By Jorge Fuentes
Click aqui para español- >Los Cenzontles
If music reflects the soul of a people, then the band Los Cenzontles is one of the clearest representations of Mexican identity in the U.S. Eugene Rodriguez is the director; he began the band as part of an artist-in-residence program he was working on in Richmond and San Pablo, California, north of San Francisco, where his family has lived for three generations.
“We started to share traditional music and dance with the kids and teens in the area,” Rodriguez said, and made it clear that having good results was important. “We were in a tough neighborhood at the time, and we began to see a huge influx of Mexican immigrants,” he said, so he founded Los Cenzontles Cultural Arts Academy to promote traditional Mexican music, and in this way “the cultural work was helpful.”
The band became the focal point for the rest of the work carried out by the academy, which keeps a strong sense of community. The other members of the band began as students at the academy. They share their work with the rest of the world online, where they feature a collection of hundreds of videos of their performances.
Even though they don’t tour much outside of San Pablo, they have recorded 29 albums and bring a lot of musicians as guests, and have also collaborated with artists such as Ry Cooder, Linda Ronstadt, Taj Mahal, and The Cheftains.
This month, they are the artists in residence at Preservation Hall here in New Orleans. “I’m excited about New Orleans,” said Rodriguez. “It’s really a special opportunity for us. We want to maintain our links to Mexican traditions through music, so that people realize that we are all connected. We love to share the beauty, the pride and the quality of our music, and we want people to understand the historic and current connections that bring us together; that is important to us,” he said.