Latin Rock: A Retrospective Review
We know that the movie "La Bamba" was about Latino Rock star of the 1950s "Ritchie Valens" (Ricardo Valenzuela) but what is not realised is the fact that "Ritchie Valens" was only a Latino Rock star crossing over to the main stream at that time with a song in Spanish conforming to the popular styles of American Rock during those years, but he was not the creator per se of a new musical style. La Bamba is an old Mexican folk song with many different versions and "Valen’s" 1950s Rock style version was only one of many. But the purpose of crediting a "crossover" of Latin Rock pioneer during an important historical Latino music period, it was certainly him who became the most famous symbol of Latino Rock style then and beyond.
Santana: The 1960s new musical explosion
In 1965 there was a small group of young men musicians in the San Francisco Bay Area who used to call themselves the Santana Blues Band. This band under the leadership of guitarist Carlos Santana used to play blues songs until the fusion of Latin Percussion with Rock and Blues in which Jose "Chepito" Areas had a vital role, when the band gave birth to what was dubbed by the non-Latin music world as Latin Rock, and the rest is all history. For the very first time in Rock music history the audiences were actually witnessing the use of Latin Percussion instruments mixed with guitar and therefrom the binary of Anglo Rock and the spicy Latino music flavour.
Other Latin Rock groups after Santana
The musical and cultural impact that Santana made with its unique creation also brought artistic awareness to the US Latino Community in general, but particularly to young Latino residents of the Mission District in San Francisco (the City’s Latino district). After Santana had made initial appearances at the Carousel Ballroom, the Fillmore West, Woodstock, and the release of their self-titled debut album, several other Latin Rock groups appeared in different parts of California. Many of those groups became famous while others did not. Among the ones the author knew that did not become famous were: Yaqui, Mestizo, Dakila, Abel, Sabor, and Alma. Those Latin Rock groups are considered to have been less important in the sense that they did not achieved fame as others did, but were musically and culturally important to this type of North American Latin music creation. However, by 1975 none of the famous or non-famous Latin Rock groups were around as a result of the extreme social conditions in which Latinos in general, were in throughout the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and even in the 1990s, as direct result of racism and the "integration" of blacks into the system. The Latin Rock groups that recorded and became famous after Santana were the following:
This super Latin Rock group was lead by Carlos Santana younger brother Jorge Santana who is also a guitarist. Malos’s self-titled album was released during early 1972 featuring a song called "Suavesito" which became very popular on radio and was also number one in musical charts for a while. The song and the group were also very popular in Central America before it was dissolved shortly after the release of their fourth album in 1974.
In 1986, Arcelio Garcia [the singer of Malo] who was an original member of the group recorded an album called "Malo Coast to Coast" in an apparent futile attempt to recreate the original Malo. The recording is of good quality thanks to modern technology but the music lacks the flavour so strongly felt in the Malo albums recorded during the early 1970s. Malo and Jorge Santana are still around and are back in the 2000s.
This Latin-Rock-Salsa original Bay Area group was organised during 1974 by a Chicano-Anglo from El Paso, Texas whose name is Richard Bean. He formed Sapo after the dissolution of Malo with whom he sang the famous song “Suavesito” in the group’s first release recording of 1972. Sapo had an excellent musicianship composition and many saw the group as a replacement for the Malo lost. Among the six-member group was Raul Rekow on Tumbadoras who has been in the Santana rhythm section for many years. Sapo was a very good quality musical group that could have had much growth and sucess, but they came out at a time when the US was beginning to experience the "integration" of negros into the white-dominated racist society, and as a direct result of that, a very subtle but effective lull against everything that was Latin was developed with the mass media, particularly television and movies. The effect of the mass media was so strong that people everywhere did not want to hear Latin music or see Latinos; radio announcers did not play Latin Rock (not even Santana) or any other type of Latin music; night clubs did not booked any Latin bands because they did not see any real business potential as a result of people’s racist indifference and rejection of everything that was Latino. Racism, pure and simple, was the real reason why all of that was happening and it is still like that after 40 years. That is the root of today’s racist attitudes and feelings towards Latinos by most people. The public was brainwashed through subliminal tactics in the mass media so that blacks could be fully "integrated" at the expense of Latinos.
This big band can be best described in musical terms as a Latin-Rock-Funk reflecting the influences and musical formation of the men who conceived and created Azteca: The Escovedo brothers. Thomas "Coke" Escobedo (RIP) and Pete Escovedo formed this eighteen-member band during early 1972, and by September of that same year they had recorded and released their debut self-titled album.
Azteca was a great band indeed saw live by this Writer on more than one occasion in the Bay Area. The musicians were mostly seasoned professionals with solid backgrounds in their own particular fields of specialisation; beginning with the Escovedo brothers, Pete for example, had been an experience musician for many years prior to the time him and his brother "Coke" formed Azteca. The Escovedo brothers had already recorded with Santana and Malo before forming Azteca Other good musicians such as Lenny White (drums), Neal Schon (guitar), Paul Jackson (bass), Jim Vincent (guitar), and Guillermo "Rico" Reyes (vocals with Santana), and Wendy Hass (vocals), formed the partial musical structure of Azteca. The second Azteca album called "Pyramid of the moon" was released in 1973 and it was not much different from the first one. Azteca like most other Latin Rock groups of the late 1960s and early 1970s was dissolved by late 1974 as a result of the same reasons already explained in the preceding section of the group Sapo. There is simply no other honest way to explain the true reason why all those great Latin music groups suddenly disappeared from the music scene of that time. It is truly sad to realise that even music can be hated and segregated simply because it was made by people who were and still are victims of white trash racism and social repression in this "democracy."
While most of the Latin Rock groups of the 1960s and 1970s "disappeared" from the main social artistic scene as a direct result of white trash racism, some individual musicians and groups continued to work in large Latino Communities and in recordings. El Chicano is one of those groups.
This all Mexican-American Latin Rock-Salsa group came from what is probably the biggest Latino Community district within the US: East Los Angeles. Whereas Latin Rock groups that started in San Francisco’s Latin district were made from Latinos of different nationalities, El Chicano was made of all-Chicano members with different musical experiences that produced a very unique sound. El Chicano’s first album released in early 1970 is called "Viva Tirado." This recording is musically distant from the Latin Rock that had been established earlier in that it is mainly an organ that leads the musical arrangement of the band, but what is most significant is the presence of a woman whose name is Ersi Arvizu playing Percussion. The fact that El Chicano had a woman member was in itself a social-political statement considering the social condition of the turbulent 1960s and 1970s in relation to the demands for real equality between the sexes. The lack of women presence in Latin music bands has been a tradition that slowly but steady seems to be moving towards real change. The Latin woman pioneer in breaking the all-male tradition in this area of music is Sheila E. due to the fact that she started her music career at a very early age in her own home.
El Chicano can be considered also to have been a Latin musical group with a social-political message which was at that time something not all groups did. The back cover of the "Viva Tirado" first album contains a full-length political statement related to the Chicano political movement that was taken place throughout the southwestern states at that time. The second album called "El Chicano Revolution" features on the front cover the pictures of two well-known Mexican Revolutionaries: Francisco "Pancho" Villa and Emiliano Zapata. In addition, that album contains a song called "Don’t put me down if I am brown” which tells the listener to look at himself before "putting me down if I am brown..." Such type of songs are not heard in Latin bands of today but back in those days of political radicalism and cultural pride they were considered to be very important and significant statements against white racism.
To the best of knowledge El Chicano is still performing in Los Angeles and in other US areas where there are large Raza Communities. During the 1960s and 1970s El Chicano recorded a total of eight known albums. See: http://www.elchicanomusic.com/
Jose "Chepito" Areas
No one could have perhaps understood the intrinsic work aspects of Latin Rock the way "Chepito" did if you know that it was him who was largely responsible for the creation of the fusion between Anglo Rock and Latin Percussion first introduced to the world by Santana.
When Carlos Santana adopted a personal life style in relation to his deep involvement with the Sri Chinmoy religious guru leader, his musical styles also changed in a very radical departure from the Santana that had established the Latin Rock sound of earlier years, in which "Chepito" was an original outstanding figure. According to an information source, "Chepito" left the Santana band in view of the change that Carlos Santana had caused and organised his own self-titled Latin Rock band in an honest attempt to continue what Carlos Santana had discontinued as a result of his association with his pal and guru follower John Mc Laughlin, who brainwashed him and introduced him to the Sri Chinmoy with whom he stayed with for fifteen long years.
"Chepito" did an excellent job in his first and last album called "Jose Chepito Areas" released during 1974 on the Columbia label. The group was made of excellent musicians who knew what Latin Rock was all about from playing with groups such as Malo and Santana: Doug Rauch (base), Neil Schon (guitar), Hadley Caliman (Sax in Malo Dos), and other good musicians were members of the Jose "Chepito" Areas Latin Rock band that, unfortunately, did not last very long for reasons that need not be repeated if you have read the section on the group Sapo.
This Latin-Rock-Disco type of band is similar to the El Chicano in that its members are all Chicanos and were also able to endure and survive the severe social segregation Latin music in general suffered beginning in the late 1960s, when the "integration" of blacks started. Members of El Chicano appeared in album jackets of Tierra, which indicated a relation between musicians from both groups. Tierra like most other groups playing this type of music have been in existence for more than twenty-five years. The group started as a Latin Rock band in the early 1970s but as the concept of Disco developed throughout the decade their music was adjusted to the times, and this is the reason for their Disco type of sound in recordings.
The Rock but not Latin Rock of the 1970s and 1980s
It is safe to speak or write of "Latin Rock" during the preceding decades as Rock by ethnically Raza musicians but not Latin Rock musically as Santana made it in the 1960s.
It is also safe to state that practically Latin Rock as it was conceived and created by Santana during the 1960s lasted only three short years. The release of the Caravanserai album in November of 1972 marked the beginning of the end of Latin Rock by its creator. If it had not been for the other Latin Rock groups that mushroomed almost everywhere right after Carlos Santana went astray into the Sri Chinmoy’s mental domination, this music would have had been dead immediately after the release of the Caravaserai album. What prevented other Latin Rock groups from continuing on in their own ways and styles what Santana had abandoned was completely beyond their artistic control: A racist society. If groups such as Malo, Sapo, El Chicano, Azteca, and others had been given real equal opportunity as artists who simply happened to be Raza, that music would be with us today but that was not the case as we know now after more than one generation. Latin Rock and all other forms of Latin music was not heard anywhere in public by 1975 and the general feeling was that no future could be expected in playing any style of Latin music.
The total "disappearance" of the original Latin Rock first created by Santana left a musical vacuum that was subsequently filled by Raza in music at that time but within the dominant music force of the day: Disco and Anglo Rock. It was in these areas of music where the younger generation of Raza musicians started working but confined to the general music expectations of the day; music with any trace of what could be defined as "Latin" was simply rejected as worthless music. One can imagine that Raza in music at that time probably did not even think of attempting to mix Latin rhythms with anything, so the only area where to play "Latin music" was by being ethnically Raza playing Rock or whatever, but not musically Latin. As a result of this stupidity, the Rock that Raza played was only Rock, but not Latin Rock.
Musicians with Spanish surnames appeared on album covers of Rock groups; Rock bands with Spanish names recorded and released albums but their music did not have anything to do with Latin music at all. This trend continued up to present times and the result is recordings by groups made up of Raza musicians, but their music does not reflect anything related to Latin music in anyway. "We don’t even like Latin music" said Froilan Sosa, a Dominican who grew up in Florida and was the lead vocal of the Miami-based Rock group called "Nuclear Valdez." Sosa was in his early twenties at the time this article was written. "We grew up listening to Fleetwood Mack and the Rolling Stones" he said also during an interview after he was thought to be a total outcast within the Latin Community of Florida. The band claims their music to be "real rock-and-roll from the streets of Miami" and their debut album is called "I am I" on the Epic label.
Important single Latin artists or groups that are projective of the music criticised in this article include the following:
This is another Rock band by Raza musicians but not of Latin Rock originally from the southwest. Cruzados is a modern all-Chicano 1980s style Rock band that does not sound Latin at all but they use a Spanish name for the band. Cruzados is a good example of how Latinos that grew up in the past generation were forced in subtle ways through the mass media to shun their own Raza culture in favour of the dominant "mainstream" sub-culture that affected all aspects Raza people’s life including music. Raza culture in general has been traditionally segregated throughout generations but the last one was worse of all in contemporary times. The young Raza men and women that grew up during the last generation were exposed only to Anglo Rock, funk, and other types of music unrelated to Latin music and culture.
This is another past generation Raza musicians whose music reflects the influence of funk and of other types of music unrelated to Latin music. Sheila E., as she is known, is a Chicana from Oakland, California and the daughter of Percussionist Pete Escovedo. She was or still is associated with Prince who was or still is the source of great personal influence and music career. The music of Sheila E. shows a great taste of techno-funk that clearly connects with Prince’s musical styles.
There are other Raza musicians and groups that play non-Latin music nowadays that could be mentioned here, but after you have read this far into this article, you get the idea on the reasons why many Raza musicians play Rock but not Latin Rock, as a direct result of what has been going on in society for the past generation. Those of us who helped in one way or another to popularised what was once real Latin Rock style wish for the return of this originally North American Raza musical creation and expression so abruptly terminated by the same who gave it to the world: Santana.