Tuesday, September 13, 2011
El Chicano: Viva Tirado Parts I and II, 1970
El Chicano has recorded a couple versions of this song, including one on the album Celebration and another as the title track of a 1970 LP. The A side of this 45 is the same version that appears on the album Viva Tirado, and the B side is an extended version that sounds like it was recorded during the same sessions. El Chicano's choice of Viva Tirado as something of a signature song caught my attention in light of the song's history. The song was originally written by Gerald Wilson, the great LA big band leader whose record On Stage I posted last year. At a time when many jazz musicians were looking to musics of the Spanish Caribbean for inspiration, Gerald Wilson was more taken with the music and culture of Mexico, which he came into contact with once he moved to California. Although Wilson's musical nods to Mexico might sound less than authentic to those versed in different kinds of Mexican music, one cannot deny that Wilson's Mexican-esque compositions are, if nothing else, genuine expressions of his admiration for the Mexican people and their culture. At a time when few people of Mexican descent had broken into the jazz world, his band featured Mexican-American musicians like the great Anthony Ortega, and for most of his life, Wilson has been married to a Chicana woman. Throughout his career, the bridging of cultural boundaries through art has been a major if understated theme in Wilson's work.
Turning now to El Chicano, their use of this song strikes me as part of an effort to reciprocate the kind of admiration that jazz artists and other Black musicians like Wilson have paid to Mexican and Chicano artists over the years. I say this not only in terms of this song's particular history, but in terms of El Chicano's 1970's catalog in general. Most of the band's albums feature songs that walk the line between jazz, soul, salsa, and rock. El Chicano seem to have been acutely aware of the different streams of music going on at the time and of the ways in which these musics intertwined with various cultures and subcultures. The different genres of music that El Chicano nod to make up the musical and social world that they were playing in at that time. Though salsa came to the U.S. by way of immigrants from the Caribbean, it nonetheless became popular as a Latin music for all Spanish speaking people in the United States, including a Chicano population who at that time largely saw Mexican musics like norteña music as unurban, less a part of their life experiences which defied characterization as completely Mexican nor American. The rock that El Chicano played both indicates a proximity to mainstream American society, (they have covered songs like Brown Eyed Girl,) and the Chicano rock bands that made up a significant part of the East L.A. art renaissance of the 60's and 70's. Their use of soul and jazz recalls Wilson's use of Mexican themes as an attempt to bridge the cultural gaps between minorities in America though music.
To me, this project looks like an optimistic outgrowth of the Black and Chicano movements going on at the time. The fusion of these musics can be read as a part of a new multicultural urbanism that is equally constituted by its component parts and also distinctly American. And yet the ablums that I have heard from El Chicano do not feature lyrics or liner notes promoting racial harmony or anything like that. Whereas many musicians today who take inspiration from a diversity of cultural forms tend to be very explicit about the importance colorblind acceptance and love, El Chicano seem to promote a new American multiracial idiom by performing it, treating it as natural rather than a goal that society must pursue. This is what I mean when I call their project optimistic: they don't treat their vision of the new American melting pot as utopian, but rather as something closer to reality. In this sense, this 45 is a small piece of a very interesting body of work that responds confidently to a unique time in American racial history.
Viva Tirado Part II by Easy Jams