. Dancer and percussionist Mireya Ramirez, 14 years old, was born and raised in inner city San Pablo, CA, expertly rides horses, taught by her father, originally from Durango, Mexico.

Dubbed a “little factory of culture” (NPR Morning Edition), Los Cenzontles are also producing groundbreaking music. The family-like atmosphere of the center, the band and the recording sessions —complete with home-cooked meals—is the result of years of commitment and passion. A third-generation Mexican-American, Rodriguez felt both deeply connected to his family’s heritage and deeply disconcerted by the dominant clichés and misconceptions about people who looked like him (a situation he address head on in songs like “Free to Be Me”).

“Growing up Mexican American in the 70’s was to be largely invisible in the mainstream. We hardly existed, One of the few CDs of that time where we heard reflections of our Mexican selves, oddly enough, was in Jackson Browne’s The Pretender. Browne, although Anglo, spoke with Chicano imagery and that was meaningful to me. Rodriguez relates, “It wasn’t until Los Lobos came to the mainstream decades later did we start to hear ourselves on the radio. “Having Jackson and David Hidalgo on this project is significant to me on deep levels.”

Most of Rodriguez’s inspiration flowed from his memories of family parties, of the music and food and lively interaction. “I see my Mexican roots as a source of strength, though it is amazing to see how fast they get watered down over the generations,” reflects Rodriguez. “One of the reasons I started Los Cenzontles was to give young people choices: We want to be careful what we give up and what we gain. It’s a negotiation.”

Importantly, it’s a negotiation with a generational aspect—and a crucial cultural impact. “Kids want to get away from music of their parents,” Rodriguez smiles. “That’s what I love about what we’re doing. We hear all the time, ‘What you do isn’t traditional; what you’re doing is cool.’ We present traditions in a way that still feels open and energetic.”

The openness has helped Rodriguez and his colleagues reach countless young people in innovative ways—and make allies. Linda Ronstadt, who often weighs in with suggestions and encouragement, first heard Rodriguez and band when they were busking one day. She was so taken by what she heard, she and Los Cenzontles began a dialogue-rich friendship.

The heartening, often tearful reception their music received inspired Rodriguez to craft a new song based on the funky, forgotten mariachi beat. “For ‘Un Dia Feliz,’ I wanted to write the new song using the old rhythm, because it was very quirky and cool and very related to the dance, the way jazz used to be,” Rodriguez explains. “I took a fun, light melody and put it to the old mariachi rhythm.” Singers and songwriters Fabiola Trujillo and Lucina Rodriguez wound up returning to a Purepecha Indian community in Michoacan that they visited a few years ago, an experience that resulted in the lyrical, rolling “Ay Pasajero.”

But there’s another side to Los Cenzontles: They can explode into a blazing ranchera ballad (“Adios California”). They can counter all the narcocorrido glorification of the drug trade with ballads of their own (“The Silence”). But they can also dive into some wicked rock jams, gleefully egged on by long-time friend and producer Hildago (on hard-hitting Afro-Latin jams like “Tirana”). Mastering the traditions means complex rhythms like huapango (a folk dance-based style with shifting time signatures) merge seamlessly into gritty, four-on-the-floor rock (Lucina Rodriguez’s shimmering, swaying “A Tu Lado”).

And there are other unexpected influences. Next door to Los Cenzontles’ modest strip mall home, Rodriguez heard the perfect beat. It was bursting out of the stereo at the Indian grocery, and it made perfect sense for a song Rodriguez had in mind. Hidalgo jumped on the drum kit, Cougar Estrada took up the hand drum, Lucina stomped on the dance box, and Elvin Bishop added some swamp blues guitar, and the result was the anthemic “No Politics.”

This kind of open-eared approach—the eagerness to absorb of the band’s mockingbird namesake—makes rock guitar solos, bursts of percussion, and forms from across Mexico come together in a catchy, welcoming way. “That’s the advantage of working with people who know these rhythms like the back of their hands, musicians like Dave and Cougar,” Rodriguez says. “You can just feel when the rhythm is getting into a rut. We’re all really in tune with that. We all like lively, living music. Whatever we do, we need it to stay live.

“The cliche is that Mexican Americans are neither truly Mexicans or true Americans. But we are both and much more. Like our song ‘Valor Latino’ proclaims 'we are the future of our country.'”

<< release: 10/09/12 >>