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The History Of Chicano Music

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The History of Chicano Music

My both my father and uncle were in their prime during the 1960s and 70s during the Chicano Movement. My father had me growing up listening to dedications Art Laboe's Killer Oldies every Sunday night. My uncle traveled throughout California with bands of his own since the 1970s. I grew up listening to musicians like El Chicano, Los Lobos, Little Joe y la Familia. I knew Chicano music.

What is Chicano?

During the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s, young Mexican-Americans were in search of their own identity. They were not Mexican enough in the eyes of older Mexicans, nor were they American enough for mainstream white America. As a result, the Chicano Movement was born. Chicano artistic expression grew out of Mexican American experiences, drawing from distinctly Mexican and U.S. culture and traditions. Chicanos felt a need to create a cultural identity and cultural expressions that affirmed Mexican American experiences. This included good and bad experiences; celebration and suffering, pride and discrimination, family and alienation to name some. Thus art, music, literature, dance and theater by Chicanos became a form of cultural and political empowerment like that of the Black Power movement for African-Americans.

The Birth of Chicano Music

Chicanos had extensive and diverse musical traditions to draw from. Various types of Latino music were becoming popular within the U.S and American pop music was gaining an audience in the Mexican American communities. The music was a fusion of native people's music; Mexican regional music, instruments and music brought over form Spain and other European countries; Afro-Caribbean music; and US jazz, R&B, country western, rock. Many groups began imitating and combining these styles that became very popular among the young members of the Chicano Generation. Mexican American communities desired a mix of popular American music and popular Latino and Mexican music. "In other words, an exclusively American repertoire was inadequate to the cultural needs of the Mexican American Generation; bi-musicality was the only solution to the generation's search for a form of expression that would coincide with its existence at the margin between two cultural worlds." Chicano music resulted out of the political and economic status of Chicanos and helped empower the cultural identity of Chicanas and Chicanos and their communities.

In the early 1900s, US laws prohibited Mexican companies to record in the United States. So in the 1940s, American companies began recording Mexican artists in order to sell to a new crowd.

The Founding Fathers of Chicano Music

Mexican-Americans, Lalo Guerrero and Ritchie Valens, were not the first Chicano musicians, but they certainly broke into the California music industry early on in the 1940s-50s. They both are considered pioneers for Chicano music, because they were able to be successful in the Anglo-dominated music industry.

Eduardo "Lalo" Guerrero began recording Spanish-language during the 1940s. His music was played in Los Angeles radio stations and he began to gain popularity among Mexican-Americans in California. Despite his Spanish language success, Guerrero wanted to primarily perform American music of that era. His record label agreed but changed his professional name to Don Edwards, which does not suggest the slightest bit of Mexican heritage. This experiment was not a success, so Guerrero went back to performing for the Mexican American audience. Throughout the next 50 years, Guerrero gained a large audience throughout America. He received several awards, and in 1997 he received an award from President Clinton. Clinton presented the award for "a distinguished music career that spans over sixty years, two cultures, and a wealth of different musical styles. With humor, passion, and profound insight, he has entertained and enlightened generations of audiences giving power voice to the joys and sorrows of the Mexican American experience."

Ever person I know has seen the movie "La Bamba." Even to people from a younger generation, the name Ritchie Valens is known. He was not the first Chicano musician to play rock & roll, but he was certainly one of the most talented. Like Lalo Guerrero, Ritchie Valens was forced to use a more "American" name. (He was born Richard Valenzuela) At the age of 17, Valens was already performing to concerts and dance halls all over California. During his career, he recorded three songs that would forever make him famous, and a legend to Chicano musicians: "La Bamba," "Donna," and "Come On, Let's Go." Only a year after his career skyrocketed Valens was killed in a tragic plane crash.


Although Chicano artists were gaining success, it wasn't until the 1960s when California, particularly Los Angeles, began producing more records for the local audience. Groups like Little Joe and the Latinaires, Thee Midniters, The Village Callers, and Cannibal and the Headhunters continued the mixing of mÑŠsica jaitona, ranchera, and American pop music. These groups and others developed "la onda Chicana" or the Chicano Wave on the brink of the Civil Rights



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