Chicano rock

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Chicano rock is rock music performed by Mexican American (Chicano) groups or music with themes derived from Chicano culture. Chicano Rock, to a great extent, does not refer to any single style or approach. Some of these groups do not sing in Spanish at all, or use many specific Latin instruments or sounds. The main unifying factor, whether or not any explicitly Latin American music is heard, is a strong R&B influence, and a rather independent and rebellious approach to making music that comes from outside the music industry.

Chicano rock is the distinctive style of rock and roll music performed by Mexican Americans from East L.A. and Southern California that contains themes of their cultural experiences. Although the genre is broad and diverse, encompassing a variety of styles and subjects, the overarching theme of Chicano rock is its R&B influence and incorporation of brass instruments like the saxophone and trumpet, Farfisa or Hammond B3 organ, funky basslines, and its blending of Mexican vocal styling sung in English.[1]


Iconic Chicano rock musician Carlos Santana

There are two undercurrents in Chicano rock. One is a devotion to the original rhythm and blues and country roots of Rock and roll. Ritchie Valens, Sunny & the Sunglows, The Sir Douglas Quintet, Thee Midniters, Los Lobos, Malo, War, Tierra, and El Chicano all have made music that is heavily based on 1950s R&B, even when general trends moved away from the original sound of rock as time went by.

Chicano rock 'n' roll star Ritchie Valens, was a Mexican-American singer and songwriter influential in the Chicano rock movement. He recorded numerous hits during his short career, most notably the 1958 hit "La Bamba." Valens died at age 17 in a plane crash with fellow musicians Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson on February 3, 1959. The tragedy was later immortalized as "the day the music died" in the song "American Pie." [2]

Another characteristic is the openness to Latin American sounds and influences. Trini Lopez, Santana, Malo, and other Chicano 'Latin Rock' groups follow this approach with their fusions of R&B, Jazz, and Caribbean sounds; but all of the groups and performers have some of these influences. Los Lobos in particular alternates between R&B/roots rock and the Tex-Mex/Latin rock style.

The 1958 hit song "Tequila!" was written and sung by the saxophone player Danny Flores (not to be confused with Danny David Flores, a former member of Renegade) and performed by The Champs. Flores, who died in September 2006, was known as the "Godfather of Latino Rock."[3]

Chicano rock band Renegade In Concert

In the mid-1980s Chicano teen rock band Renegade landed on the international music scene, sporting a combination of heavy metal instrumentation with more pop oriented melodies, resulting in a new subgenre, termed "commercial metal". The four teens—Kenny Marquez on lead guitar and vocals, Luis Cardenas on drums and vocals, Tony De La Rosa on rhythm guitar and vocals and Danny David Flores on bass guitar and vocals—have been referred to as Chicano rock gods, amongst Mexican-Americans.[4] Renegade or Los Renegados as they are called in Latin-America, went on to sell more than 30 millions units worldwide,[5] with a series of hits in Mexico, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent, the United States.

Groups like Ozomatli and Quetzal had led the new wave of Latin Rock groups that fuse multiple musical genres.

Ozomatli has been mixing rock, hip-hop, funk, cumbia and Chicano low-rider low. They do not have a category for Ozomatli because they mix genres and music together to where they are one, much like how they have spread their music around the globe. Their song “City of Angels,” has presented Latino rock on the foreign lands of America and has spread in the state of California. [6]

Quetzal, the groundbreaking band from the barrios of East Los Angeles has been creating heartfelt Latin folk and roots-rock music for over a decade. With the successful tours and concerts alongside the likes of Los Lobos, Ozomatli, Taj Mahal and Michelle Shocked, Quetzal has proven beyond doubt their ability to play intimate clubs and large arenas alike—and gaining hardcore fans at every stop. The band combines rock, Afro-Cuban, country blues, and jazz elements to support the wide-ranging, bilingual and supercharged vocals of Martha González. The retro-futuristic mix has garnered praise from critics the LA Times calls them a "world-class act" and support from such luminaries as Los Lobos. Quetzal simultaneously forges a sound that makes you dance and contemplate change.[7]

Another musician to consider includes Robert Lopez aka El Vez-The Mexican Elvis. Robert Lopez aka El Vez started operating an art gallery called “La Luz de Jesus” and created a show dedicated to Elvis. Since Lopez’s impersonator did not meet his expectation El Vez was created. El Vez’s first performance was in Memphis, Tennessee on August 16, 1989. Lopez started making karaoke tapes while running his gallery.Most of his music does not include sacred topics, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t respect them. His goal is to blur the line between what is sacred and profane allowing him to have wide age range in his audience. He has been releasing albums since 1994 continuing to use satire and humor in his songs to express revolutionary views. His lyrics are like history lessons containing strong, clear, radical message.Some teachers and professors use his music to teach history and Mexican American Culture! This is means Chicano rock can also be used as part of the education system as well as politically activism[8]


In places such as Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area, and Dallas and Houston, Texas, the African-American audience was very important to aspiring Latino musicians, and this kept their music wedded to authentic R&B. Undoubtedly, many listeners in the 1960s heard Sunny and the Sunglows "Talk to Me", or Thee Midniters' and more famously, Cannibal and the Headhunters' "Land of a Thousand Dances" and assumed that the groups were black. Dick Hugg (aka Huggie Boy) and KRLA 1110 played a big role in promoting this music. Chicano rock music was also influenced by the Doo-wop genre, an example being the song "Angel Baby" by the Chicana fronted group Rosie and the Originals.

The roots of Chicano rock are found in the music of Don Tosti and Lalo Guerrero ("The Father of Chicano Music") Tosti's "Pachuco Boogie," recorded in 1949 was the first Chicano million-selling record, a swing tune featuring a Spanish rap, using hipster slang called "Calo". Lalo Guerrero arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1930s and he stated that he found that L.A is "bursting with ambition". Lalo and his friend captured their spirit in music by mixing swing and boogie woogie in a cross-cultural dialog between African American, Anglo, and Mexican American influences.[9] Guerrero also adapted swing and "jump" styles to Spanish language recordings—all this as rhythm and blues was beginning to emerge as a forerunner to rock 'n' roll. In the 60s there was an explosion of Chicano rock bands in East Los Angeles. One of the first to have a local hit, and even appear on Dick Clark, was The Premiers, with a cover of a Don and Dewey song called "Farmer John." It featured the beat from the popular hit, "Louie, Louie," which was in turn based on a Latino song, "Loco Cha Cha."

The 1950s brought rhythm and blues and the roots of rock 'n' roll. Mexican American were among first to catch the beat and introduced a Latin flair to early rock music.[9]

In the early to mid-1960s, the American audience was probably more open to Latin sounds than even today; because of the popularity of bossa nova, bugalú, mambo, and other forms. Also musicians who didn't conform to the rather limited range of early rock could find success as folk performers.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, when civil rights and the Vietnam War were compelling issues, young Mexican American proudly called themselves Chicanos (which once considered as a derogatory term), and many took the streets to stand up for their rights. Bands, like Tierra and El Chicano, created new music that "said something" about Chicano heritage and their struggles for equality and justice.[9]In the midst of these events Mexican- American immigrants of East L.A. were being exposed to cultural identity problems as well as struggles with assimilation. Chicano rock emerged as a musical art-form with the power to cross over to the mainstream. With aims to pay homage to their native culture as well as capture the unique Chicano experience Chicano rockers unified both the Mexican and American roots that lived within their oppressed cultural spheres. [10]

The trend of Chicano rock mirrored what was happening on college campuses as well. The rise of Chicano Studies Department, which offered courses about Chicano literature, politics, and culture, affected college students and musicians tremendously. Musicians rebels against the "old world" and adopt the Mexican and Latin American styles in their own music.[9]

Along with visual artists, activists, and audiences, the musicians of the East Los Angeles Chicano Rock scene form an emergent cultural movement that speaks powerfully to present conditions. The Chicano Rock scene of East Los Angeles serves as a form of unity for radical Chicanos who wish to bring forth a call to action and a site for resistance through their art. By claiming the musical style of the “old world”, Chicanos are reclaiming their indigenous identity and undoing Spanish colonialism.

The Eastside scene's story of formation, the diversity of its origins, and its commitment to political activism and coalition building illuminate the relations between culture and politics in the present. The musical practices of the East L.A. scene bring to discussion the dislocations and displacements of people of color in urban California, but they also reflect the emergence of new forms of resistance that find counterhegemonic possibilities within contradictions. [11]

Linda Ronstadt, once hailed as the “First Lady of Rock,” is a versatile singer who traversed multiple genres en route to massive national success in pop music in the 1970s and ‘80s. Ronstadt was nurtured by her Mexican American family whose musical roots run deep in the Mexican border region of Tucson, Arizona. Ronstadt holds dear the memory of childhood serenades by “The Father of Chicano Rock,” Lalo Guerrero, a close family friend. Ronstadt’s great-aunt Luisa Espinel gained international popularity interpreting Spanish and Mexican song and dance in the 1930s. Among the most popular female pop singers, Ronstadt is one of the most influential Chicana musicians ever, as evident in her extensive discography and four-decades long career.[12]

Trini Lopez, whose music was a mixture of folk, lounge pop, and R&B, was able to prosper before the Beatles came to America and Bob Dylan went electric. "Corazón de Melón" takes a Mexican folk tune, and like "Heart of my Heart", makes it into a relaxed, shuffling lounge tune. Trini mainly worked and recorded in a live setting (with a lot of audience participation), and soon the Beatles and The Beach Boys made studio recording effects dominant in rock, unfortunately making Trini's loose, breezy live-in-club style seem old fashioned all too soon.

The British Invasion challenged all American musicians, not just Chicanos. East Los Angeles witnessed a surge of creativity, and a renaissance of art, music and politics. Leading the way in music was the band Cannibal and the Headhunters, five guys from the projects who recorded a national hit, "Land of a Thousand Dances," and almost overnight found themselves opening for the Beatles on the British superstars' 1965 tour. That same year, Thee Midniters hit the charts with "Whittier Blvd.," an anthem to East L.A.'s most famous street, the home of a late-night cruising scene that expressed the California car culture that Mexican Americans were making their own.[13] The Sir Douglas Quintet is said to have made the most 'English' sounding American music of the Beatlemania period (actually since the English were playing music that was more rooted in R&B than many white Americans of that time, the Quintet were actually sounding 'English' by keeping to an all-American R&B/Country sound). Indeed, producer Huey P. Meaux put the Sir in the group's name to emphasize the connection, but that was more a marketing change than a musical one.The Sir Douglas Quintet was from central Texas, and some of its members were Latinos. However, the group’s lead singer, Doug Sahm, was not of Mexican descent. Sahm was so thoroughly immersed in Tejano culture, that he later recorded an album under the name Doug Saldaña. Despite the musician’s efforts to make the group appear to have emerged from the British Invasion, scholars have noted that the group’s clear Tejano influences and accordion based slowed down polka rhythms give the band a Chicano rock title. [14]

Maldita Vecindad is a rock en Español band from Mexico whose music is a mixture of punk, rap, ska, funk, and Latin. Their presentation is high energy and relentless. They were formed in Mexico City in 1985 and describe themselves as a mambo punk combo. According to their bio, their songs are about "the poor neighborhoods of the city, and about urban characters, such as the marginalized people resulting from the modernizing image of Mexican identity." They are of great importance to Chicano music because they were among the first Mexican rock musicians to express a kindred spirit with the Chicano movement. On their early recordings, Maldita Vecindad y Los Hijos del Quinto Patio (BMG Ariola 1989) and Circo (BMG Ariola 1991), Maldita's music delved into Chicano culture with songs such as "Mojado," "Pachuco," and "Pata de Perro." In addition to the two albums above, Maldita Vecindad released "Baile de Máscaras" (1996), "Mostros" (1998), and "Greatest Hits + Rarities 1989-1999" (2000).[15]

Chicano/a punk[edit]

Chicano punk is a branch of Chicano rock with bands like Los Illegals, The Brat, The Plugz, Union 13, The Zeros and the Cruzados coming out of the punk scene in Los Angeles. The rock band ? and the Mysterians, made up of Hispanic American musicians from Bay City and Saginaw, Michigan, was the first band to be described as "punk rock." The term punk rock was reportedly coined in 1971 by rock critic Dave Marsh in a review of their show for Creem magazine.[16] Recent Chicano punk bands include Rayos X, Tuberculosis, Mata Mata, Mugre, Venganza and Asko from southern California, La Grita and La Plebe from Northern California, as well as Los Crudos from Chicago.

In 1992 Mia Zapata and her Punk Rock group The Gits released the album Frenching the Bully on C/Z Records. The group originally met and formed in Yellow Springs, Ohio in the mid-1980s and their music quickly became popular throughout the area and the Antioch College Campus. Band member Moriarty describes punk rock to be a combination of emotion, temperament, rage and music. The Gits moved from Ohio to San Francisco and finally to Seattle, but not because of the up-and-coming music scene. Moriarty explains that “the idea was to just go up and pour your guts out” and to play their music and express an emotion. The group dissolved after Mia Zapata was murdered on July 7, 1993 by Jesus Mezquia. The remaining members went on to form a short-lived group called Evil Stig (Gits Live spelled backwards). [17]

Las Punkeras[edit]

Chicana Punkeras have contributed to the artistic conditions of production, gender relations, and the punk aesthetic that ascended in the late 1970s and 1980s. The D-I-Y (do it yourself) sensibility which was at the core of punk musical subcultures found resonance with the practice of rasquache, a Chicana/o cultural practice of “making do” with limited resources; in fact, Chicana youth had historically been at the forefront of formulating stylized social statements via the fashion and youth subculture, beginning with the Pachucos and continuing with Chicana Mods in the 1960s. Punk's critique of the status quo, poverty, sexuality, class inequalities, and war spoke directly to working class East Los Angeles youth.[18]

One punkera that resonates with the Chicana punk scene of the late 1970s is Alice Bag. She was born as Alicia Armendariz, and goes by Alice Phallus, aka Alice Douchbag, and/ or Alice Bag as her stage name. Her Chicana experience influenced her music career as she vented out to the world her unrelenting emotions through punk music. Her music reflects her accumulated rage which evolved from being made fun of for not speaking proper English and having to witness domestic violence at a young age.[19] Her success as a female punk rocker came from transforming her painful childhood experience into her own personal empowerment as she stormed through the male-dominated field of punk rock with her female lead band, Bags. [20]Alice and the Bags are known to be responsible for “co-creating the first wave of California punk alongside the likes of Black Flag, X, the Germs, Phranc (then in Catholic Discipline), and the five spunky gals we came to know as the Go-Go's.” [21]

Chicano rock, 1990s-present[edit]

Many popular Chicano and Chicano-led rock bands began to emerge during the mid and late 90s such as Downset, Spineshank, At the Drive-In, P.O.D., Fenix TX, Unloco, Union 13, Voodoo Glow Skulls, MxPx, Adema, Los Lonely Boys, Aztlan Underground, Ozomatli, The Latin Soul Syndicate, and El Vez- The Mexican Elvis. In the early 2000s the progressive Latin-influenced rock band The Mars Volta came onto the scene.

Modern age Chicana punk rock band, Girl in a Coma, express their Chicana experience through their music and artistic expression. Girl in a Coma consists of three members, the two sisters, Nina Diaz, Phanie Diaz and their long time friend, Jenn Alva. Although they claim that they do not consider themselves to be a Latin rock group due to their lack of Spanish speaking fluency, it can’t be denied that they are a reflection of the Chicana experience. Furthermore, their inability to speak Spanish fluently did not restrict them from releasing their album, “Trio B.C” that plays tribute to the sisters’ grandfather’s tejano band in which they recorded the last track, “Ven Cera”, completely in Spanish. Girl in a Coma are the modern Chicana punkeras that have already picked up quite the large audience since their 2007 debut with their “all-American” punk rock feel. Although, the Latin undertones of their roots are not prominent in their current records, there is a possibility that they will be in their future records as Nina Diaz has stated that she’s been trying to learn Spanish here and there but it is in her plans to someday write an album completely in Spanish.[22]

Cultural Politics of Chicano/a Rock[edit]

Chicano rock music is being led by a wave of socially and politically active Latin-fusion bands that emerged and gained popularity in the 1990s such as Aztlan Underground, Ozomatli, Lysa Flores, Quinto Sol and more. Their music in general pulls from other genres (soul, samba, reggae, and rap) and utilizes multilingual lyrics (in Spanish, English and Nahuatl) and takes themes like urban exile, indigenous identity and multiracial unity and layers them in order to put into the spotlight important social issues. These artists in particular have been exceptionally successful due to the millions of Latinos in Los Angeles, California that are bilingual/bicultural. One of the larger purposes of the music is to draw attention to "present conditions of oppression and disenfranchisement" in the East L.A. scene, and to provide a form of political possibility to those who are less powerful (financially, socially, etc.).[23]

Notable artists[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ A toast to 'Tequila!' singer - Press-Telegram
  4. ^ Ritmo Beat Magazine Article,
  5. ^ David Hasselhoff Introducing Renegade at 30 Million Platinum Sales Award event,
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Event." An Evening with Legendary Chicano Rock Band QUETZAL. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 June 2014
  8. ^ Larson, Susan. "Rock and Revolution: An Interview with El Vez, the Mexican Elvis." Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 1.1 (1997): 141-152.
  9. ^ a b c d
  10. ^ Lipsitz, George. [: Modernity and Modernism, Postmodernity and Postmodernism] Check |url= scheme (help). University of Minnesota Press. p. 158. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ "The revolution that saved rock". CNN. 2003-11-13. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  17. ^ Raha, Maria. “Look Right Through Me.” Cinderella’s Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground. Emeryville, CA: Seal, 2005. 165-69. Print.
  18. ^ Pallan, Michelle H. Loca Motion: The Travels of Chicana/Latina Popular Culture. Google Books. NYU Press, 2005. Web. 04 June 2014
  19. ^ Seggel, Heather. "Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story". Bitch Magazine: Feminist Response To Pop Culture (2012): 54. 
  20. ^ O, Kelly. "Chicana Punk Four Reasons You Should Know Alice Bag". The Stranger. 
  21. ^ Seggel, Heather. "Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, a Chicana Punk Story". Bitch Magazine: Feminist Response To Pop Culture (2012): 54. 
  22. ^ Freeman, Phil. "These Latinas May Rock, but Girl In a Coma Isn't Making Latin Rock". Westword (2009). 
  23. ^ source: The Battle of Los Angeles: The Cultural Politics of Chicana/o Music in the Greater Eastside, Victor Hugo Viesca, American Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 3, Los Angeles and the Future of Urban Cultures (Sep. 2004) , pp. 719–739, Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press, JSTOR 40068240 pp. 719–720

Further reading[edit]

  • Loza, Steven Joseph (1993). Barrio Rhythm: Mexican American music in Los Angeles. University of Illinois Press, Urbana. ISBN 0-252-06288-4. 
  • Monsalvo, C. Sergio (1989). La canción del inmigrante: de Aztlán a Los Lobos. Tinta Negra, México, D.F. ISBN 968-6336-01-X. 
  • Reyes, David, and Waldman, Tom (1998). Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano rock 'n' roll from Southern California. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque [N.M.] ISBN 0-8263-1929-7. 

External links[edit]