Quetzal: More than 20 years of music, rhythm and artivism

Katja Liebing/Courier - Martha Gonzales, lead singer of the band Quetzal, performs at the Levitt Pavilion during the free summer concert series in Pasadena on September 12, 2015.

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This past Saturday, the community of Pasadena gathered at the Levitt Pavilion Festival to enjoy a warm summer evening dancing to the rhythms of Grammy Award winning East LA Chicano rock band Quetzal.

Katja Liebing/Courier Martha Gonzales, lead singer of the band Quetzal, performs at the Levitt Pavilion during the free summer concert series in Pasadena on September 12, 2015.

Katja Liebing/Courier
Martha Gonzales, lead singer of the band Quetzal, performs at the Levitt Pavilion during the free summer concert series in Pasadena on September 12, 2015.

Quetzal, formed in 1992, is a group of passionate and very talented musicians whose goal is to create music that tells and represents the social, cultural and political struggles of people in our communities.

“I feel that we are a Chicano rock band, with everything that implies being Chicano,” lead vocalist and PCC alum Martha Gonzalez said. “That is a host of sounds from different Latino background music, like Mexicano music, like rancheras, sones of all regions in Mexico, and then also LA sounds like hip-hop, R&B, Jazz, Soul.”

The group Quetzal arose from a series of controversial and historical events. Among these were the 1992 Rodney King riots, the implementation of proposition 187 in 1994, which banned undocumented immigrant from public health and education services, and proposition 209 in 1996, which dismantled Affirmative Action in California’s public institutions.

These events encouraged and inspired musical groups like Quetzal to become the voice of those who are marginalized and oppressed.

When asked what inspires her to write, Gonzalez replied, “living.”

“…You know if you are a brown woman in Los Angeles, if you grow up when your first language is in Spanish, if you grow up poor, you know there is a kind of politics that as you’re growing up that you see and that you can either go to the right or to the left,” she said. “And I feel like there is a lot of wonderful examples of people resisting and learning teaching each other and being in different communities that support this kind of interaction I think politicized us, politicized me as well, individually, collectively and I feel like our music is really rooted in that kind of example of struggle.”

Quetzal’s goal is not only to create music but to also draw awareness in the community to social and political issues. Its members are actively involved in musical, cultural, and political community groups.

“For the past 10 years we’ve been doing a lot of work around the idea of participatory music engagement and developing different methods to get people back into participating in music as community and as community in music,” band founder, guitarist and PCC alum Quetzal Flores said. “Examples of that is the Fandango Jarocho community that we participate in and we also do something called collective song writing which is a method of stimulating a conversation and then wheeling a song together with a group of people based on that conversation.”

After 20 years of existing as a band, Flores feels proud of their journey. He is happy they have been able to do it on their terms and they have never felt like they’ve had to comprise their integrity while being able to “define success based on more humanistic ideals.”

Quetzal will be performing in Los Angeles on September 18 and 19. Both shows will be hosted at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum at 8 p.m.

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